Knoch leaning on 4 captains after injuries to key players
Long before Knoch’s first summer workout, the team knew it likely would be down three starters for the entire season because of injuries outside of football.
But second-year coach Frank Whalen wasn’t going to let injuries to Tanner Grassi, Savon Mosby and Joey Wojiechowski set the tone.
Instead, he altered his offseason approach, naming his captains early rather than waiting until the end of training camp.
He chose Jarrett Bricker, Chase Mullen, Emmett Fry and Noah Cetnar and asked them to help get the momentum rolling in a positive direction.
He likes what he’s seen.
“Losing those three was difficult, so we kind of had to do things differently early on,” Whalen said. “We actually named one extra captain, and they have done a tremendous job of making sure that the team worked hard in the summer.
“These kids have proven themselves, and they have the confidence of the rest of the team. For me, it was really a no-brainer to choose those four to be our captains.”
Grassi suffered a knee injury playing lacrosse, and Mosby had a knee injury during wrestling season. Grassi was a first-team all-conference defensive lineman last year. Mosby started on the defensive line and projected as a member of the backfield. Wojciechowski played wide receiver and was going to have his role expanded to corner.
Whalen said Wojciechowski has a chance to return late in the year, but the other two are out.
To counteract those losses, the quartet of captains pushed the team during workouts in the summer, taking a hands-on approach toward putting the team in a better position entering training camp.
“We needed stability,” Bricker said. “All four captains have shown up every day in the weight room, and we’ve been going around boosting everyone’s morale. I think it was a good choice by them to name us early.”
Bricker and Fry are the only two returning linemen. Mullen moves from wingback to quarterback, replacing Jake Herrit, who graduated. Cetnar will slide into his vacated spot at wingback.
Whalen installed the triple-option offense last year upon arrival, and after a season of adjusting to the system, the comfort level has increased.
Bricker admitted he had to watch YouTube videos last year just to get a feel for the offense, but now he’s alongside Fry as a mentor for the younger linemen.
“The first year it was all new. It would’ve probably been better if I had never played football before and came into it with a blank slate, but this year I have it down pat,” Bricker said. “It’s in my mind and Emmett’s mind. We’re the only two returning starters, so we’re helping the younger guys out and getting them ready for the season.
“Coach (Whalen) has been with us all summer, and he’s devoted so much time with us. All of our coaches have. We appreciate them.”
The Knights lost last season’s leading rusher, Ivan Stapchuck, to graduation, and junior Matt Goodlin is slated to take his spot in the backfield. Goodlin is the younger brother of Andrew Rumburg-Goodlin, the standout running back who led Knoch to the 2011 WPIAL Class AAA title game.
“Matt is looking tremendous,” Whalen said. “He’s extremely explosive and extremely strong. We’re looking for him to pick up where Ivan Stapchuck left off. He has a similar running style to what Andrew had. If you watch him run you can tell that they are brothers.”
Knoch lost rival Mars, which moved to Class 5A, and Indiana from the Northwest 8 Conference and added Beaver. The Northwest 8 figures to be a grinding slate again with the likes of South Fayette, Montour, New Castle and Highlands among others looming on the schedule.
Bricker is weary of the challenges ahead, but is optimistic Knoch can improve on its 4-5 record from last year and fight its way into the postseason for the first time since 2014.
“To me it’s the toughest conference in the WPIAL, and it’s very hard to make a playoff run in,” Bricker said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with in the past, but we’re going to do it this year. We’re going to make playoffs. I’m pretty excited for the season.”
Coach: Frank Whalen
2017 record: 4-5, 4-4
All-time record: 292-293-13
Date, Opponent, Time
8.24, at Hampton, 7 p.m.
8.31, at Blackhawk*, 7 p.m.
9.7, at Beaver*, 7:30 p.m.
9.14, Highlands*, 7 p.m.
9.21, Ambridge*, 7 p.m.
9.28, at Montour*, 7 p.m.
10.5, South Fayette*, 7 p.m.
10.12, at New Castle*, 7 p.m.
10.19, Trinity, 7 p.m.
10.26, Freeport, 7 p.m.
*Class 4A Northwest 8 Conference