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Kittanning embraces 1st-year coach, new offensive scheme

| Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, 7:36 p.m.
Kittanning wide receiver Vince Mead watches a ball into his hands during a 7-on-7 passing scrimmage this summer.
Kittanning wide receiver Sterling Henry turns upfield during a practice on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012.
Kittanning wide receiver Mitch Pirhalla watches a ball into his hands during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012.
Kittanning quarterback Kevin Barnes carries the ball upfield during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012.

Frank Fabian won't make any grand declarations about the potential of Kittanning's new spread offense.

For now, the first-year coach just wants the Wildcats to have faith in the system.

Embracing the unfamiliar is a priority for Kittanning, which enters the season with a different coach, playbook and classification. The Wildcats have found no reason to resist. Two years of struggle in Class AAA made them eager to start fresh.

“With different coaches and different people, there's a new attitude,” senior lineman Colton Toy said. “Everybody is excited for this year. Everybody has high hopes and thinks we'll do better.”

By transitioning from a wing-T offense to the spread, Fabian, the coach at Redbank Valley the last two seasons, has placed greater emphasis on Kittanning's passing game. And he realizes how much pressure now rests on the shoulders of senior quarterback Kevin Barnes.

Barnes served as a backup quarterback the last two seasons and spent time at wide receiver, too. But hours of film review during the offseason helped transform him into the leader of Kittanning's up-tempo, read-heavy offense.

“It's not as bad as what I thought it was going to be,” Barnes said. “But there are still a lot of things to learn. Too many calls. There are like three or four calls before each play. … Everything has to be analyzed before each play.”

Barnes will throw to what might be one of Class AA's tallest receiving corps. Seniors Sterling Henry, Vince Mead and Mitch Pirhalla each stand several inches more than 6 feet — Mead is the tallest, with a listed height of 6-foot-6. And sophomore Nick Bowers is another 6-footer who will line up out wide.

“When you think about taller kids, you think about going up and jumping,” Fabian said. “But even on your shorter throws, the margin for error is just a little greater when they're bigger. A couple times this summer at 7-on-7s, I'd think boy, (Barnes) overshot it, and then, all of a sudden, they go up and make a play.”

Running the ball well remains important to Fabian, who often notes that when he served as an assistant at Redbank Valley, his schemes helped produce the team's single-season rushing record.

Senior Zac Croyle and junior Kyle Hockenberry are expected to be Kittanning's primary ball carriers. But certain plays will require Barnes to just keep the ball and find a running lane — and the senior is not bothered one bit by that possibility.

“I used to be a running back,” Barnes said. “That was probably my best position.”

Toy will anchor an offensive line that faces the challenge of adjusting to a new blocking philosophy. Gone are the pulling guards and angle blocks of the wing-T.

Now, a zone-based strategy generally dictates where the linemen go and what they do.

“It's a lot more up-tempo. It's easier, and it's more fun, too,” Toy said. “I like not having to get into a three-point stance as a tackle.”

The Wildcats hope to put far more points on the board than they did last season, when they averaged 15.2 per game during a 1-8 campaign. But, like Fabian, the players aren't looking at the spread as a solution to all of Kittanning's troubles.

“We're all looking forward to it,” Mead said, “but it's still going to be tough. We can't just expect to win every game. We have to work hard.”

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