Apollo-Ridge players sick of losing

| Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, 11:59 p.m.

Apollo-Ridge is sick.

No, there aren't any illnesses or diseases permeating the locker room.

Actually, Apollo-Ridge is just plain sick of losing.

The Vikings have won just three games in the past two seasons — two of them against West Shamokin, a school experiencing a WPIAL record losing streak.

Apollo-Ridge has a 9-27 record the last four years after enjoying a winning season in 2007.

Hoping to lead a revival into the winner's circle is junior linebacker/running back Lonnie Wells.

“We're ready to win, and ready to win now,” Wells said. “We were anxious to get the pads on the other day.”

The coaches noticed their players' enthusiasm.

“Before practice, they all stood up and said they were sick of Apollo-Ridge being labeled a bunch of losers, sick of being labeled as not being very good,” Vikings coach John Skiba said. “We only have six seniors, but we have a strong junior class that wants to build something.”

Wells was selected as an Allegheny Conference honorable mention at outside linebacker.

“I didn't think I'd get it, and I was kind of excited when they told me,” Wells said of his selection.

Said Skiba: “I pointed out to Lonnie that there's not another kid we have more respect for the way he goes about his business. He's not flashy, he's not vocal, but he gets his work done.”

Skiba and the Vikings expect big things from Wells not only on defense, but also at running back.

Wells carried the ball just 36 times for 123 yards in 2011 and looks to see more action in the backfield, along with fellow junior and friend, Ben Gembella.

“Those two are mirror images,” Skiba said. “They compete hard against each other. They're friends off the field and they are pushing each other.”

Apollo-Ridge players know the quickest route back to respectability is through defense.

“I see an improvement on defense so far in camp,” Wells said. “We're tackling a lot better than we were.”

Apollo-Ridge has dropped from Class AA to Class A for at least two years under the new PIAA enrollment standards. The Vikings know there are some excellent teams in the Eastern Conference, but they will be playing comparable schools, size-wise.

“That'll be harder, we're not used to playing those teams,” Wells said. “But we'll have Leechburg back, that's our rival.”

Skiba added: “After going through a meat grinder of a schedule with bigger schools with big rosters like Freeport and Burrell, we see some expectations.”

Returning lineman Matt Thomas, a senior, also wants to be part of a turnaround.

“We've been down, we're sick of it and we're hungry,” Thomas said. “I want to be part of it — the new Apollo-Ridge.”

Skiba recalls his days as an assistant at Pine-Richland, where fortunes were down in the late 1990s.

“It took a tight-knit group of young guys that just got sick of losing, and they somehow made the playoffs,” Skiba said.

Vikings players said they were looking forward to Saturday morning's scrimmage at Valley, so they too can start their turnaround.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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