The Serra Catholic High School football team reached a peak in 2007 when it won the WPIAL Class A championship -- the school's second District 7 title, the other coming in 1981 -- and made it to the PIAA final for the first time.
But when coach Rich Bowen resigned after the 2009 season to take a job as an assistant at Waynesburg University, Serra began to struggle. Last season, the Eagles hit rock bottom, as they were one of seven WPIAL teams to finish without a win.
Serra has turned to a "saint," hoping for a miracle turnaround to try to reverse its fortunes.
Tony St. Angelo was hired in March to take over a Serra program that has a sometimes-rich history, but fell on rough times the past few seasons. St. Angelo was the offensive coordinator for coach Mike LeDonne at Elizabeth Forward the past two seasons, and helped lead the Warriors to their highest win total since 2000 last fall.
Serra athletic director Bill Cleary interviewed eight applicants for the position and said he came away most impressed with St. Angelo.
"His ideas, his knowledge, his background ... all of that jumped off the page," Cleary said. "We interviewed a lot of great football coaches. He stood out."
St. Angelo replaces Jamie Eckels, who resigned after last season. Eckels, formerly the offensive coordinator at McKeesport, had little luck at Serra. In three seasons under Eckels, a former assistant to George Smith at McKeesport, Serra won only five games.
Last year, the Eagles went 0-9 and scored only 60 points the entire season. They lost all of their games by at least 30 points.
In reality, Eckels played the season with what was little more than a junior varsity team, with the majority of the lineup made up of sophomores and freshmen. Only three seniors and six juniors were on the 33-player roster at the beginning of last season.
Injuries took a significant toll on the team as well.
Pushing the program forward will be St. Angelo, 35, a South Allegheny graduate. He began his coaching career as an assistant under Pat Monroe at Duquesne in 2002.
St. Angelo later followed LeDonne to South Allegheny, Clairton and McKeesport prior to taking the Elizabeth Forward job in 2011.
Having played in the area and coached at several schools located near Serra, St. Angelo was already knowledgeable about the program and believed he could revive it, if given the chance.
"There's a lot of familiarity," St. Angelo said. "A lot of guys I grew up with went to school there. I know a lot about their history. I knew it was a place I could go and definitely grow. It was obviously a steppingstone from where I was.
"I've always wanted to be a head coach and I'm getting the opportunity here."
When St. Angelo first met with his new players, he gave them a bit of a history lesson, telling them about the 2007 Serra team, the 1981 WPIAL championship team, and some of the Serra teams St. Angelo played against when he was in high school.
"I told them how tough some of those Serra teams have been," St. Angelo said.
One of the things that intrigued Cleary about his new hire is that St. Angelo will be bringing the spread option to Serra, the same offense with which Bowen had so much success when he was there. Eckels utilized the flexbone (triple option) -- which McKeesport has run for decades under Smith -- while at Serra.
"That played into it, as well," Cleary said. "Some of the ideas and techniques and things [St. Angelo] likes to run, those were things we were highly successful with when Rich was here."
What's ironic is that St. Angelo learned the offense from LeDonne, who learned it from Bowen when LeDonne was one of his assistants at Serra.
"The terminology [Bowen] had is the same terminology I have," St. Angelo said.
One of St. Angelo's early goals has been to generate more interest in the team among the students. By the end of last season, Serra had barely enough players to field a team. St. Angelo and Cleary said they have both been impressed by the increased number of boys who have been participating in offseason workouts.
St. Angelo likes the prospects of a team that will be junior-heavy.
"Our team, if they stick it out, we'll have them for a solid two years," St. Angelo said.
While there's always the chance of an amazing one-year turnaround taking place, Cleary has taken a more realistic approach.
Said Cleary: "The one message I told the coaches was, 'Be patient. It's going to take some time.'"