After tough year, Apollo-Ridge focused on leadership, brotherhood

Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | 2:41 PM

The deck was stacked against Apollo-Ridge quite a bit in 2021.

A young team to start, the Vikings battled through a gauntlet of a conference schedule while injuries and illnesses took players off of the field.

“We dealt with a lot of covid issues that made us even younger,” coach John Skiba said. “We were missing kids all year long, plus injuries. We were definitely a young group.”

While football returned to normal for many, Apollo-Ridge was one of the teams most heavily impacted by the ongoing pandemic.

“It made huge impacts in a couple of games where we didn’t have guys that we needed to have,” Skiba said. “It was also when we lost them, too. It wasn’t the beginning of the week. We’d be mid-week and all of a sudden, these kids have to be quarantined and I’d have two days to get someone ready to fill positions.”

The Vikings finished 2-7 overall, with a 1-4 mark in Class 2A’s Allegheny Conference.

Despite the trials, a go-to playmaker emerged on offense.

Junior tailback Nick Curci led the team with 530 rushing yards, 299 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

“Nick’s very versatile,” Skiba said. “He put on a lot of weight from a year ago. He’s up to 220 (pounds), from 200 last year. He had a great offseason. But then he got hit with pneumonia, so that kind of slowed him down.”

Curci, Skiba said, didn’t get back to game shape until Apollo-Ridge’s 35-17 win over Burrell in Week 5. He scored five touchdowns in the win.

“Then he got a little banged up, and I lost him for a couple of weeks with a bad high ankle sprain,” Skiba said. “He had a rough year because he didn’t get on the field as much as he needed to for us to be successful. He was our bell cow.

“He’s going to have to have a big year for us to be really good next year. I know that.”

Joining Curci in the backfield was an up-and-coming quarterback, sophomore Karter Schrock, a three-sport standout who passed for 772 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions while rushing for 256 yards and six more scores.

“I thought he did a great job,” Skiba said. “I think he would’ve been a lot further along if he hadn’t gotten injured (in Week 1 vs. Avonworth). I lost him for a couple of weeks. But he did really well.

“His upside is that he really wants to be a really, really good football player. He studies, and he’s constantly drawing up things. We’d sit down and do board work all year long with him coming in, learning everything.”

The Vikings, on top of covid and injuries, had to go up against a conference that featured two Class 2A semifinalists in Steel Valley and Serra Catholic, plus a Ligonier Valley team that went 8-3 overall. In the final four weeks of the season, Apollo-Ridge faced those three teams, as well as the conference’s fourth-place team, Shady Side Academy.

“I always think this conference is undersold, and we’ve had some really good teams come out of here,” Skiba said. “It wasn’t easy. We had to deal with a lot every week because the guys we went against, they had weapons everywhere.”

With such a young group, and one that had many moving parts, Skiba did sense there was a particular void in an extremely important area.

“We need to find some definite leadership and some guys who want to take that role and run with it,” he said. “They need to become good leaders. (Curci) needs to take that on, but there’s a lot of guys in that (junior) class that have played a lot of football that need to lead us into this offseason.”

The pandemic took its toll on the Vikings throughout the fall, but Skiba also believes, because of the virus shutting down key team bonding events over the past couple of seasons, the team has not been able to gain as much chemistry as he’d like.

“We’ve got to become more of a family,” he said. “I think we need to become a little bit tighter. There were some guys on the fringe that we need to bring in and shore that whole thing up. We couldn’t do those activities like we used to. We bring a freshman class in, and everyone is trying to figure out who’s who, and it’s tough.”

His hope is that, as normalcy makes its way back, his young players will embrace the hardships of this fall and use it as fuel for next season.

“We need to go out there as one big brotherhood,” Skiba said. “If something happens, we all have to go defend. I think we kind of figured that out towards the end, and I think we really finished on a higher note.

“I think that’s going to carry us over into this offseason, hopefully.”


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