STEUBENVILLE - Steve Daley is sporting a cautiously optimistic attitude as he prepares for his second season as coach of Steubenville Catholic.
"We had a real good offseason and really hit it hard in the weight room," said Daley, who counts 23 letterwinners among the 42 players on his roster. "That definitely helps our overall team strength and speed. We will be a much faster team.
"The learning process is over. Everything is in, there's no going back. The kids know our package and the system. In camp, our focus has been on technique. We've made some strides there. Last year, we had no real consistency in the little things. That's where we have been concentrating."
Steubenville Catholic went 3-7 in Daley's first season.
Crusaders fans can expect to see "the same type of offense (fill the air with footballs) that Daley introduced in 2011. However, there will be a little more focus on the ground game.
"That's our frame of mind going in," Daley said. "We feel confident we can pass when we want to pass, but we have to have a running game to keep defenses on their toes."
Aug. 25 Bellaire7 p.m.
Sept. 1 Frontier7 p.m.
Sept. 8 Columbiana7 p.m.
Sept. 14 at Toronto7 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Oak Glen7 p.m.
Sept. 29 Conotton Valley7 p.m.
Oct. 6 Barnesville7 p.m.
Oct. 12 at Weir High7 p.m.
Oct. 20 Madonna7 p.m.
Oct. 26 at Magnolia7:30 p.m.
Win 6, Lose 4
The passing attack will again be directed by Brenton Colabella, who returns for his third year as the starting quarterback. As a sophomore, he threw for 1,941 yards and 18 touchdowns. He has passed for 2,962 yards (1,021 during his freshman campaign) and is close to establishing a CCHS record.
"What I see in him right now is another level of maturity," Daley said. "He has a good arm and has developed some speed. He's worked hard in the offseason and become quicker.
"He knows our system in and out and that's a huge plus. He's at the point where he could make some checks on his own and that ability takes things to another level. He can really put defenses in a bind. We have a real comfort level with him right now."
Freshman Tony Barber, senior Kyle Laukert and sophomore Chris Murphy are battling for the right to back up Colabella.
Senior Zach Herrington, Colabella's favorite target in 2011, returns at split end. He snared 42 passes for 393 yards and four scores. Sure-handed senior Michael Carapellotti will man the other split end spot in Daley's offense. As a junior, Carapellotti hauled in 15 passes for 257 yards and found the end zone three times. Junior Aleks Porreca will spell the two seniors.
"They both worked hard in the offseason," Daley said of Herrington and Carapellotti. "They're concentrating on minor things. We wanted Zach to work on his burst off the line. Carp focused on his cuts and speed. We are expecting big things out of those two guys.
"Both in their own regard can create problems for the defense. Teams can't focus on doubling up on one of them because the other one will hurt them."
Five players are vying for time at the slot position (manned a season ago by Brannt Pieniazek and Jon Emmerling) including Laukert, juniors Ryan Fletcher, Khalil Jones and Johnny DiCarlantonio along with Murphy.
"We're certainly going to miss Brannt," Daley noted. "However, we feel we can match the numbers he had by committee. Having a threat in the slot is going to help Herrington and Carapellotti. They should be able to avoid double teams.
"We go deep at the slot and Brenton has worked hard to help bring these guys along. That's another sign of his leadership."
Four starters return to the CCHS offensive line that will be charged with the task of protecting Colabella and jump-starting the running game.
Senior Geno Taglione and junior Jake McCann will man the tackle spots. Seniors Kevan Zapolnik and Harley Ehrman will start at guards. M.J. Marchetta (6-foot-2, 275 pounds), a junior transfer from Harrison Central, will anchor the line from the center spot.
"With four returning starters, we feel pretty good about the line," Daley said. "We go 200-plus across the front and we have some depth."
Providing that depth will be juniors Marty Engle, Jimmy Joe Mort and Tony Godich along with sophomore Jonathan Shrieve.
Senior John Anthony D'Ulisse, sophomore Stone Romano and senior Doug Maslowski are the top candidates to start at running back. Maslowski, who also handles the kicking duties, is a product of Steubenville Catholic hitting the weight room hard. He now goes 200 pounds but still displays blazing speed.
"We feel a lot better at running back," Daley added. "We go three deep and all look good carrying the football."
When Steubenville Catholic goes with a tight end or fullback, junior Luke Potenzini, 6-3, 220, will get the call. Colabella will handle the punting chores.
Senior Steve Butto and Shrieve have the inside track to start at defensive tackles. Mort and Ehrman also are in contention. Taglione, McCann, Potenzini, Engle and freshman James Howard lead the defensive end candidates.
The linebacking corps includes D'Ulisse, Zapolnik, Romano and Murphy. Laukert, Jones and Carapellotti will share time at corner. Porreca, Fletcher and junior Louis Fallon are slated for action at safety. Herrington also will see time there.
"It will be nice in passing situations to put a 6-4 safety back there," Daley said.
As the season opener neared, Daley knew his Crusaders have to stay healthy.
"We do have depth and that will be a key for us," he noted. "We want to rotate a lot of guys offensively. We feel like we have good skill players and that is going to help.
"Our goal is to put on best 11 players on the field defensively. We want to be fresh defensively, so we will be shuttling guys in and out on offense. The depth we have is a good sign plus we have a good mix. The depth will allow us not to beat a guy to death. There's no drop off, if a guy can give us two good plays, we can fill in for him. That's going to be huge."
Daley described his 2012 squad as "still kind of young, but we are an experienced young." Of the 42 players on the squad, nine are seniors and 16 juniors.
"We have a lot of juniors that have played for two years," Daley pointed out. "People are going to look at some of our names and ask 'is that guy still there?' We've worked hard and I'm cautiously optimistic about the season."
The season starts Saturday when Bellaire invades Harding Stadium. CCHS picked up an extra home game when the Big Reds decided they needed more balance on their schedule. Central was due to visit Belmont County this campaign.
New opponents Frontier and always-tough Columbiana will invade Steubenville the following two weeks. Central then visits Toronto and Oak Glen. Conotton Valley and Barnesville will provide the opposition during weeks six and seven. Daley and company then will visit Weir, entertain Madonna and close by traveling to Magnolia, the other new face on the slate.
"We have the first three at home and that is a plus," Daley said. "It's a tough schedule with no real breaks. We open with Bellaire then have Columbiana sitting there in Week 3. They're going to big and physical. Toronto is expecting big things and so is Oak Glen."
Daley's staff includes Tom Daley, Joe Colabella, Ricky Bell, Mike Lemal, Frank Marcino, Rick Gillette and Jeff Clark.