YATESVILLE —It hasn’t been the easiest road for Pittston Area head coach Jim Norris. But following an 0-10 season, Norris enters his third year with one of his deepest teams to date.
Pittston Area’s season last year left them as the only team in Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 2 without a win. It was Pittston Area’s second 0-10 season in the last seven years. However, there’s a confidence surrounding this group of players led by junior quarterback Walter Coles.
“Last year was definitely a tough season,” he said. “We just have a lot more confidence. Upcoming players and juniors got a lot of playing time last year.”
Norris is looking for his first winning season as a head coach, and he has been working to change the culture at Pittston Area. This year he said things are “so far, so good” in preparation to his team’s first game at Crestwood on Friday, Aug. 26.
“They responded incredibly well to that adversity and I think this group for the first time in a long time were willing to do what it takes in the offseason to have a successful fall,” he said. “A lot of that work will translate into good things this year.”
This Pittston Area team features just six seniors. The bulk of the offensive and defensive load will fall on the shoulders of the junior class. Those 11th graders saw a lot of playing time as sophomores. The Patriots have 22 juniors, with the majority of them seeing the field this season.
The Patriots will have a few new faces on their schedule this season with the PIAA realignment taking effect. Pittston Area will not play Wyoming Valley West and Hazleton Area, but will instead play GAR and Nanticoke. Instead of needing to be among the top four teams out of 14 fighting for four playoff berths, the Warriors and Patriots will make the District 2 playoffs as long as they are one of the top eight out of 11.
Coles returning under center gives the Patriots some stability at an important position. In his first year as a starter last year, Coles finished the season with 583 yards and four TDs. His completion percentage was around 40 percent. This year, Coles is looking to stay on his feet.
“I took a beating last year and threw a lot of picks,” he said. “I worked real hard all offseason and our offensive line is always improving.”
The Patriots will replace several athletes that contributed on offense last season. Receivers Paul Brady and Niko Cinquegrani, who also played quarterback at times, combined for 431 yards receiving and all four passing touchdowns. In the backfield, running backs Ryan Davis, Kyle Petroski, Eric Petroski and Carmen Falcone are gone to graduation.
Filling the void there will be a running back by committee group with juniors Trevor Tigue, Keemar Woodruff and Dylan Spurlin. Junior Tyler Ferlick will handle fullback duties, while athlete Rich Wallace will carry and catch the ball.
But one of the biggest leaps the Patriots have made this offseason might just be the offensive line.
Anchored by returning starters Jake Rutkowski and Michael Hopkins, both juniors, and senior Brandon Lucke, the Patriots might not be the biggest offensive line, Norris said. However, he noted they each had “incredible offseasons.”
“We have five to seven guys who are going to work their butts off every Friday night,” Norris said.
Pittston Area will return to its 4-4 front for the 2016 season. The Patriot defense allowed 36.5 points per contest last season, including 62 to Wyoming Valley West in week 3.
However, Norris is confident in two of his defensive quarterbacks making a return this season. Middle linebacker Tyler Ferlick and safety Kevin Krawczyk led the team in tackles last season. Norris expects much of the same in their junior seasons.
“Anytime you return a middle linebacker and a safety it’s a good thing,” he said.
Up front, it’s much of the same for Pittston Area as it is on the offensive line. Norris said those players must improve week to week and be fueled by returners throughout the season. A big difference from last season to this season is no one in camp is being handed any positions, Norris said.
“We’re developing a competitive environment in camp,” he said. “We’re not going to be a big defense but we’ll be guys that run to the football.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick