YATESVILLE — The Patriots could have been called the “cardiac kids” following a few heroic, fourth-quarter comebacks last season. What will they do as an encore?
When Jim Norris took over the Pittston Area football team last season, he wanted to change the culture. He wanted his players to buy in to the commitment to get the program to the next level.
Pittston Area will celebrate the 50th season as a football program this year. Norris has studied the history of the school and knows he coaches at a football school. Now, he’s trying to get that point across to his players heading into the 2015 season.
“We’re working on approaching the game with a little more passion and enthusiasm,” Norris said. “We have the ability and the scheme to do great things. What we’re lacking is our emotion for the game.”
Norris has seen his players go through the motions early this season. If the team is going to compete at the highest level, it will have to commit 100 percent all the time, he said.
Pittston Area is blessed with a large senior class and a sophomore class that can turn heads in the next few years.
“The nice thing about this year is that we have a big senior class that’s really supported by a strong sophomore class,” Norris said. “We’ll see them on the field this year.”
Pittston Area will have to replace one of the best athletes in the Wyoming Valley Conference from a year ago.
Pittston Area mounted comebacks against Valley View and Hazleton Area that turned heads in the Wyoming Valley Conference last season. Most of those comebacks were led by then-senior Kyle Gattuso.
Now in his freshman season at Wilkes University, Gattuso led the Patriots in scoring, passing and rushing. While Gattuso will no longer be in the backfield, Norris will look to running his offense by committee at both the quarterback and running back positions.
Sophomore Walter Coles and senior Niko Cinquegrani will take most of the reps under center while seniors Carmen Falcone, Eric Petrosky, Ryan Davis and Kyle Petrosky will split reps at running back.
“We expect them all to contribute, along with sophomore Richie Wallace,” Norris said. “With those guys, you’re going to see a good mix of speed and agility as well as downhill running.”
Cinquegrani provides Pittston Area with a look Gattuso offered; he’s a running quarterback. Coles will give the Patriots a more conventional quarterback, but still has the ability to run the football.
“He brings a combination of size and speed that will be hard for a defense to defend,” Norris said of Cinquegrani. “He’s a really good blocker and has some of the best hands on the team.”
The Patriots’ offense this season will new formations as it will rely most on the run. It will be an offense different than any the WVC has seen, Norris said.
When the team passes, Paul Brady will be the target. The 6-foot-4 senior led Pittston Area with 380 yards and three touchdowns last season on 31 catches. He’ll also be one of the team’s best defensive weapons.
“Any time you have a 6-4 kid that runs and catches well, you have to be excited about it,” Norris said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to create some mismatches with him.”
Admittedly, Norris knows his defense struggled last season, although there were times the Patriots did nice things defensively.
During several games a year ago, the Patriots didn’t have a defensive player over 200 pounds on the field. That will change this season as the team has gotten bigger up front and will rotate several guys across the defensive line.
“The change you’ll see this year is that there will be bigger bodies on the field,” Norris said. “We’ve taken a lot out and simplified it. We’re trying to let them play fast as opposed to worrying about schemes.”
Heading into the season, Pittston Area committed to simplifying its defense. Following the team’s first scrimmage against Scranton, the Patriots will simplify it even more. Norris is going to more of a high school-based defense and allowing his kids to play.
Up front, it will be a committee controlling the line of scrimmage and that group will be led by three-year starter Brandon Goodlavage at tackle.
With the secondary not very big, Pittston Area will focus on getting to the quarterback in passing situations.
“We’re going to play zone and allow our front eight to attack the quarterback a little bit when we can,” Norris said.
Getting the Patriots to better that three-win season from last year won’t be an easy task for Norris; however, he won’t be satisfied without approaching that five- or six-win season.
As far as scheme and athletic ability, Norris believes his team is ready to catapult into a playoff berth.
“Anything less than a six-win season will be disappointing from a potential standpoint,” Norris said. “We’re not going to get there unless we correct some of the intangibles. I want to see them meet their potential for once.”
Pittston Area opens its season on Friday, Sept. 4, when its hosts Abington Heights.