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Plum features young, but experienced, lineup

| Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, 7:39 p.m.
Plum head football coach Frank Sacco encourages his team during practice at Mustang Stadium in Plum on August 15, 2012. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

Last season was a struggle for the Plum football team.

The Mustangs — faced with numerous injuries to key players and stiff competition in and out of Quad East play — finished 1-8 overall and 0-6 in conference play.

But coach Frank Sacco said this year's team, which features 25 players who earned a varsity letter in 2011, has the right attitude to start turning things around.

“I was pleased with our offseason work,” Sacco said. “You sometimes don't know how the kids are going to respond after a season like we had. But they are really dedicated to this season.”

Sacco said the lineup on both sides of the ball will be experienced but still young, as several sophomores and freshmen got playing time last season.

“They key for us again this year is staying healthy,” Sacco said.

Senior Jake DiGuilio is Plum's lone returning all-conference player from a year ago, as he earned a second-team nod at linebacker.

DiGuilio, who shed about 15 pounds in the offseason and enters his third year as a starter, led the Mustangs in tackles last year with 53. Seven of the tackles were for a loss.

On offense, he combined his blocking and ball-carrying talents.

DiGuilio, who Sacco said is getting some looks from Division III schools, collected 140 yards on 56 carries and scored four of Plum's five rushing touchdowns. He added 15 receptions for 131 yards and a score.

“Jake's probably more in the role of a leader this year than ever,” Sacco said. “He's a little quicker this year, but he's not lost any strength. He's one of the strongest kids on the team.”

A pair of quarterbacks have been in the running throughout preseason camp to replace three-year starter and 1,000-yard thrower Christopher Zdinak, who graduated.

Senior Corey DeLoach, who played tight end last year and also got a little bit of varsity work at quarterback, and sophomore Will Fuhrer are the quarterback candidates.

“There are different positive attributes for both of them,” Sacco said. “Corey has a little bit more experience in the offense. Will will be a really good one down the line.”

Seniors Matt Dombroski (defensive end) and Nick DeLuca (defensive back), junior Jeff Ruffing (outside linebacker) and sophomore Nathan Turchick (defensive end) join DiGuilio as the 2011 leading tacklers among the returning letterwinners.

Sacco said the running back position — with Ruffing and sophomore Kyle Smecker back and fellow sophomore Joe DeFelice in the mix — can be a strength of the offense, as well as an experienced offensive line.

“The concern for us on the (offensive) line always is depth,” Sacco said. “If they stay healthy, they have a chance to be pretty good.”

Conference realignment shook things up in Quad-A, and Plum will face new conference foes Bethel Park, Baldwin, Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair, Canon-McMillan and Peters Township while again matching up with Woodland Hills and Penn Hills.

This year's schedule includes trips through potentially heavy Friday evening traffic and construction areas on 376 to Baldwin, Mt. Lebanon, Canon-McMillan and Upper St. Clair.

“There's not a lot we can do about it,” Sacco said.

“Traveling will be difficult, not only for us, but for the band, the cheerleaders and the fans. But all the teams in the conference are in the same situation, so we have to make the best of it.”

Sacco knows what his team is up against this season.

“There are no slouches in this conference,” Sacco said. “It's going to be a grinder.”

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