Rocco ‘humbled’ to enter Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame
Former Fox Chapel standout, Penn State quarterback and Highlands coach Frank Rocco is just a VHS tape away from his Alle-Kiski Valley roots.
Rocco, a high school football coach and athletic director at Liberty Christian Academy in Virginia, was looking ahead to the 2019 football season and realized next year’s team is remarkably similar to the 1992 Highlands team he coached. So he popped in the tape to watch film but ended up taking a drive down memory lane.
“I pulled out an old VHS tape a couple weeks ago against Valley,” said Rocco, 59. “Jay White was the tailback for Valley, and it was a bloodbath. It was the broadcast of Joe Falsetti and Bob Tatrn.
“My present-day football team we’ll have for next year is not as terribly skilled as we’ve been in recent years, and I remember some of the things we did back in 1992 and I pulled that video out to refresh my memory. I think I want to go back and be little bit more simplified in what we did there with Erick Wade running the ball and pounding the ball up front.”
Rocco, along with seven other A-K Valley standouts make up the 50th class of the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame that will be inducted May 18 at New Kensington’s Quality Inn.
“I’m extremely honored and humbled by the honor,” Rocco said. “I certainly look at the Alle-Kiski Valley as being one of the top areas in the state for athletics.”
Rocco grew up in a competitive household. His dad, Frank Sr., was the Fox Chapel football coach and instilled the structure and discipline, and his older brother Dan supplied the competition. The brothers were born 362 days apart.
“We were each other’s best friends and each other’s combatants a lot of the time,” Rocco said. “Everything was one big competition.”
Dan went on the play defensive back for Wake Forest and is Delaware’s coach.
Rocco was one of the top athletes in the WPIAL when he graduated from Fox Chapel in 1978. Rocco excelled at basketball and track but accepted a scholarship to play quarterback at Penn State. Rocco was a two-year letterwinner at Penn State and quarterbacked the Nittany Lions to a 9-6 win over Tulane in the 1979 Liberty Bowl.
Penn State was where another coach would become a big part of Rocco’s life. Rocco credited the late Joe Paterno with cementing the values Rocco’s father had preached throughout his childhood.
“My greatest role models in my life, and professional life, was my dad and my college football coach in Joe Paterno,” Rocco said.
Paterno gave Rocco an opportunity as a graduate assistant coach in 1982, and he was part of Penn State’s 1982 national championship team. He had brief stints with the New England Patriots in 1982 and the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars in 1983 before hanging the cleats up and returning to Fox Chapel to coach with his father.
From there, Rocco’s career moves were upward. He replaced current WPIAL Executive Director Tim O’Malley as Pine-Richland’s coach in 1985 before heading to Highlands, where he served as athletic director and football coach from 1986-92.
“I always said Highlands is a place I could stay the rest of my life,” Rocco said. “At the time I was 35 years old and had a lot of gas in me.”
Rocco’s last stop in the WPIAL was at Shaler, where he again served as athletic director and coach.
His next move was a big one. He moved to the college ranks and served as Liberty’s offensive coordinator from 2000-04.
“I gave college a shot, and I enjoyed coaching college,” Rocco said. “College isn’t the career you want if you want to be a family man. After four years, I realized that.”
Rocco then moved to Liberty Christian Academy, where he won six Virginia Class AAAA state titles from 2004-15. He finished as LCA’s all-time winningest coach with a record of 118-16 and also helped the launch the careers of Chicago Bears offensive tackle Bobby Massie and longtime NFL running back Rashad Jennings.
Rocco married his high-school sweetheart, Leslie. The two raised three children: Chris, the current LCA football coach; Jenn, a teacher and missionary in Guatemala; and Michael, who starred at Virginia and quarterbacked the Cavaliers to a 17-16 win over the Nittany Lions.
“I just feel so blessed to be able to have made a living in something that you love,” Rocco said. “I certainly look back at my roots in the AK Valley as the foundation and are the things that made me who I am.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.