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Freeport, Kittanning coaches use preseason hype to create narratives

| Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, 12:05 a.m.
Freeport Coach John Gaillot speaks to fullback Josh Wisniewski (left) during a practice on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012. The back of Gaillot's shirt, which reads 'Leave your skirt at home,' emphasizes the coach's desire for his team to be more physical. Bill West | Leader Times
Kittanning Coach Frank Fabian is set to make his debut with the Wildcats on Friday, Aug. 31, 2012, against Freeport. Bill West | Leader Times

Kittanning coach Frank Fabian welcomed any opportunities to remind his players about Freeport's depth and talent during the past couple weeks. He even hung up newspaper clippings that highlighted the number of Yellowjackets who starred as underclassmen a season ago.

Freeport coach John Gaillot is grateful none of that talk reached the Yellowjackets' ears.

Weeks of preseason build-up allowed Kittanning's and Freeport's coaches to shape the way their boys perceive the opener. Fabian has framed the Yellowjackets as a season-opening Goliath and challenged his Wildcats to become David, even though they, and not Freeport's boys, belonged to Class AAA last season.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Freeport,” said Fabian, who's in his first year as Kittanning's coach. “They're the defending (Allegheny Conference co-champs). It's well documented how many starters they have back. It's a good measuring stick for our team. We should have a pretty good idea at the end of Friday night as to where we stand in this league.”

Gaillot, meanwhile, told his players they have much to prove, nevermind their collective experience and talent.

“We're nowhere close to where we need to be,” said Gaillot, who identified a lack of physicality as a particular concern.

With eight starters back on each side of the ball, Freeport is hard-pressed to convince anyone it's not capable of grabbing another title.

Senior quarterback Brendan Lynch battled injuries during training camp, but he still possessed the skills that made him such a dual threat during the past two seasons.

Senior running back Damon Smith, a 1,300-yard rusher last year, has zipped through and around an offensive line that includes several hulking blockers.

And the defense, responsible for allowing just 11.3 points per game last season, has waited for the day it can redeem itself after surrendering 22 points in the fourth quarter of Freeport's final game in 2011, a 33-26 playoff loss to Ellwood City in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

“You have to move on,” senior lineman Brian Welsh. “But you don't want to forget that feeling, because you never want to feel like that again.”

The Yellowjackets are aware that Kittanning has its own salvation plan, Welsh said. They know Kittanning won just one game each of the past two seasons.

“They're hungry,” the senior said. “We know they're coming back down from AAA, and they're looking to make a name for themselves.”

Kittanning's spread offense, quarterbacked by senior Kevin Barnes, is a new twist for Freeport, which saw the Wildcats' wing-T look during scrimmages the past two seasons and won, 37-21, when the teams met in 2009. A receiving corps that includes multiple players taller than 6 feet — senior Vince Mead is the biggest at 6-foot-6 — might prove particularly challenging.

Whatever gets the ball in the end zone will work just fine for the Wildcats, who averaged 13.2 points during their two years in Class AAA.

“It means everything to get the respect back that we deserve,” senior running back Kol Lazaroff said. “We need to go out there and do the best we can, give it all we got.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1303 ext. 1321.

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