Norwin hopeful that hard work brings wins
With a young team and only five returning starters, there are plenty of questions to be answered by the Norwin football team.
There is one thing it's clear the Knights have plenty of, however — optimism.
Even though the team is shaking off a winless campaign in 2011, Norwin's players are eager for the chance to get back on the field and put their program back on a winning track.
“We've been working hard the whole offseason, and I think it's starting to show,” senior lineman Dylan Keffer said. “I think our first scrimmage (against North Hills) went well. There's a lot more hustle out there, and we want to be full go, all the time.”
“Practices have become a lot more intense,” senior defensive back Jake Lagorga said. “Everyone's working together a lot better, and hopefully, it shows in the games.”
Three of Norwin's returning starters — Keffer, senior Rusty Casteel and junior Luke Milcic — play on the offensive line. With two other seniors, Zach Brown and Drake Pocsatko, working in spots along the offensive front, the line likely qualifies as Norwin's most experienced positions on the field.
That could be important, as the Knights still are in the process of sorting out roles at the skill positions.
Senior running back Dan Chellini, senior receiver/running back Dylan Zgurich and senior receiver/quarterback Cody Sabol all are likely to have the ball in their hands for Norwin, but how it's getting there is the question.
Many of the Knights' players were forced to fill in at different positions because of injuries last year, and the result is a number of athletes who can be effective running, catching and throwing the ball. Even the quarterback position has a number of moving parts entering the final week of the preseason, and head coach Art Tragesser said he's fully prepared to use three different players under center in the opener Friday at Altoona.
But while questions of position and starting lineup are still to be answered, the Knights players say whoever gets the call will be ready to perform.
“We're definitely coming out strong this year,” Zgurich said. “We're not stopping. We're not giving up on anything. We're going to go 100 percent, all day.”
“The motto that we've had (in practice) is win every rep,” Sabol said. “In all the plays you run, every time you're in, you want to win that rep against whoever you're going against.”
While the offense continues to sort itself out, the Knights' defense got off to a strong start in the scrimmage against North Hills.
Although Casteel and Zgurich are, on paper, the only returning starters, many of the Knights players got plenty of work last season in either a special teams role or as a backup.
“Against North Hills, we seemed to stop them most plays. Both the first and second team were really strong on defense,” Zgurich said.
“This year, you see a lot more teamwork,” Chellini said. “Everyone's coming together and doing their job. We're united as one.”
Getting off to a good start to the season is a big goal for the Knights, who last year did not score until the first drive of their third game against Baldwin.
But the schedule to start the year is only marginally more easy, with the team's longest road trip of the year coming in Week 1 at Altoona before coming home for the rivalry game against reigning conference champ Penn-Trafford.
Norwin also plays all eight of its games in the new Quad East conference — Altoona and Kiski Area being the new teams to join what was the Quad South last year — before its lone nonsection game against Shaler in Week 9.
Looking ahead isn't on the mind of Norwin's players, however. Their first goal is getting the first win that eluded them all last season.
“We want to be a threat to everybody,” Sabol said. “We want to compete at all times, no matter who we're playing.”
“We want to show people that we've been working our butts off to get some wins this season,” Chellini said.
Whether that win comes in Week 1 or later in the season, the optimism that this year will be better will remain with Norwin's players. That feeling is shared by their head coach, who sounded just as eager as his players to get started.
“This team is young, but what's exciting is there's so much potential for them to improve,” Tragesser said.
“They're going to keep getting better as the year goes on, and they're going to be even better next year.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.