Old Forge seniors, pictured from left to right, Dave Argust, Joey Ciuccio, Lou Febbo, Anthony Trotta, Cory Stuart and Colin Carey, look to keep the Blue Devils on the winning track in 2011. Old Forge has won at least seven games in each of the past six seasons.photo by rick notari
Four years ago Old Forge Head Football Coach Mike Schuback penciled in three sophomore offensive linemen on a team that featured skill players that were about to come into their own. That team went on to win seven games and make the District 2 playoffs.
This year, Schuback will do the same. Only this time he expects the Blue Devils to be even better.
“I made this statement before doubles, and I am going to stand with it. If we do not make the district championship game, it’s going to be disappointing,” said Schuback who enters his 10th season at the helm of his Alma Mater. “We are at make or break right now. With the skill kids we have and the three-year seniors we have around (we are at that point). Even though they weren’t big names for the past two years, we feel we know each other well enough, and know the other teams well enough, that we should be successful.”
The skill players Schuback refers to are running backs Lou Febbo and Brian “Bubba” Tomasetti, wide receivers Dave Argust and Michael Vieira, and quarterback Colin Carey.
Febbo rushed for 899 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior while playing in an offense that put up 1,240 yards and 16 touchdowns in the air. Tomasetti added 209 yards on just 25 carries while punching it in twice as a sophomore.
Argust, a senior, caught 20 balls for almost 200 yards and one touchdown last season, and Vieira, a junior, chipped in with five catches for almost 100 yards but was also the top return man for Old Forge with 15 kickoff returns for 208 yards.
Carey will be the X-factor for the Blue Devils.
After taking few reps under center in passing situations last season, the fleet-footed 6’3 senior did run for 224 yards on just 27 carries while scoring three touchdowns out of the Old Forge spread-set.
“We aren’t going to be a straight I-(formation) team all of the time,” said Schuback. “Carey does such a great job spreading the field and making it work to our advantage with the skill kids we have. I think it’s going to dictate how many kids teams are going to be able to put in the box, and that is going to make it easier on the kids up front than in the past.”
The players up front for Old Forge will include three sophomores in a rotation of six players as the season begins for the Blue Devils. But that is not to say Old Forge is totally inexperienced on the offensive line.
Senior Anthony Trotta, a 5’10, 220-pound guard/tackle, returns after starting every game at right tackle as a junior. Trotta begins the season as the right tackle as the Blue Devils await 6’2, 220-pound sophomore Ryan Paulish to return from an off-season knee injury. When Paulish returns, Trotta is likely to move to left guard to give the Blue Devils another athletic pulling guard.
Anthony Conforti, a 5’11, 205 senior is battling with senior Cory Stuart – who moves from tight end – for the left tackle spot. Conforti can also slide down to guard, while Trotta could also see time at left tackle depending on the development of two other sophomores.
Paul Papi, 6’0, 190, will play right guard, and Joey Bruno, 6’2, 200 will serve as the top backup at guard and center. Senior Nick Nally is also in the mix at guard. Tyler Clark, a 5’11, 220-pound junior, will start at center, and can also play guard.
“We see tons of comparisons (to the group of young linemen four years ago), but not to offend anyone, this group is more athletic,” said Schuback whose teams have won 68 games in his nine seasons. “Paul and Joey are big kids that mirror what Kyle (Holland) and AJ (Grasso) brought to the table, and the toughness that Stuart, Conforti, and Tyler bring, reminds me a lot of Mark (Zambetti).
“We are more adaptive upfront though with guys who can play a bunch of positions, which is kind of unique and will work to our advantage. With Febbo and Tomasetti back there, any little hole and they are going to exploit it.”
Joey Ciuccio, a 5’11, 190-pound senior will play fullback with sophomore Jorden Sekol serving as his backup. Junior Anthony DeSando returns at tight end after starting the second half of the season as a sophomore.
Transfer Brenden Wahl, a 5’10, 165-pound junior will serve as the backup quarterback, and juniors Anthony Piccolini and Elijah Wilson add depth to the receiving corps.
Defensively, Trotta, Stuart and Ciuccio will anchor the defense. The three seniors are the only returning starters among the front seven in the Blue Devils 4-4 scheme.
Trotta racked up 94 tackles to lead the team from his inside linebacker position, while Stuart and Ciuccio combined for 50 tackles and six sacks from their defensive end positions.
Old Forge will also be experienced at both cornerback spots with Argust, Tomasetti and Vieira set to rotate at the position. Sophomore Jake Manetti has earned the nod at safety with Argust providing depth.
Conforti will man the other inside linebacker spot after seeing time inside as a junior. Febbo and senior Ryan Cadwalder are set to start at outside linebacker, leaving the only holes to fill at tackle for the Big Blue Wrecking Crew.
DeSando and Clark are set to start at defensive tackle with junior David “Rudy” Rudalavage, 5’10, 200-pounds, Bruno and Paulish in the rotation. DeSando can also play defensive end, as will Papi and sophomore Paul Piemontese.
“We have both our ends back and we have great experience inside,” said Schuback. “Conforti had a good season last year in a backup role, and Trotta is obviously going to be solid for us. We return somewhat the heart of our defense in a sense, but the key is going to be upfront.”
Sekol and Nally will back up Trotta and Conforti at inside linebacker, and junior Warren Welsh and sophomore Shane Schuback will back up Febbo and Cadwalder on the outside.
Junior Matt Mancuso returns for his second season as the Blue Devils kicker after converting 32-of-34 extra points in his first season on the gridiron. Argust will serve as the Old Forge punter after posting a 31.0-yard per punt average last season.
The return of an experienced core with a group of talented, athletic underclassmen has Schuback excited for the beginning of the 2011 season.
“Our skill kids are the strength of our football team. They really are talented,” said Schuback. “And our sophomore class is going to be a big plus for us. They are very athletic and give us a big lift. Our junior class is a little unseen, unheard, but makes up a lot of our skill group.”
At the same time, Schuback is aware the Blue Devils are a bit under the radar in the Lackawanna Football Conference Division III.
“I think every game is going to be difficult. Playing on the road at Holy Cross on a Saturday, Montrose has a young staff that will energize the program, Trail is loaded, and what Susquehanna did to us last year to end the year motivates us,” said Schuback. “It is good no one is talking about us. It gives our kids a sense of, ‘Hey. That’s good. Don’t give us the attention.’
“But like a couple years ago, we had three guys who people knew about, and the others no one knew about - blue collar kids who just worked hard and got the job done. This team has more skill than that team though, so I am really optimistic.”
Old Forge opens the season at home Friday night against Lake-Lehman at 7 p.m.