West Xtra: Ruscitto excited for return to Sto-Rox

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When Jason Ruscitto was hired as Sto-Rox's head football coach in 2004, the program was going through a few changes.

The Vikings were coming off a WPIAL championship appearance after losing to Springdale in the Class A final and were looking to rebuild after graduating a core of their skilled players. Realignment across the WPIAL also was moving Sto-Rox up a classification into Class AA where it would compete in the Century Conference.

Now, a decade later, Ruscitto finds himself in the same predicament.

Hired by the school district in May to replace Dan Bradley, who left the program to become Ambridge Area's football coach, Ruscitto is back at the helm of the Vikings program.

"It's kind of ironic how everything worked out," Ruscitto said. "The irony is that we were moving up from Class A to Class AA back then and now we're doing it again. We had some great players [graduate in 2004] such as Adam DiMichele, who was a star quarterback and went to Temple.

"Now, you have Lenny Williams [graduating], who was the quarterback last year, and he's committed to Temple. And we're going to be playing in the Century Conference again like that season."

Ruscitto coached Sto-Rox from 2004-09 and compiled a 36-20 record during that time. Following an 8-3 record in 2009, Ruscitto's position was opened and Ron Butschle, whom Ruscitto had replaced in 2004 when Butschle left to coach Seneca Valley, was hired to take over the program. Butschle stayed on for two more seasons before resigning for personal reasons and he was replaced by Bradley.

Ruscitto went on to coach East Allegheny in 2012 and spent last season as a linebackers coach at Washington & Jefferson College.

"When the opportunity presented itself, I knew it would be exciting to return to work with such a great program that has such a great tradition," Ruscitto said.

"In the short time I've been meeting with the kids, they've been great and I've enjoyed their reaction and the entire Sto-Rox atmosphere. I'm looking forward to working with the kids this summer.

"The game of football is all about opportunities. For me, this is a great opportunity to coach some student-athletes at Sto-Rox who participate in a game they really love and that game is football."

Sto-Rox is coming off a 12-1 campaign. The Vikings won the Big Seven Conference title with an 8-0 record, earned the top seed in the Class A playoffs and found themselves playing in the WPIAL championship game for the third consecutive year.

Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, however, beat Sto-Rox, 14-0, in the Class A title game. It was the program's third consecutive loss in the WPIAL final and first shutout defeat in eight seasons.

"It's still early in the summer, so we're still trying to get acclimated," Ruscitto said. "We need to get an offensive and defensive system installed. We don't have a whole lot of time to implement everything right away, so we're looking to get the kids working and involved and hope to get back to that [winning] tradition that has been in place here."

The team also graduated 15 players from last year's roster, including such standouts as Williams, running back Brendan Blair and wide receiver Mallory Claybourne.

Williams threw for 2,709 yards and 34 touchdowns last season. He set all-time WPIAL records for career passing yards with 8,508, touchdown passes with 102 and total yards with 11,559.

"Traditionally, we've always had athletes with a great work ethic," Ruscitto said. "We expect our athletes to have a similar work ethic and attitude to work to get better.

"That means in the classroom, too. That's something we're going to reinforce and make sure our student-athletes receive an education in order to help them hopefully receive an opportunity to go on to the next level."

Besides needing to replace some key skill-position starters from last year's roster, Ruscitto also has to prepare for what is presumably a tougher schedule at the Class AA level. Although the school district made an error when disclosing its enrollment numbers to the PIAA last fall during the realignment process -- by actual male enrollment numbers, Sto-Rox is still a Class A program -- it missed the deadline to correct that mistake, which forced the football team to be moved up a classification.

"This program had a great run for the past 10 years," Ruscitto said. "It's moving up to Class AA and I believe we can compete in Class AA as long as we get a break along the way. We'll be playing in a great conference that has some tremendous players and coaches.

"We'll need to stay healthy and play mistake-free football. That's the ingredients we'll need in order to compete."

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