Smetanka adds energy to Greensburg Central Catholic football
It's a baking hot mid-July evening and Greensburg Central Catholic football players are running sprints, pulling sleds up a hillside and catching deep passes.
Conditioning was ramped up in Carbon under first-year coach Aaron Smetanka and his young staff. They turned up the heat.
Smetanka, a former standout quarterback at St. Vincent and in the Continental Indoor Football League, wanted his players in shape before training camp.
Smetanka didn't just change the helmet logo from the old Georgia and Green Bay Packers “G” to the Centurion figure profile, he has reenergized the program.
“These kids aren't used to this,” said Smetanka, 29, a former assistant at Chartiers Valley, Peters Township and St. Vincent. “We're on Week 24already (in July). We've been running and lifting. Conditioning was one of the main things I promised in my interview. A lot of the parents and kids were a little surprised by how much we've done. But they have shown up and put in the time.”
GCC went 2-8 last season and missed the postseason in Dan Mahoney's fifth and final season as coach. GCC lost to WPIAL finalists Clairton and Jeannette, 140-0 — 84-0 to the former and 56-0 to the latter. The Centurions' wins came against upstart Imani Christian and Leechburg.
“I want to get this program back to where it used to be,” said Smetanka, a personal trainer with VYGOR Fitness and Nutrition who also works with the GCC girls basketball program. “We need to be competitive again.”
But the process could take time as Smetanka tries to wipe away inexperience and replace it with confidence.
“We're putting in a brand new offense and defense,” he said. “That's ground zero. We're very limited and we have only four seniors, but our kids are working hard and want to learn.”
Quarterback was a question mark heading into camp with the graduation of 1,500-yard passer Dom Eisaman (Washington & Jefferson). But Smetanka enjoyed the challenge of figuring out who will be his starting signal-caller.
Senior Bruce Leonard (5-11, 190) and hard-throwing junior lefty Max Pisula (6-2, 220) were the candidates. Smetanka wants to throw the ball more but is willing to adjust to his personnel and not force the issue.
“We have some capable guys,” said Smetanka, a Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic grad. “Both can run the offense; Bruce might be a little more athletic.”
Key receivers will be juniors Jake Reihart and Bryce Kurpiel. Both also will play cornerback. A void was left at wideout when incoming junior Ryan Quinn transferred to Mt. Pleasant.
Alvin “LA” Ross was a do-it-all back last season but has moved on to Clarion. He rushed for 400 yards and caught 30 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns.
Sophomores Zach Kuvinka and Tom Voelker were competing for carries in the Centurions' backfield on the eve of camp. Junior Brandon Ciccarelli will join that pair at linebacker.
Smetanka has confidence in his special teams, led by senior punter and kicker Ethan Slike.
“He has the potential to earn a college scholarship,” Smetanka said. “Very strong leg.”
Linemen with minimal yet valuable experience include sophomores Isaac Kuhns (5-11, 230) and Chase Pisula (5-10, 170), junior Matt Hogan (6-0, 251) and senior Dante Trunzo (6-0, 211).
“We have a lot of guys who weren't starters who will be first-time starters,” Smetanka said. “That's just the way it will work out.”
The Eastern Conference is expected to be the best outfit in Class A again, with Clairton and Jeannette still out in front.
“You have to be prepared week in and week out,” Smetanka said. “It can be a dog fight.”
The Centurions open the season Saturday at Tuscarawas Central Catholic.