WEIRTON – Mauro Monz certainly has a diverse history in his 25 years of coaching football, whether at Pennsylvania high schools, youth programs or as an assistant for several college programs.
However, what the veteran coach has seen in his short time at Madonna preparing for his first season leading the Blue Dons has already impressed him.
“It’s been a great experience,” Monz said. “There is a lot of talented athletes and a lot of tradition, a lot of pride in the school and the community.
“The kids have been great. This a great opportunity.”
Monz, who was most recently an assistant at the University of Albany, has been an assistant for Youngstown State, Akron, Robert Morris and Duquense, where he was a record-setting DB in his playing days, and has been a successful high school head coach in the Pittsburgh area.
So what drew the veteran grid boss to a Class A school in the Ohio Valley? It simply felt like home from the beginning.
“One of the big reasons I was attracted to Madonna was the history and the tradition of the school, I have a similar background growing up in a Catholic school,” Monz said. “(Madonna has) like-minded people.”
It also gave him a chance to come closer to home.
“I believe timing is everything,” he said. “I had a great run as a tight ends coach at the University of Albany, but it was pretty far away from home and this was a chance to be closer to home.
“Football has been great to me and this is a great opportunity to have a chance to be able to come back and coach kids, help kids be able to go to college and play sports, grow and do what they want to do in life.”
When he joined the school earlier this year, Madonna was coming off the boys basketball team’s run to the state tournament and he got to experience the excitement of the baseball team making a run to the regional final.
It’s his goal to bring that excitement to the football field.
“I came in during the spring and started when they were coming off a great basketball run and got to see the kids play baseball during a great run, got to see a lot of the kids play and get to know some people,” he said. “The excitement and the enthusiasm everyone had was great and I’m hoping we can take that and use it this fall.”
Monz’s coaching staff is made up of a lot of former Madonna players who wanted to come back and help the program, another thing that excites Monz about the tradition at Madonna.
They are Connor Arila, Dante Greco, John Barnhart and Robbie Valenti, all of whom played for the Blue Dons in the past.
“When I interviewed at Madonna, the principal (Jamie Lesho) is a Madonna grad, the AD (Mike Arlia) is a Madonna grad, everywhere you went, whoever you asked about Madonna, they talked about the tradition and history,” Monz said. “People want to come back, and it’s not like that everywhere. People take that granted. That was something that made me want to come to Madonna, these guys love their school and have a lot of pride for it in the community.
“I saw it right away.”
That tradition, championships and accomplishments of the past, Monz is well aware of as he implements his style and brings his own ideas looking to write the next chapter.
“There is a lot of great history and tradition and it is my responsibility, our responsibility as a staff to keep that going,” he said. “Anytime you come in and are changing a program, you have your own style, it’s a new coaching staff, but we embrace the tradition, too, and hopefully that shows, that is the goal.”
Monz replaces Dan Rovira, who guided Madonna for the past two seasons and was 13-7 overall. Rovira led Madonna to the playoffs in his first season, but the Blue Dons dropped some tough games down the stretch last season and just missed out on the Class A field after at one point in the season sitting in the top-3 of the rankings.
The group Monz is guiding this season, however, is a much different and younger team than those were as the Dons lost 12 seniors to graduation last spring.
Of that group of 12, none will be harder to replace than four-year starting quarterback Santino Arilia, who set every school passing record, was last season’s Herald-Star/Daily Times Offensive Player of the Year and an OVAC All-Star.
“We had a big hit graduation-wise, it was a big senior class, but there is great, up-and-coming talent,” Monz said. “We’re excited about it.”
There are two players who have taken snaps in the role this summer, sophomore Lucas McAllister and junior Chase Littleton, with McAllister getting a lot of the first-team reps as official practices opened and at the 7-on-7 camps the team has competed in.
“They’re best friends so the competition has been fun,” Monz said. “They’re talented, multi-sport athletes.”
That is a trend with the 2022 version of the Blue Dons, as several of the players either played basketball or baseball, or both.
Overall, the Dons numbers are up slightly from where they were last season, sitting at 23, with several baseball guys coming out to strap on the pads.
“I think it is great,” Monz said of the athletes from other sports getting into football. “We started out lifting with less and I think word of mouth got around, they told they’re buddies from baseball and basketball they should come check out football and are having fun.
“Being a small school, it’s not a huge roster, so they’ll have an opportunity to play and kids want to play. Why not play every sport?”
At wide receiver, Littleton or McAllister will be in the mix if not at QB, while senior baseball standout Brycen Hair will be in the mix with returning junior Jonah McKay, and another newcomer in junior Shawn McFarland.
At tailback is returning junior Luca Muzzi and freshmen Mathew Geer.
Another senior, Anthony Gross, is a captain for the Dons and returns to anchor the line at center with senior Harry Norman, junior Marquese Parker, another newcomer from baseball, sophomore Logan Brown and another baseball player in Dom Maple.
A lot of those guys, if not all of them, will play key roles both ways, and Monz has been thrilled with what he’s seen on defense during the summer.
“We are really excited about our defense,” Monz said. “We have a bunch of athletes and they are tough, physical kids. They are going to run to the football. We have built around defense and we look forward to seeing it on the field.
” I know a lot of them are young, but they’re hungry.”
As far as goals, they start simple and build from there.
“Coming in new, we want the kids to buy in to our program and what we’re trying to do,” Monz said. “We want them to have fun and enjoy coming to practice every day. We want our seniors to get noticed and have a chance to move on to play in college if they want to. And, we want to have a good product on the field.
“Everyone is going to say they want to win every game, but we’re really going to take it one week at a time.”
Monz also knows the area has athletes he’d stack up with any area he’s seen in his coaching career.
“I don’t see any drop off, I think our kids at Weirton Madonna are as good as anywhere I’ve been,” he said. “We have a lot of young talent as we build this program up, West Virginia, Ohio, Pa., I feel like our kids can play anywhere.”