This is Geno DeMarco's 25th year as a football coach, 18th as Geneva College's head man.
His record at the school in Beaver Falls is an impressive 116-65. That's a .635 winning percentage.
So, when DeMarco says he is "extremely concerned" about his offense, it isn't just coachspeak, even though it might seem that way after taking a peak at the Golden Tornadoes' preseason prospectus.
After all, Geneva has starting quarterback David Girardi back for his senior year and tailback Gerard Muschette, the team's leading rusher last season, also returns. More importantly, the entire starting offensive line is back, including National Christian College Athletic Association All-American Lee Thieroff, an Avella Area High School graduate who is 6 feet 5 and 285 pounds.
And receivers A.J. Delmonico and Tyler Joden saw plenty of playing time last year with Delmonico, a Blackhawk graduate, catching 29 passes for 469 yards.
Most coaches would be giddy to have that many returning regulars from an offense that scored 364 points, the second most in a single season in the school's history.
But DeMarco is a worrier.
"We have our quarterback, one of the best kids we've ever had, and a tailback who will go down as one of the best rushers we've ever had. We return our offensive line, but we are missing key components from a systematic approach," he said. "I don't know if we have an identity."
The problem is that heading into Saturday night's 7:30 game at Frostburg State, DeMarco isn't sure who his best fullback and tight end will be. He has quality candidates for both positions, but no one has stepped up.
Replacing Matt Dean at fullback is the biggest concern.
Muschette rushed for 1,183 yards, the fifth highest single-season total in school history, on 193 carries and scored 14 touchdowns in 2009. Dean paved the way for a lot of that yardage.
"There's a reason why Jerome Bettis brought Tim Lester to the Steelers," DeMarco said, referring to Lester blocking for Bettis. "It [the offense] is just a work in progress. I'm just really uneasy about it."
Girardi, a 6-2, 195-pounder from St. Petersburg, Fla., completed 188 of 302 passes for 2,216 yards and 10 touchdowns last season with just seven interceptions. Delmonico is the top returning receiver.
Defensively, DeMarco has been searching for replacements for linebacker Aaron Tommelleo, defensive end Brian Wilson and defensive back Rich Kolesar. All three were NCCAA All-Americans.
"Ironically, the defense, I feel, is looking like more of a unit," DeMarco said with a smile. "You aren't going to replace a Tommelleo or a Brian Wilson with just one player. We have a defense that plays as a unit."
Tommelleo was second on the team in tackles last season with 63 and had 10 tackles for losses with two sacks and two interceptions. Kolesar was third in tackles with 58 and had five interceptions. Wilson had seven sacks.
Leading tackler Solomon Hejirika, a 5-10, 220-pound junior linebacker from Baltimore, returns along with senior defensive end Adam Rose, a Freedom Area grad. Hejirika was in on 70 stops in 2009, while Rose had 42 with 10 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Training camp got off to a somber start for the Golden Tornadoes when defensive line coach Mike Wickline died Aug. 12. DeMarco said the news hit his players hard and that the team will have something on its uniform to honor Wickline.
"It's tough but it's part of life," DeMarco said. "Something like that lets you know how fragile life is and that you need to make the most of every day."
DeMarco said this season's recruiting class is one of the best since Geneva moved from the NAIA to NCAA Division III. He expects a couple of freshmen to see considerable action.
This will be the Golden Tornadoes final provisional year in the Presidents' Athletic Conference. They will still be ineligible for postseason play, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
"When we have our recruiting meeting is when that will probably hit me," DeMarco said. "I'm sure [being able to play for the PAC title in 2011] will help us in recruiting. But our kids in three years have played in two bowl games and beat the conference champion."
Geneva beat PAC champion Thomas More in 2008 and has played in the NCCAA Victory Bowl in 2007 and '09, beating Greenville, Ill., in that game, 29-28, last year.
"We've been fortunate in that we've had something to play for while we've been a provisional [PAC] team," he said.
The Golden Tornadoes finished 8-3 last season, losing at Washington & Jefferson, at Thomas More and at rival Westminster in the PAC.
First Published September 2, 2010 4:00 AM