Jon Nigro said the 2011 football season was a letdown for Hampton.
The then-junior quarterback for the Talbots had an up-and-down first season under center, throwing for almost 800 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. Meanwhile, his team went just 3-6 and lost a few heartbreakers, including a 10-7 overtime defeat to WPIAL qualifier Mars Area.
So this offseason, Nigro went to work.
"The play was definitely faster at this level," Nigro said. "I needed to work on my footwork and game-management skills."
He lifted weights and worked on his footwork on a daily basis during the winter and spring. He also got together frequently with his receivers at 6 a.m. to go through a passing drill at the school's field.
"It really helped our timing," Nigro said. "I got to know the receivers a lot better. It made it easier when we put the pads on."
Nigro's offseason workload was also increased because of a schematic change made to the Talbots' offense. Last season, Nigro was under center most of the time. But this season, he's almost exclusively been in the shotgun, running a spread, no-huddle offense.
Hampton coach Jacque DeMatteo said he and his coaching staff decided to go to this style to bring some "buzz" back to a school that hasn't qualified for the WPIAL playoffs since 2009.
"We met as a staff after the season and decided we needed to increase the enthusiasm around our football program," DeMatteo said. "A lot of kids see the Oregon offense, with their gimmicks, and think 'Wow, that'd be fun to play in.' I think our players are excited about it and hopefully we can get more kids around the school thinking about our program."
Since the team met often during the offseason, Nigro said it wasn't hard to transition to the new offense once the season began.
Other than a hiccup in a 20-10 loss to Greensburg Salem in Week 3, Hampton's offense has been flying high.
The Talbots scored 80 points in their first two games against Indiana and Highlands, starting 2-0 for the first time since 2005. Meanwhile, Nigro was nearly flawless, completing 23-of-27 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns in those games.
After the loss to the Golden Lions, the Talbots rebounded nicely last Friday, beating Laurel Highlands, 34-11. Nigro was 5-of-9 for 102 yards in the win.
The big star of the game was running back Anthony Bianco, who ran for 265 yards and had touchdown runs 56, 85 and 16 yards. Bianco led the Talbots with 738 yards rushing last season, but had just 12 yards on 10 carries through the first two weeks of the season.
Nigro has a lot of weapons at his disposal on the outside as well.
"They are the best group [of receivers] in the conference," he said. "I don't think there is any defense that can cover all four of them in our four wide-receiver look."
The quartet he's referring to is Eddie Edwards, Ben Foreman, Collin Luther and Jon Floss. And it's a deep group, too. When Floss went down with a broken thumb before the team's second game of the season, Zac Gonzales stepped in against Highlands and caught touchdown passes of 25 and 10 yards.
It helps to have that many weapons to throw to, but it's Nigro's improvement in the mental aspect of the game that has made him a better quarterback this season, his coach said.
"He's a year older and much more mature," DeMatteo said. "He's always had a very strong arm. But he's really improved his decision-making. We have a lot of confidence in him."
That confidence and the weapons Hampton's offense possesses has it thinking about the playoffs, a place Nigro has never been.
"That's our goal," Nigro said. "It would mean a lot. It would be a great accomplishment. We're just going to focus on each team and play it week by week."
Next up on the list for the Talbots is their toughest game to date, a home matchup with 2011 WPIAL Class AAA runner-up Knoch Friday at 7:30 p.m.. The Knights enter the contest with a perfect 4-0 record.
First Published September 27, 2012 12:00 AM