After solid season, California working to reach next level

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Thursday, August 24, 2023 | 6:01 AM


Veteran coach Ed Woods knows the makeup of a successful team and what a winner looks like at the high school level.

He believes California’s 2023 football squad has all the makings for a special season.

“I just love the work ethic of these kids,” said Woods, who is entering his fifth season at Cal and 25th as a head coach overall. “Whether it’s in practice or in the weight room, I just love seeing that dedication. They are excited to be here and this is a very close-knit group. These kids are unselfish and they just want to be a part of a winning football program.”

Last fall, the Trojans went 8-3 and finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Tri-County South Conference.

Cal, which has qualified for the postseason seven straight seasons and 15 of the last 20, saw its season end in the first round of the Class A playoffs with a loss to South Side.

“If you look at it from a big picture kind of view, there were a lot of positives from last year,” Woods said. “I guess you can call it a successful season, but to us and the kids, we were a little disappointed. We wanted to win the conference title. We wanted to win a playoff game. We are using that as motivation.”

Woods is 28-11 in four years at Cal and has won 22 of his 27 games in the Tri-County South.

Despite losing eight seniors from a year ago, Cal returns a lot of talent at the skill positions, starting with senior quarterback Jake Layhue.

In 2022, Layhue passed for 1,224 yards with 14 scoring tosses and just a pair of interceptions. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound dual-threat signal caller also ran for a team-high 943 yards. He added 13 rushing touchdowns and eclipsed the 100-yard mark four times last fall.

“Jake has only gotten stronger and faster,” Woods said. “He wrestled and ran track, but he was always constantly in the weight room or on the field getting better. I think he is more comfortable in the offense with a year under his belt and he knows what he has at receivers. As a runner, he has great vision and with his long strides it looks like he is gliding out there on the field when he runs.”

Layhue, who has visited several camps and colleges over the summer and has been offered a scholarship by at least four universities, will guide an offense that runs multiple sets and formations.

“We always tailor our offense to the talent we have in the locker room,” Woods said. “We can play smashmouth and run the ball from the I-formation. Or we can spread you out and run the ball against you there. Jake has a lot of designed runs, and we just continue to add more wrinkles on offense. We believe we can be successful in any formation with our personnel.”

Another key player returning is senior tailback Spencer Petrucci, who rushed for 788 yards, had three 100-yard games and scored a team-high 14 rushing touchdowns in 2022.

“Spencer is another physical runner we have on the team,” Woods said. “We are hoping to give him the ball 20-25 times a game. He will be our workhorse. With Spencer, he loves running in between the tackles, but he is very capable of finding the edge. He has a nose for the goal line.”

Senior Zach Geletei will move from running back to slot receiver and will look to be a key cog in the Trojans’ passing attack. Last year, Geletei ran for 588 yards, caught nine balls for 162 yards and scored 12 total touchdowns.

Senior Fred Sherman will be the team’s fullback, while junior Lee Qualk will be Petrucci’s primary backup at running back. Senior Dayquan Davis could also be a factor in the passing attack.

Senior center Dylan Henry is the lone returning starter on the offensive line. Senior Aidan Jobes, juniors Matthew Miller, Dylan Johnson, Griffin Parker and Gavin Pendo, and sophomores Devon Harris and Austin Zemba will look to fill out the line on both sides of the ball.

With former Ringgold and South Allegheny coach Darwin Manges as its new defensive coordinator, Cal will switch to a 3-3 alignment and will look to take advantage of its speed.

“This defense will be focused on what our linebackers and safeties can do for us,” Woods said. “They all will have to be playmakers. They all will have to be able to stuff the run and play coverage. We have had a lot of team speed over the years, and that includes this season, too.”

Petrucci will be the middle linebacker on a defense that only allowed 13.4 points per game a year ago.

Senior Nick Rollins and junior Niko Georgagis hope to see time at the outside linebacker spots, while Layhue and Geletei are lined up as safeties. Davis, as well as juniors Vinny Manzella and Gerald Williams and sophomore Logan Hartley, are battling it out for time in the defensive backfield.

Woods emphasizes solid special teams every year and is not afraid to play most of his starters on offense or defense on special teams. There’s a kicking competition between juniors Elijah Keene and Christian Ross, and the Trojans will have plenty of options in the return game.

As for the Tri-County South, Woods think it could be one of the most competitive conferences again.

“This conference is very balanced and I don’t think there’s one clear-cut top team,” he said. “I anticipate a lot of close games and tougher competitive every week. I think every team has a top running back coming back. We should be in the mix, but I also think Monessen, Carmichaels, Beth-Center, Mapletown and West Greene will be right there at the top.”

California

Coach: Ed Woods

2022 record: 8-3, 5-2 in Class A Tri-County South

All-time record: 445-438-14

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.25 Frazier, 7

9.1 Charleroi, 7

9.8 at Waynesburg, 7

9.15 at Jefferson-Morgan*, 7

9.22 Monessen*, 7

9.29 at Mapletown*, 7

10.6 West Greene*, 7

10.13 at Carmichaels*, 7

10.20 Beth-Center*, 7

10.27 at Bentworth*, 7

*Conference game

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