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Norwin looks to bounce back after winless season

| Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, 5:50 p.m.
Norwin's Casey Rebosky works at practice. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Norwin's Art Tragesser is entering his 44th year as a high school football coach. He also was a head coach at Jeannette and Penn-Trafford. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

With one of the program's most difficult seasons in its history behind it, Norwin football is ready to get a fresh start.

A winless campaign in 2011 hasn't put a damper on the preparations of coach Art Tragesser and his players, the coach said. If anything, last year's disappointments have motivated the Knights heading into this season.

“It was a tough season to go through. It was probably harder on me than it was the kids,” Tragesser said. “We've had a great offseason, and the kids were working hard through the summer. They've certainly been putting in the effort to do a lot better this season. They want to be able to get some wins this season.”

The Knights do have their share of roster turnover, but the team also has a number of players that gained experience last year when injuries — one of the factors leading to 2011's struggles — forced them into action.

One of the biggest things Tragesser has tried to do during the offseason is give every player a shot to show they are ready to take a varsity position, which has led to battles for many starting spots.

“You ask me who's starting now, and I have to say, I honestly don't know,” Tragesser said before training camp. “As of right now, everybody's in the mix.

“We went to 7-on-7 tournaments and played four different quarterbacks and four different sets of wide receivers and running backs. I think it's fun for the kids when it's that wide open, and you get to see who accepts the challenge. A kid can't get complacent and think they're the starter, because another guy is going to get a chance, too.”

Of those four quarterbacks, only one has varsity experience. Senior Cody Sabol got one start last season against McKeesport, while the other three — sophomores Johnny Driggers and Sean Bowen and freshman Nick Amendola — are new to the varsity mix.

Norwin does return players from last year that toted the ball as running backs, receivers or, in many cases both, due to position shuffling — senior Dan Chellini, senior Dylan Zgurich and junior Zach Tinsley.

Up front is where the Knights have the most experience, with senior linemen Dylan Keffer and Rustin Casteel and junior Luke Milcic all returning from starting roles last year.

“We don't have a lot of seniors, but the ones that we do have been putting forth maximum effort to lead the young kids,” Tragesser said. “I'm pleased with our leadership, even though we don't have many kids that started every game last year.”

One of those seniors is receiver Casey Rebosky, who could play a larger role this season after seeing time as an injury replacement last year.

Tragesser hopes the offseason work will pay off so his team can get off to a better start than last year, when the team was shut out in its first two games, albeit against two of last year's top eight teams in Seneca Valley and WPIAL finalist Upper St. Clair.

Norwin was much stronger in the second half of last season, which included a near upset of playoff-bound Connellsville. But the Knights don't want to start slowly again this year, with the first two games against also-winless Altoona and rival Penn-Trafford, both of which are conference games.

“Part of (last year's slow start) was the competition. Those were excellent teams, and we had a lot of new faces,” Tragesser said.

“If we could win that first game this year, that would be huge, but it's not our whole season. Five teams make the playoffs from our conference now, so you can't let one setback end your season. But obviously for us, winning that first game would be a great boost for our kids.”

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