PG East: Morelli finds niche as Plum quarterbacks coach
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A year ago at this time, Penn Hills High School graduate Anthony Morelli was in his first NFL training camp, working on his game in an effort to earn a job as a backup quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, a team that would go from perennial doormat to NFC champions.
Now, Morelli is working on improving the skills of other quarterbacks in an effort to help a team that is embarking to transform itself from a perpetual also-ran to championship-level status.
A former Penn State player and one of the most highly regarded WPIAL quarterbacks in recent memory, Morelli, 24, was hired as quarterbacks coach at Plum High School by new Mustangs coach Frank Sacco.
"I always just wanted to stay in football as long as possible, whether it be playing or coaching," Morelli said. "It's a great sport to be around. I've played it my whole life, and now coaching others is a pretty neat experience."
The strong-armed Morelli was heavily recruited nationally after a decorated four-year starting career for Penn Hills. He eventually became a two-year starter at Penn State, leading the Nittany Lions to bowl victories at the end of the 2006 and '07 seasons.
Morelli signed with the Cardinals last spring and was in a battle with former Steeler Brian St. Pierre to be the No. 3 quarterback. By winter, his playing career was, at least temporarily, stalled, so Sacco, who had just been hired as the new Plum coach, quickly sought him out.
"Coach Sacco called me as soon as I was done playing," Morelli said. He showed the most interest. He called me up and asked me to be his quarterbacks coach right away.
"It was hard to turn him down, and it's been nothing but great since I've been here."
"He's told me everyday, 'I really like it. I love it,'" Sacco said. "He's really enjoying it now, and once you start coaching, it's in your blood. I'm sure he wants to move up as he goes. He's doing a great job already with our kids."
In addition to spending the entire training camp with the Cardinals last summer, Morelli has worked out for the Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills -- the Bills told him he was their No. 1 option in case of an injury. He also was to play in the Arena Football League until this past season's operations were suspended.
At 24, Morelli isn't closing the door on continuing his playing career.
"Absolutely, that's my No. 1 goal, just to stay in football as much as possible," Morelli said. "Coaching is the way to go unless someone calls me up.
"Right now, I'm just focused on these guys up there at the high school. I'm just getting into it and I love it. If those [playing] opportunities come up, that would be outstanding, but as of right now, I'm just focused on these guys."
"These guys" center on a tight four-way battle for the starting quarterback job.
"He's doing an outstanding job with them," Sacco said. "He's got a wealth of knowledge, with Penn State and the NFL. He's been through everything from when he was in high school to when he was in Arizona's camp. All through camp he learned a ton off Kurt Warner out there."
Morelli is working outside of football now and is looking to get a job in his field. His major was recreation, parks and tourism management. But he still is hopeful to continue chasing his NFL dream.
"If he gets a shot, I'm happy for him. It's a lifelong dream to be in the NFL," Sacco said. "If he gets called up, I'll give him my blessing. That's what kids dream of -- playing football."
Although Morelli makes no secret his longing to play professionally, that would be the only way he would stop coaching at Plum. Sacco made sure to point out that Morelli has been as committed a rookie coach as he has seen.
"He's taking it real seriously," Sacco said. "He's excited to try to get us back on the right track, help us turn things around. He's happy to be here and is fitting in very nicely.
"I can't say enough about having Anthony. He's done an outstanding job so far. He's going to be a good coach."
Fate would have it that Plum, which is only a combined 6-24 over the past three seasons, plays in the same Big East Conference as his alma mater (that's how Sacco, a former Plum assistant, was familiar with him). The Mustangs play host to Penn Hills on Oct. 2.
"It'll be different being on the other side of the field, having graduated and having started there four years," Morelli said. "But it won't be anything out of control. It'll be hard going against my old team.
"I saw coach [Ron] Graham and all those guys [at a passing camp]. That was the first time I'd seen them probably since I left the program, and it was nice to see them.
First Published August 6, 2009 12:00 am