It is a period of transition for the student-athletes and coaches at the recently renamed Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School.
But while the school's name has evolved and it relocates to Butler County after one final year on Troy Hill, there is plenty of optimism as the Trojans begin the 2013 football season with their WPIAL Class A Eastern Conference opener against Apollo-Ridge at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lt. J.C. Stone Field.
Coming off a 9-3 season which saw the high school formerly known simply as North Catholic reach the WPIAL semifinals before falling to Sto-Rox, 34-20, at Dormont Stadium, Trojans coach Bob Ravenstahl hopes to keep his players focused on the week-to-week grind that is a WPIAL season.
Still, he knows his players are aware of the preseason attention being heaped upon his team that includes a No. 3 ranking by the Post-Gazette. And there's good reason for those accolades.
A year ago, South Side resident P.J. Fulmore rushed 290 times for 1,820 yards and scored 24 touchdowns. Quarterbacks Ryan Kirby from Observatory Hill and Adam Sharlow from Brighton Heights combined to throw 63 passes for 788 yards and three touchdowns. Tight end Ronnie Meder from West Deer caught 24 passes for 324 yards, an average of 13.5 yards per catch.
All are back. The difference is Sharlow will be the starting quarterback while Kirby is moving to wide receiver.
It's a move Kirby, a 6-foot-2, 177-pound senior, agrees with, and he plans to use to his advantage.
"[Having played quarterback] benefits me to know the defense and where defenses in our conference line up. It helps me to get open and helps Sharlow find me on the field."
With two solid receiving targets, Ravenstahl believes that can only help the running game as fullback Jared Fragapane from West Deer rushed 42 times for 198 yards, an average of 4.7 yards per carry. He also scored six touchdowns, which was second on the team behind Fulmore, and was an effective blocker for the speedy tailback.
With plenty of depth at all of the skill positions and on the line, Ravenstahl has a right to be optimistic. He also knows he'll have quite a task keeping his players' heads fitting inside their helmets and for them to maintain their focus.
"I don't think that's going to be too easy to do, to be quite honest," he said. "Hopefully, they won't read too many newspapers. But we definitely have the talent to be successful. But it's all up to the kids and how they perform on the field."
Kirby agrees with his coach.
"Yeah, it looks pretty good," he said of his team's prospects. "We need to keep within ourselves, though. The coaches tell us the only thing that will beat us this year is if we beat ourselves. We have to stay within ourselves and compete."
No coach likes to look too far ahead. But Ravenstahl is keenly aware of an Oct. 18 non-conference showdown at Stone Field with another Class A Top 5 team, the Neshannock Lancers. A year ago, Neshannock blasted the Trojans, 42-7.
"I'm of the belief that if you are to be the best, you have to beat the best," he said. "In my opinion, Neshannock is going to be one of the top four or five teams in Single-A this year. They handled us pretty easily last year, so we have a grudge game that we're looking forward to."
• Game: Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic vs. Apollo-Ridge.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
• Where: Lt. J.C. Stone Field, McCandless Township.
First Published August 29, 2013 4:00 AM