NCAA DIVISION II FOOTBALL Former Niles star helping W &amp; amp;J in playoffs
Freshman Rocco Nori is making an important defensive contribution to the Presidents playoff bid.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
Rocco Nori of Niles is getting an opportunity to play on an undefeated team in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs in his first year at Washington & amp; Jefferson College in Washington, Pa.
Nori, a 6-foot, 270-pound defensive tackle from Niles McKinley High, is expected to see heavy action when the Presidents (11-0) play at Widener University (11-0) in Chester, Pa., Saturday at noon.
This marks the 14th time in the past 17 seasons that W & amp;J is in the playoffs. The Presidents advanced to the championship games in 1992 and 1994 before faltering.
W & amp;J, coached by John Banaszak, opened the playoffs last week with 24-21 win over Western Maryland.
Banaszak, a former Pittsburgh Steelers player, is in his third season with a 29-5 overall record.
Four-man rotation: Nori, part of a four-man rotation at defensive tackle, usually plays about half the game and has come up with 30 tackles, including 10 solo hits.
He is one of the reasons the Presidents' defense has improved from last year, when they went 9-1 and qualified for the playoffs before losing in the first round to Bridgewater (Va.) College, 59-42.
Nori feels that his main contribution is as reinforcement.
"I felt I helped out a lot this year. Last year we had only a three-man rotation with the defensive tackles, and the players were tired and they were happy they had another guy to help out," said Nori, noting the team now has four defensive tackles.
Defense better: Nori said he believes W & amp;J's defense is what makes the team somewhat better than last year's squad.
"Last year we had a high point-scoring offense, but the defense was lacking. This year, the offense is still solid but the defense has really improved," Nori said. "We have better people all the way around."
Nori said that while his main role is to pass rush the quarterback, I made most of my tackles near the line of scrimmage on runs."
And he thinks he has made improvements since leaving Niles.
"I got a lot quicker, I have more movements and I learned a lot better techniques and hand movements," Nori said.
Optimistic: Regarding the Widener game, Nori predicted, "I think we can beat them."
The winner will advance to a quarterfinal on Dec. 1 against the survivor of the Trinity (Tex.) University-Bridgewater (Va.) College game.
A business major, Nori was coached by Bill Bohren at Niles High.
Also on the W & amp;J team is Ben Wittenauer, a freshman offensive tackle from Lakeview High.