East Xtra: Combine provides players 'audition'

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Each year, the NFL sponsors an athletic event known as a combine that showcases the talents of college football players hoping to draw the eye of a pro team.

Several district high school coaches thought it might be a good idea to offer a similar opportunity to rising sophomores, juniors and seniors in Westmoreland County and surrounding areas this past Saturday at Hempfield Area High School.

The first Westmoreland County Coaches Association Underclassman Showcase was an unqualified success, according to one of its organizers.

"I was somewhat surprised at how well it went because of all the tournaments going on right now [in spring sports]," said Franklin Regional assistant football coach Larry Sellitto, one of the event's organizers. "But we had 107 athletes representing 21 schools."

Fifteen Westmoreland schools had at least one athlete at the event, with the host school sending the most with 18. Franklin Regional and Greensburg Salem each sent 15.

Sellitto and two head coaches from Westmoreland schools -- Hempfield's Rich Bowen and Yough's Mark Crovak -- were the guiding forces behind the one-day event. He said 25 coaches guided the athletes through their drills.

Athletes paid $50 to perform a variety of skills in front of 51 college coaches representing 35 NCAA Division I-AA and lower classified colleges.

No coaches from Division I-A schools (such as the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University) were there because of NCAA restrictions, Sellitto said.

Each athlete was required to run the 40-yard dash, a shuttle run and an "L-cone drill." They also performed a bench press exercise and a vertical jump.

Hempfield rising senior running back Joe DeFloria had the best showcase with top performances in four events. DeFloria ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, the shuttle run in 3.94 seconds and the L-cone drill in 6.91 seconds. He also had the best vertical leap at 31 inches.

In the bench press, three weights were used, and each athlete lifted the weight as many times as possible.

Neil Graham, a rising junior wide receiver from Hempfield, raised 135 pounds 26 times. Josh Sabo, a rising senior lineman from Franklin Regional, lifted 185 pounds 22 times. And Seth Warburton, a rising senior running back at Greensburg Central Catholic, lifted 225 pounds 21 times.

DeFloria had the best effort from a rising senior with his four wins. Franklin Regional rising junior running back Brett Zanatto leaped 28 inches in the vertical jump and had 19 reps in the 185-pound bench press. Santino Birty, a rising sophomore quarterback at Franklin Regional, had 23 reps at the 135-pound bench press, and his shuttle run time was 4.16 seconds.

Sellitto said DeFloria obviously was the standout of athletes who compete at a skill position. But he lauded the effort of Adam Polakovsky, a rising senior lineman at Penn-Trafford.

"He had 16 reps at 225 pounds, and he ran the 40-yard dash in 5.0 seconds," the coach said. "For a guy who's 6-1 and weighs 260, that's moving."

Sellitto said to the best of his knowledge an event sponsored by a nonprofit group such as the coaches association has never been done before.

"Some of the college coaches were telling us that they'd never seen a group of coaches like ours pull something like this together," he said. "The money we made from this event will help to sponsor scholarships for football players from Westmoreland and surrounding counties."

For a first-time event, Sellitto was pleased with how things ran.

"We wanted to start at 9 a.m. and end at 1 p.m., and that's what happened," he said. "Last Saturday was a warm day, and we didn't want them to be longer than necessary. We got everything done when we were supposed to, and we got a lot accomplished."

The athletes received a T-shirt to commemorate the event, and they were allowed to keep the shirt they used when performing their showcase tasks. The coaches association also fed the participants lunch when the event concluded.

Sellitto said Hempfield Area was the perfect host for the event, and he hopes it will occur on a yearly basis.

"We want to be able to highlight our athletes from Westmoreland and surrounding counties," he said. "We want our kids to be seen and be given the opportunity to perform and play on the next level."



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