Coaching continuity helping Yough take next step in conference

| Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, 5:58 p.m.

Mark Crovak spent his first two seasons at Yough trying to bring continuity to a school that experienced a pair of coaching upheavals in the two years prior to his taking over the program.

It hasn't been easy. He lost his first 11 games on the Cougars sideline and is just 2-16 in his first two years. But that doesn't mean things aren't heading in the right direction.

“The kids are buying in,” Crovak said. “We have more kids now, they're consistently coming around and I think a lot of that has to do with having some stability in the coaching staff. This is the third year we've been here, they haven't had that at Yough for a little bit and I think that has to do with the kids being a lot more mature. Things are looking up for us a little bit.”

One of the challenges has been finding a way to grade the team's improvement in more ways than just wins and losses. Since Yough plays in the Interstate Conference, which has had at least one representative in the WPIAL Class AA championship game in five of the last seven seasons with three titles, cracking the surface and moving up among the elite teams will take a bit more time.

“We run our system, and we're just trying to get better at it,” Crovak said. “In years past, there were days that we had more coaches than kids in the weight room and now we have something like 40 kids there every day. We haven't changed anything, but hopefully we're just a little better at it than we have been in the past.”

What will help Yough is having almost its entire backfield returning intact. Junior quarterback Tyler Donahue is coming off a solid season in which he threw for 1,156 yards and rushed for another 181 and a score. Senior running back Christian Williams eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau and picked up seven touchdowns.

One of the problems Yough will have is replacing receiver Ben Sweeney, who was Donahue's go-to target throughout 2011. Sweeney caught all 11 of Donahue's touchdown passes last season, and he will have to be replaced by the senior tandem of Mike Reuss and Ben D'Amico. But Donahue should have enough experience to bring them along quickly and impact the passing attack.

What also helped was going to several 7-on-7 camps, including one Yough hosted, to help bolster the team's offensive flow.

“Tyler is growing mentally as well as physically, and it's an exciting time for us because we're lucky to not only have these guys, but to have them with experience,” Crovak said. “We don't try to win 7-on-7s, but we use them to help us as we head into the season and it's nice to see things pay off.”

Still, the key for Yough is to improve so that it can get into position to perhaps chase its first postseason berth since 2008. That became more difficult after the biennial realignment when the WPIAL added perennial playoff contender Washington into the conference mix, but the Cougars aren't dissuaded from continuing their improvement.

“It's going to be tougher this year than it has been, and the WPIAL did us no favors,” Crovak said. “But our last game this year is against Southmoreland and we want that game to mean something, either for a playoff spot or seeding in the playoffs.”

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