Apollo-Ridge QB Jake Fello feeling confident for his 2nd season
When starting quarterback Kyle Fitzroy went down with an injury last year, Jake Fello got the chance, as a freshman, to navigate the Apollo-Ridge offense from under center.
Fello had his ups and downs in his first go around as a varsity signal caller, but, he said, it was a valuable learning experience.
Fast forward to now, and Fello heads into the season as the starting quarterback. With the work he has put in during the offseason, he said he’s ready to help lead the Vikings to what they hope is a return to the WPIAL playoffs after a one-year hiatus.
“I now know what to expect,” said Fello, who completed 24 of 52 passes for 207 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions in five games last year.
“I have confidence in myself and my teammates. We’re ready for the challenges to come. I think we have a really good shot at making the playoffs.”
The entire Apollo-Ridge team spent the past week together for heat acclimation workouts, and Monday marks the official start of preseason practices.
Under the new WPIAL football realignment, the Vikings dropped to 2A and will face the likes of former 3A conference rival Valley, as well as Steel Valley, Avonworth, East Allegheny and Shady Side Academy.
Apollo-Ridge finished last year 4-6 overall and 2-5 (sixth place) in the Allegheny Conference.
“We have a good offensive line that will protect me, and I think we can do some good things in the passing game,” Fello said.
“We have some great receivers who can make plays. It’s also great to know there’s someone like (fellow sophomore) Logan (Harmon) back there to run the ball and get yards.”
Klay Fitzroy, a sophomore, saw action at quarterback last year as well. He was in the mix for the starting job in the offseason.
″(Klay and Jake) both are highly skilled kids, and they both have great awareness,” Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba said. “They are great leaders. We felt that Jake was a little more polished at this point. It also freed up Klay to go on the outside. He’s a pretty good receiver and was dominant at times in our 7-on-7s. It’s really paid off for everyone.
“Klay was very understanding of the decision. That’s the way he is. Jake would’ve been the same way had it been the other way around. Both want what’s best for the team.”
Fello said there still might be some nerves when he steps under center in a game for the first time this year, but it won’t be anything like last year.
“I got out there the first time, and I was like ‘Oh my God,’ ” he said. “But then I settled down and realized that I am out here because my coaches believe in me. I got better, and I saw the team get better.
“The game is very different from middle school to high school. I was all of a sudden playing seniors out there. The game is faster, and the players are bigger and stronger. It took some time to get used to that.”
Fello and the coaches saw a turning point last year in a two-game span.
Against Freeport in Week 6, he completed 7 of 20 passes for 60 yards and was intercepted three times in a 49-7 loss.
The next week, despite a 35-13 setback against Keystone Oaks, Fello went 8 of 14 for 90 yards and a touchdown. He added 15 carries for 64 yards and also made seven tackles on defense. He helped stake the Vikings to a 13-0 lead in the second quarter before the Eagles rallied.
“We worked hard after (the Freeport game) and got ready for Keystone Oaks,” Fello said. “I was able to come back and play better. I had a lot more confidence. We didn’t win that game, but we improved.”
Skiba was pleased to see that example of a young player improving, something he witnessed team-wide last year.
“We saw him escape the pocket, make great decisions, not throw bad balls and make great plays,” Skiba said. “You could see his confidence. We were on the headsets saying that this is what we were waiting to see. We knew he was going to build off that game.”
Fello got the start against Valley the next week and was 1 of 3 passing for 13 yards and added six carries for 14 yards before an injury forced him out of the game late in the first quarter.
He added 48 carries for 88 yards last year.
“Jake understands that he has to be smart out there, like when he’s running, to know when to get down and go on to the next play,” Skiba said. “That’s part of the process for him, too, just taking care of his body.”
Fello also will be counted on this year for his defensive prowess at one of the defensive back spots. He contributed 25 tackles, picked off a pass and recovered a pair of fumbles last year.
“Jake got so much better in the offseason,” Skiba said. “He took some lumps last year, but he learned. You could see him wanting to learn. He feeds off experiences, and I can’t wait to see what he can do this year.”