At first glimpse of Carlynton's upcoming varsity football schedule, Mauro Monz smiled.
As a former player and 1992 graduate of Seton-LaSalle, Monz is familiar with most of the opposing WPIAL teams the Cougars will be competing against in the Century Conference.
Carlynton's new head coach, however, realizes his program is entering a transition season and is making the move up from Class A to Class AA.
"Before I took the job, I was looking at our schedule and saw South Fayette, Seton-LaSalle and South Park and thought these were great programs. When I found out we were moving up to Class AA, I was in awe and nervous all in the same breath. This is probably the best Double-A conference in the state.
"Still, we're ready to invest in the jump. It's something new for the kids and the community. We're going to be playing a lot more games closer to home and that's better for our fan base."
Hired by the school district in March, Monz also will need to adjust to coaching high school football this fall.
Monz spent the past 17 years coaching at the collegiate level, including the past three seasons as Youngstown State's tight ends coach. He also has served as an assistant coach at Duquesne, Robert Morris and Akron as well as two seasons as the head coach of West Virginia Tech, an NAIA school in Montgomery, W.Va.
As a player, Monz was a star quarterback and defensive back for Greg Gattuso at Seton-LaSalle and followed Gattuso to Duquesne where he became an All-MAAC defensive back. Before accepting his first coaching position, Monz served as an undergrad assistant recruiting coordinator for Walt Harris at Pitt.
"It's great to be home and coaching in my hometown," said Monz, who grew up in Scott Township and now lives in South Fayette Township. "I've spent the better part of the last 11 years in Ohio and West Virginia, so it's exciting to be back home.
"Football has been such an important part of my life. I'm excited to express my passion for the game and help my players gain a love for football."
Monz replaces Terry George, who resigned in March and guided Carlynton to a 10-19 record in three seasons.
The Cougars went 4-6 last year, which included a 3-6 record in Class A's Black Hills Conference.
Carlynton, though, has not qualified for the WPIAL playoffs since 2001.
"When taking over a program that has had its ups and downs in the past, you want to seize an opportunity," Monz said. "In the short time I've had with my players this spring, they've been taking everything in and we hope they continue to pick up things along the way."
Carlynton graduated 16 seniors from last year's roster but is expected to return junior running back Isiah Canton, who led the team in rushing and scoring as a sophomore with 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"Offensively, we expect to be explosive," Monz said. "We want our fans jumping up from their seats, see that we're playing hard, scoring points and know our kids are having fun.
"Defensively, we want our opponents to know they just played a physical football team."
Monz also understands how demanding his team's conference schedule will be this season.
Besides facing defending state champion South Fayette, the Cougars will play fellow Century Conference opponents East Allegheny, Keystone Oaks, Quaker Valley, Seton-LaSalle, South Allegheny, South Park, Steel Valley and Sto-Rox.
"We expect to play a challenging schedule," Monz said. "You better be ready in this conference because these teams are well coached and well prepared. We'll be playing some traditional powers.
"It's exciting, but as a coach, I know we'll have to be on point."
Carlynton opens its regular season schedule Aug. 29 on the road in Munhall against Steel Valley.
"The biggest key for us is to be in shape," Monz said. "With the numbers we'll have we have guys playing both ways [on offense and defense], so we need our players to buy into our system.
"We're going to need to play fast and physical, and hopefully everything will come together."