Cortazzo getting second chance at SA
Three years ago, East Allegheny coach Tim Cortazzo added an assistant he knew very well to his staff -- older brother Frank Cortazzo, who had just been removed after only one season running South Allegheny's program.
"He's the big brother I can always count on," Tim Cortazzo said. "The same one who kicked my butt when I was little. I tease him that fortunately, he's not in our section this year."
Frank Cortazzo is getting a second chance at South Allegheny, which is dealing with its seventh coach in seven seasons, if you include him twice and the short tenure of Jason Cappa, who was hired by the old school board, then replaced by the new one without coaching a game. The Gladiators were 3-7 under Pat Risha last year.
"I look at it like the last four years went kind of idle," Tim Cortazzo said of South Allegheny. "I think you have to understand the kind of kid you have. Frank has lived there for years. He understands the kids. I think in the next couple of years, you will see the results. I think if they had just left him in place (after the 1999 season) and let him go, things could have been different."
Frank Cortazzo knows this is a team in need of stability after a series of losing seasons and changes at the top.
"I feel the frustration on all sides," Cortazzo said. "It's not just the players. It's the parents. We've tried too many things too often. Even if Jim Ward (the coach from 2000 to '02) was in his fourth or fifth year now, it might have made a difference.
"I think we can turn it around."
Frank Cortazzo believes his presence and that of his coaches in the community will matter for the players.
"One kid came in and went up to one of our assistants and said, 'Coach, I see you everywhere. I see you at the grocery store, the ice cream stand," Cortazzo said. "To me, that's huge."
Unfortunately for the Gladiators, the roster is not, with only 31 players heading into camp.
"That's a low number," Cortazzo said. "I just told them, you have to bust your butts. We have to have everybody go both ways and play four quarters to win."
South Allegheny has had players leave, as well as coaches. Two standout WPIAL tailbacks -- Duquesne's Shane Brooks and Clairton's Dana Brown -- were at South Allegheny as freshmen due to a short-lived co-op agreement with Wilson Christian Academy.
The bulk of the rushing load now falls to another senior, 5-foot-11, 240-pounder Cayan Thaxton, also a starting linebacker, though 5-5 senior Jordan Kiser will also get some work. They will run behind a line anchored by 260-pound two-way tackle Bill Kostyzak.
Albert Serena, a 6-5, 240-pound senior, is moving back to tight end after spending last season on the offensive line, though he could move back down. He will also be at defensive end.
"Schools seem to like him for his size," Cortazzo said. "We want to get the ball in his hands."
Serena is part of a group of big targets for quarterbacks Joey Smith, a senior, and Brandon Myers, a sophomore. Wayne Salter, a 6-4 senior, is another key receiver.