STEUBENVILLE — Anthony Agresta is feeling good about the Catholic Central football program as he prepares for his third season as head coach.
“I like where the program is going, especially with the numbers we have in our 10th-grade group and what we have coming as far as freshmen go,” Agresta said. “The numbers are strong in our lower levels, and we have a few juniors who are two-year starters. Of course, you always wish you could have a bigger senior class, but the guys we do have are real dedicated and will be heavy contributors for us this season.”
Agresta had 32 players on the roster entering two-a-day practices, but just five are seniors. Seven are juniors, nine are sophomores and 11 are freshmen.
During the COVID-impacted season of 2020, Central was able to play 10 games, posting a record of 2-8. The schedule Agresta’s crew ended up playing looked nothing like the original slate. In his first campaign, Agresta guided the Crusaders to a 5-5 mark.
Coach Anthony Agresta on the upcoming campaign
The 2020 Crusaders also made history when they played the first varsity football game on Leo Buffone Field (contests with Bridgeport, Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans and Buckeye Local were staged inside the Michael Carapellotti Crusader Sports Complex). All of Central’s home games this season will be played inside Harding Stadium.
Due to a rash of injuries and other issues, Agresta found himself needing to play a number of sophomores and freshmen. Heading into Week 10, 17 of Central’s original starters were not on the field.
“Obviously, we are very thankful that we were able to play an entire 10-game schedule,” Agresta said. “At the onset of the season, we did not know if we were even going to play one game. So, the fact that we played 10 was great.
“Our young and inexperienced kids were fortunate enough to get in a full season. That is going to pay a lot of dividends for our program in the years to come.”
Several key contributors from a season ago departed through graduation. They include: Quarterback Ryan Gorman, who passed for 960 yards and six touchdowns, while compiling 325 rushing yards and seven more scores; wide receiver Vince Carapellotti, the team leader with 29 receptions for 316 yards and a pair of touchdowns; and running back Isaiah Mullins, who rushed for 436 yards in just five games. Senior-to-be Ryan Anderson, who contributed on both sides of the ball in 2020, will not be rejoining the team this fall.
Junior Andrew Dorsey will be the Crusader replacing Gorman at quarterback. He saw action at several offensive spots as a sophomore, including tight end and finished with 14 receptions and a touchdown. As an inside linebacker, he led the team in tackles and was the defensive MVP. For his efforts, Dorsey earned honorable mention All-Eastern District honors.
“He looks good,” Agresta said of Dorsey. “With baseball and all the throwing he was doing, we didn’t have him do any passing in the spring. He is a three-sport guy, his family took a vacation and we certainly endorsed that.
“So, he probably didn’t get started working every day until mid-to-late June. He is making really good strides, and we are expecting big things from him.”
Sophomore Tyler Ialenti will serve as Dorsey’s backup.
Senior Tim Lamantia returns at running back, and he will be joined by junior Dashon Seditz, sophomore Toby Rusciano and junior Todd Jackson.
“Lamantia is back, and we are counting on him,” Agresta said. “We also expect Seditz and Rusciano to get some carries. We will be doing it by committee back there.”
Agresta relies heavily on the tight end in his offense, and he has plenty of candidates for playing time, including Ialenti, Lamantia, junior Nico Petrella, sophomore Owen Provost, freshman Noah Hough, freshman Timmy Mihalyo and freshman Camdon Bradley.
“We can never have enough tight ends,” Agresta said.
Senior Primo Toriscelli returns at wide receiver. In 2020, he recorded 18 catches, good for 158 yards and a touchdown. Others in the mix are promising freshman Tommy Pergi, sophomore B.J. Fallon, freshman Michael DiCarlo, freshman Mark Coniker, sophomore Daniel Bolster and freshman Jimmy Hernan.
Junior tackle Tate McKenna, a second-team All-Eastern District pick in 2020, and junior guard Jerome Coniker will anchor the offensive line. Both are two-year starters. Sophomore Brayden Rauch returns at center, with junior Willie Rao ticketed to man the other guard spot.
Several players are in the mix for the other tackle spot include senior Antonio McGinnis, sophomore Brendan Grimm, sophomore Kody Carver, senior Caleb Lathem, senior Massimo Lancia, sophomore Jack Baum, freshman Dominic Mascio, freshman Peyton Rauch and freshman Tino Kropka.
“There is no question that we have seen improvement from our young guys up front,” Agresta said. “Regarding the learning curve from last year to this year, they are not event on the same charts.
“McKenna and Coniker understand what we are trying to do. They have a full grasp of our system, and we should be able to do even more things now with those guys. Rauch is back at center. He started 10 games for us as a freshman and right now, he looks extremely confident. Rao worked through some physical issues as a freshman — he couldn’t even practice. Even though he started for us as a sophomore, he had never played a football game until last year. You’re going to see a much improved Willie Rao on the line scrimmage for us this year.
“We have people fighting for playing time at the other tackle spot. We feel good about where the offensive line is going. Naturally, we would like to be a little bigger. When those young guys were thrown into the fire last year, if it did anything it got them tougher. We are starting to see that toughness — that mental toughness in camp.”
Defensively, the Crusaders will use a base 3-4 but also will show multiple fronts.
McKenna and Rao will man the nose guard spot with McGinnis, Jerome Coniker, P. Rauch, Lathem, McGinnis, Grimm, Carver, Lancia, Baum and Mascio seeing time as tackles. Grimm was a starter as a freshman.
Outside linebacker candidates are Lamantia, Ialenti, Petrella, Hough, Mihalyo, Bradley, Provost and Jackson.
Looking for playing time at inside linebacker are Dorsey, Brayden Rauch and Peyton Rauch. Jerome Coniker and Grimm also could see action there.
Secondary candidates include Pergi, Toriscelli, Seditz, Fallon, DiCarlo, Mark Coniker and Hernan.
“We always will have a lot of guys going both ways, but we really are hoping to limit that as much as possible this season,” Agresta said. “We’re particularly looking for Dorsey to be one of those guys. He’s a throwback guy, playing quarterback and inside linebacker. We are looking for people to step up there.”
Central is scheduled to open its season Friday on the road at Vienna Mathews.
“With the overall age of our roster, it was important for us to schedule as much in class as possible, meaning scheduling games with Divisions VI and VII schools,” Agresta said. “When we go against teams in Divisions IV and V, the issue for us is those people don’t have a lot of players going both ways.
“Right now — and I’m not talking a year or two from now — but right now, we need to make sure with the age of our roster, we are scheduling in class. We tried to move in that direction this season.”
Windham will visit Harding Stadium on Sept. 18 to help the Crusaders celebrate homecoming. During the weekend, Central will honor its 1971 team, which posted a 10-0 record and captured the Ohio Class AA poll championship.
As he prepares for the season opener, Agresta admitted he was a little optimistic.
“We have kids coming back with experience (the Crusaders have 18 letter winners on the roster) but at the same time, they are kids who still are not upperclassmen,” he said. “You look at that two ways but I’m optimistic about how things are going. I expect us to be competitive and that is where I feel things are heading as we prepare for the season.”