STEUBENVILLE — First-year coach Eric Meek knows exactly what he wants from his 2022 Catholic Central football squad.
“We want to get better each and every day and each and every game,” said Meek, who was hired in March to replace Anthony Agresta. “My goal has always been, if we are healthy, to be playing our best football in the month of October.
“You want to improve in all areas of your life so that you can become a better person. You are always striving to be better. That is what we want to do–improve each and every day so that by the end of the season, we are playing our very best football.”
From 2010-2017, Meek coached at Toronto, guiding the Red Knights to a 48-36 mark and four consecutive births in the Ohio playoffs. He stepped away from the coaching ranks in 2018.
A graduate of Youngstown State University, Meek also served as Toronto’s head coach in 1993 and 1994. He launched his coaching career as a graduate assistant for Jim Tressel at YSU.
Coach Eric Meek discusses the upcoming campaign
From 1995 to 2002, he was the head coach at Wellsville before serving as running backs coach at Robert Morris University in 2003 and 2004.
Meek directed the Weir High program from 2005-2008, leading the Red Riders to the West Virginia Class AA championship in 2005. The new Crusader grid boss has an overall head coaching record of 132-100.
“I have seen a willingness to learn and a willingness to give us their very best,” Meek said about his first few months with the Central players. “We have great kids here which is a credit to parents and a credit to the culture of Catholic Central High School.
“It has been fun. My coaching staff has worked very hard to get on the same page with my philosophy as far as what I expect when it comes to running a program.”
The Crusaders went 3-7 in 2021 and have not enjoyed a winning season since 2018. Last season’s club had just four seniors in Primo Toriscelli, Tim Lamantia, Massimo Lancia and Antonio McGinnis.
“We are just trying to work every single day to get better,” Meek said. “We’re excited to get our program started here and the kids have been awesome to work with. We need to stay healthy, as is the case with all Division VII schools across Ohio. Our numbers actually are better than a lot of schools our size–we have 34 kids on the team.
“When you coach D VII football and I have coached small school football for most of my career, you need to hope that you stay healthy because it becomes a battle of attrition really. You have to make sure the culture is good and you have to be realistic that there are going to be good days and bad days ahead.
“You have to keep everyone working in the same direction because at the end of the day, this is a game and we are trying to prepare these young men for the biggest game which is the game of life. That’s what we are trying to do here.”
Meek’s initial squad will include 15 returning letter winners in seniors Andrew Dorsey, Dashon Seditz, Manny Napoleon, Nico Petrella and Willie Rao; juniors Kody Carver, B.J. Fallon, Brendan Grimm, Tyler Ialenti, Brayden Rauch and Toby Rusciano; and sophomores Michael
DiCarlo, Timothy Mihalyo, Tommy Pergi and Peyton Rauch.
Offensively, nine starters return led by now quarterback Dorsey. As a junior, Dorsey finished with 1,262 yards of total offense (770 passing and 439 rushing). He threw for five touchdowns and ran for two more. Dorsey earned second team all-Eastern District Division VII honors.
Seditz collected 439 rushing yards from his tailback spot and found the end zone nine times. He garnered special mention on the all-district team. Ialenti was Dorsey’s favorite target, finishing with 24 receptions for 299 yards and three six-pointers. He also was as second team all-district selection. Pergi finished his freshman campaign with 16 catches for 227 yards and a pair of scores. Like Seditz, Pergi also collected all-district special mention.
Petrella, a tight end, had eight catches for 62 yards and a score as a junior.
The remaining starters all worked in the offensive trenches led by Rao, who received all-district honorable mention for his work as a guard. B. Rauch has been a two-year starter at center while Grimm is in his third season as a regular at offensive tackle. P. Rauch earned a starting spot at tackle as a freshman.
“I think we are deep at receiver and along the offensive line,” Meek said. “When you look at our roster and look down at our offensive line during practice, you see that we have a lot of linemen. Usually at a small school, you have trouble finding linemen and our numbers are encouraging because a lot of our linemen are juniors, sophomores and freshmen.”
“Dorsey is back at quarterback and that is a plus. We’ll let Ialenti take some snaps also because he is a kid who will move around quite a bit. There is a battle at running back with Seditz, Rusciano and Mihalyo. We have some other kids who have joined our program that we’re taking
a look at along with some younger kids. We’re not extremely deep at running back as much as I like but we have some good competition there.”
Others looking for playing time along the Central line are junior Kody Carver, sophomores Tino Kropka, Dominic Mascio and Joe Scugoza and freshmen Justin Roe and Alex Federoff.
Backups for Dorsey are a pair of freshmen–Tone Williams and Matthew Sprochi. Running backs in the mix include Fallon, seniors Meliki Manley and Bryce Benton, junior Jayceon Hills and freshman Joey Rice.
Ialenti, Napoleon and DiCarlo will be looking to earn playing time at wide receiver along with senior Owen Provost, junior Thad Federoff, sophomore Jimmy Hernon along with freshmen Aiden McClure and Zach Bryan.
Petrella and sophomores Camden Bradley and Noah Hough are the tight ends listed on Meek’s roster.
Junior Daniel Bolster has joined the football program and will handle kicking duties.
The defense welcomes back 10 starters led by linebacker B. Rauch who was a second team all-district honoree in 2021. Others returning are Carver, nose guard, Grimm, end, Rao, tackle, P. Rauch, tackle, Dorsey, linebacker, Ialenti, linebacker, Pergi, defensive back, Napoleon,
defensive back and Seditz, defensive back.
Bradley, Kropka, Roe, Mascio, Scugoza, and A. Federoff are in contention to see duty along the defensive front. Petrella, Rusciano, Hough, Mihalyo and Benton are in the mix for duty at linebacker.
Secondary candidates are Provost, DiCarlo, Fallon, Williams, Bryan, Sprochi, Hernon, Manley, McClure, Rice, T. Federoff and Hills.
“With some of the transfers we have, I think our defensive line can be deep as far as depth goes,” Meek said. “Defensively, Bruce Palmer, who has coached with me before and is an outstanding football coach, really likes to turn the heat up. He is an intense football coach and the kids are
responding to his philosophy very well.
“At times, I worry about our overall team speed but that means sometimes we will need to be a little more methodical. The thing about Central that I have always known is the kids play hard and that was one of the selling points for me coming here and becoming part of the culture.
“We have some kids with experience and we need to continue to be more physical and keep lifting, we will lift all throughout the season. The senior class has done a good job of accepting my style and that is hard especially for seniors sometimes when there is a coaching change.”
Central opens the season Saturday with a home game against Vienna Mathews. Caldwell, Wellsville and Bridgeport are new to the CCHS schedule, replacing Barnesville, Windham and Millersport. Central’s game with Wellsville originally scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 3 has been
moved to Thursday, Sept. 1. The kick is scheduled for 7:45 p.m. at Harding Stadium.
The Crusaders also will play under the Thursday night lights on Sept. 15 at Edison.
“Our focus is on Mathews, 100 percent,” Meek said. “We feel it is a huge game on our schedule. They have a talented sophomore class and will have a new quarterback.
“Bill Bohren is a guy that I have known since my dad was coaching at Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, I was a graduate assistant at YSU and Bohren was at Boardman. He is a man that I have always admired and it is a great honor to get to coach against him in our opener.”
Palmer will serve as Meek’s defensive coordinator and offensive line coach while Matt Grimard will be the offensive coordinator and work with quarterbacks and defensive ends. Rick Gillette coaches the offensive and defensive lines with John Lessner overseeing the fullbacks and
linebackers. Seth White is the receivers/secondary coach. Kalil Jones will work with the tailbacks and secondary.
Bill Meek and Jerry Vinci are listed as consultant while Teddy Kostecki will be the head middle school coach.
“Gillette is a holdover and has really helped me understand what has been going with the football program,” Meek said. “Grimard is back and Lessner also is the dean of students for the school.
White has done a tremendous job with the secondary and receivers and we’re happy that Jones, a former running back for Central, has joined the staff.
“Palmer is a guy that I really trust and respect. He is a former head coach at Campbell Memorial and has been a defensive coordinator at several places including with me at Toronto. He has had a lot of success.”
Looking ahead, Meek predicted a couple of early season games are “going to be crucial” for his Crusaders.
“If you are looking at wins and losses and a chance to make the playoffs, those games are going to be crucial,” he said. “That may put us in a race against time being a new staff installing a new system.
“They are huge games and they are going to be tough games but we expect to win them and we will work to prepare for them.”