East Xtra: St. Vincent looks to keep climbing
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The Saint Vincent College football program took a huge step forward last season.
After winning only four games in four years after the rebirth of that school's program, the Bearcats posted six victories in 11 games in 2011.
Five of those victories came in the Presidents' Athletic Conference, as the Bearcats finished in a three-way tie for second place along with Washington & Jefferson and Waynesburg.
"It was huge," said coach Bob Colbert, when asked the significance of a winning season. "The players finally bought into what we've been preaching.
"For five years, we've been telling the kids what it takes to win. If you're preaching and preaching and get no results, their confidence starts to wane. To finally get some results made the effort worthwhile."
Colbert was honored as PAC Coach of the Year for leading the Bearcats to its first winning record, but his sixth season at Saint Vincent will be even more challenging, as 29 players have graduated, including 13 starters.
"That senior class participated in every win that we've had since the rebirth of the program," Colbert said. "They will be missed, but we've got a solid group of kids vying for those openings in the starting lineup."
Six starters must be replaced on offense. The biggest loss was quarterback Aaron Smetanka, who threw for 4,117 yards and 31 touchdowns in two seasons at the helm.
"Aaron Smetanka was a PAC first-team selection the past two years," Colbert said. "Those are big shoes to fill. We have three players vying for the starting job.
"Manny Speal (5-11, 200, Sr.) has backed up Smetanka the past two years. Andy Borgen (6-1, 185, Soph.) and Matt Deakins (6-3, 215, Soph.) are also in the picture. It's going to be a good battle going into camp. I honestly don't know who will step up and be our starting quarterback."
Speal is from Kiski School, while Borgen is a Pine-Richland graduate.
Smetanka was one of three All-PAC selections on offense who graduated. Tackle Taofik Amokomowo was a first-team selection, while fullback Joe Yezovich was an honorable mention selection.
"The offensive line is another concern," Colbert said. "We must replace three starters."
Darius McGhee (6-5, 320, Jr.) is back at left tackle after being recognized on the All-PAC first team. Center James Haggerty (6-1, 285) is also back after starting the last five games. McGhee is a Central Catholic grad.
"We have some good young prospects coming along and some good players who haven't played a lot who are big and strong," Colbert said. "I'm sure we can find three good replacements."
A group of at least six players are vying for the openings on the line, including juniors Mitchell DePellegrini (6-5, 265) and Jim Montgomery (6-2, 230). DePellegrini is a Fox Chapel graduate, while Montgomery is from Plum.
The other two returning starters on offense are tailback Huey Ehredt (5-10, 205, Jr.) and wide receiver Ricky Douglas (6-1, 180, Sr.). Ehredt was a second-team All-PAC selection after rushing for 827 yards and six touchdowns on 130 carries. Douglas, a Ringgold grad, was an honorable mention selection after recording 49 catches, 689 yards and two touchdowns.
"We have one of the best running backs in the PAC in Huey Ehrendt," Colbert said. "The same is true for Ricky Douglas. He's one of the top receivers in the conference. We're counting on both to pick up where they left off last season."
The defense is another story. Last year under then first-year defensive coordinator John Thompson, the Bearcats led the PAC in scoring defense (17.1 points per game), pass-defense efficiency (103.2 rating) and interceptions (18).
Matching those impressive totals will be a huge challenge, as all but four defensive starters have graduated, including four players who were recognized on the All-PAC team.
The four defensive returnees are ends Alex Zupanovich (5-11, 270, Jr.) and Anthony May (6-2, 250, Soph.), safety Dan Wirkowski (6-2, 195, Jr.) and cornerback Darius Brown (5-7, 150, Soph.).
Zupanovich is from West Allegheny, May is from Connellsville, Wirkowski is from Shaler and Brown is from Jeannette.
"Wirkowski and Brown each had five interceptions last year," Colbert said. "Brown was a second-team All-PAC pick last year. Wirkowski was an honorable mention pick."
The biggest concern on defense is linebacker, as all three starters must be replaced. The top returnee is Jovaughn Johnson (5-10, 210, Sr.), who appeared in 10 games as a backup.
Saint Vincent opens the 2012 campaign with three consecutive home games, beginning Sept. 1 with a 1 p.m. kick-off against Bridgewater (Va.).
First Published August 9, 2012 7:27 am