West Xtra: Colts lineman shines at playing both ways

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Playing for the Pittsburgh Colts semipro football team is a little bit of a throwback to high school for most of the players.

Players on the Colts typically play both ways, offense and defense. When it comes to playing two ways for four quarters nothing may be more important than fitness.

Last season Colts head coach Ed Brosky decided to try playing his long-time center, Ryan DeFrancesco, at center and nose tackle.

The move was no problem for the 6-foot-1 305-pound DeFrancesco.

Being a career center dating back to his days at Ambridge High School where he graduated in 2006 and his playing days at West Virginia Wesleyan certainly helped DeFrancesco make the transition.

Being a personal trainer at an area gym who happens to be in great shape also helped.

"He has muscles on top of muscles," Brosky said of DeFrancesco. "We wanted to take advantage of his speed and explosiveness."

Even with all that strength and experience playing opposite of nose tackle, there was still plenty of technique DeFrancesco had to learn.

He had strictly played center for the Colts in his first three seasons.

"At first he was trying to use his brute speed and strength and just bull rush guys," Brosky said. "We had to teach him now to be a defensive lineman, play your area, fight force and pass rushing techniques. He already knew how to defeat that as an offensive lineman. We had to teach him how to harness his physical strength and speed and have that translate to him being not just effective as a defensive lineman but efficient."

On the semipro level, quality linemen are not exactly growing on trees. The Colts have a luxury with DeFrancesco who calls pre-snap blocking schemes, a talent he picked up in 2011 during a stint playing indoor football with the Sioux Falls Storm.

"Center is probably the most important position before the start of the play," Brosky said. "Ryan is solid, he can read the defenses, call out the blocking schemes and make the adjustments."

Four games into the nine-game season, the Pittsburgh Colts are 3-1 in the Semi Professional Football (SPF) League. This is their first year in the two-year old league. They started the season 2-0 with wins against the Cleveland Warriors and Akron Silverbacks before penalties and turnovers in the fourth quarter cost them a game against the New York Sting. They bounced back Saturday with a 26-0 win against the Cleveland Warriors.

The Colts return to action at home against the Buffalo Hornets at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Chartiers Valley High School.

Whatever league they are playing in, the Colts are typically one of the top teams. DeFrancesco credits a lot of the team's success over the past decade to consistency in personnel, especially on the offensive line.

"Since I have been there, we have had the same core group of guys," DeFrancesco said. "There are guys who have been involved with the team for eight-plus years and it goes all the way up to the coaches.

"The good part about the offensive line, we have been with the team for a long time and when a new lineman joins the team, coach specifically puts them beside [the veterans] so we can coach them."

The ability of the linemen, and most of the other players, to go both ways is another reason for the continued success of the Colts.

"That is another thing that separates us with other teams," DeFrancesco said. "When we get together one month before the season, our guys come in shape. When we need people to go both ways they can. Our guys are working hard, lifting and running in the offseason."

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