By STEVE WILAJ
After a season in which Lowellville experienced a three-win improvement — 1-9 in 2011 to 4-6 in 2012 — head coach Jeff D’Altorio knows the reality of the situation.
“We did lose some key guys from last year,” he said of the 2012 seniors.
But the way the 2013 Rockets’ roster is shaping up, the third-year head coach believes the positives outweigh the negatives.
“Based on what we have coming back, we expect to be right in the mix of things,” D’Altorio said. “We have a nice offensive line coming back and good skill people and I expect us to be very competitive.”
D’Altorio is encouraged by the fact that he has 15 players returning with varsity experience. And while “five or six” underclassmen are still being prepared for the Friday night lights, the veteran-heavy Rockets expect to take another step in the right direction.
“We’re just gonna go out and keep the train rolling and keep things going in the right way,” said offensive tackle Colin Pope.
The strength of Lowellville’s offense begins upfront with senior offensive linemen Pope, Mike Minnie and Nick Micco.
“We have most of our offensive line back from last year, so we have a lot of experience,” Pope said. “I think we’re gonna be good on the offensive side of the ball.”
The veteran offensive line will look to create opportunities for a variety of skill players, including Jessie Terwilliger, Robert Ciccone, Nick Lucente, Eric Grow and Phil Ginnis.
“I’m expecting big things out of those guys for us,” D’Altorio said.
Junior quarterback Alex Harklerode played in all 10 games last season, splitting time at quarterback with Geno Moore.
“We can run the ball and pass the ball, so we can do a little bit of everything,” Minnie said.
While the Rockets will work mostly out of the I-formation, D’Altorio said they will run the spread offense as well.
“Our goal is to be able to throw the ball a little bit more this year,” he said. “We haven’t been very productive throwing the ball since I’ve been here. We ran the ball well, but we definitely need to throw the ball and I think we have the ability to do it this year.”
Many offensive starters also will play defense.
Terwilliger — an All-ITCL Tier Two middle linebacker — anchors the defense, while the senior linemen will also play both ways. Lucente will start at defensive back for the fourth year in a row.
“Our defense is gonna hit hard this year,” Pope said. “We’re a lot faster and we’re gonna stop some plays.”
D’Altorio likes the potential of his defense as well.
“I expect us to be halfway decent as far as guys returning,” he said. “I know what to expect of them and they know what they have to do.”
The Rockets return sophomore kicker Jake Maszczak. He converted 27 of 28 extra-point attempts and was 4 for 7 on field goals.
“He’ll definitely have the opportunity to win games for us and it’s a nice weapon to have,” D’Altorio said.
With most of their players playing on both sides of the ball, the Rockets know they must stay healthy to accomplish their goals. If so, Lowellville likes its chances in the ITCL Tier Two.
“We’re hoping to improve and we just have to stay healthy,” Minnie said. “It’s one of our biggest key factors right now.”