When a football team is in its second year of existence, the usual questions about talent, cohesiveness and available players are a part of the dynamic.
In the case of Vincentian Academy's second-year program, there is another factor in the equation. The Royals players are dealing with the absence of head coach Tim Storino, who is serving a one-season suspension from the WPIAL for allegedly recruiting players from grade schools. The PIAA upheld the suspension in May.
Storino is not permitted to direct practices or coach games. The ban went into affect on Aug. 12 and will be lifted following the Royals' final game on Oct. 25 at Beth-Center.
Formerly an assistant coach at Central Catholic who took the Royals job as his first head coaching job, Storino, 33, will observe the team's progress from afar, although he plans to attend the Royals' first-ever home game at 7 p.m. on Aug. 31 when they play host to Avella at Lt. J.C. Stone Field in North Park.
"Playing home games is going to create awareness for the program," said Storino, whose team is also scheduled to play home games at Stone Field on Sept. 13 against Geibel Catholic and West Greene on Oct. 4.
Stone Field's primary tenant prior to this year was North Catholic, and the Trojans will continue to play their home games there this season. The two schools will not play each other this season.
Although not eligible to participate in the WPIAL Class A playoffs as they are in the second year of a probationary period, the Royals will play against teams from the Tri-County South Conference. Last year, Vincentian finished with a 1-8 record. The school figures to be placed a WPIAL conference next season.
"Being able to play games in our backyard will help a lot, and that might encourage other kids in our own building to see what's going on and take an interest in football," Storino said.
Actually, the interest might rise in three buildings as students at Aquinas Academy in Hampton and Eden Christian Academy in Ohio Township are eligible to play under the Vincentian banner as the three schools have joined in a cooperative arrangement.
As Storino sits out his suspension, the 28-player team is being directed by Todd Hazlett, who was Deer Lakes' football coach for the previous six seasons.
When Storino hired him, Hazlett fully expected to concentrate on developing the Royals' offensive line.
"It was quite a surprise when [Storino's suspension] happened," Hazlett said. "But when camp started, I settled right in, and the other assistants and I will coach this team by committee. This is still coach Storino's team, and it will be his when he comes back."
Two of the team's more experienced players -- junior guard/linebacker Anthony Tommarello and sophomore tight end/linebacker Paul Adams -- say the team endured the coaching situation and are focusing on putting a team on the field. Both are residents of Pine Township.
"It wasn't that difficult to get through it," said Tommarello, who is in his 10th year of organized football, of the short-term change at the top. "The coaches are going to coach, and we're going to do as we're told. On a football team, there are changes every year. The coaches asked Paul, me [and quarterback] Michael Tappe to be leaders because of our experience."
Most members of the team, like Tommarello, are Vincentian students. Adams, though, is one of eight students from Aquinas playing for the Royals. Tappe, who completed 36 of 88 passes for 582 yards and four touchdowns, is a junior at Aquinas.
As a tight end, Adams caught 11 passes for 192 yards and one touchdown. He led the team last year with 85 tackles.
Adams believes he won't be quite as busy this season, thanks to an improving defensive line.
"They're coming along," he said of the defensive line. "We have some guys who are playing well and know their assignments. During the offseason, they were lifting weights and were getting bigger and stronger. If that keeps up, it will make my job easier."
The team is made up primarily of freshmen, sophomores and juniors. Although Storino would like to see the team win at least two games, which would double the win total from a year ago, Hazlett hopes the present team will inspire future Royals' squads.
"This team is paving the way and making [football] a popular sport," he said. "Winning some games will give the kids some motivation to build this program and to have a solid program by the time our freshmen and sophomores are juniors and seniors in 2014 and 2015."