Carlynton football team sees progress despite rough season

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Thursday, October 24, 2019 | 3:53 PM


When Rich Piccinnini took over the Carlynton football program during the most recent offseason, he wasn’t expecting miracles. The Cougars, after all, had almost no success on which to build.

He also wasn’t expecting to lose three quarterbacks to season-ending injuries. But that’s the hand the team was dealt as it tried to turn a corner during the 2019 season.

The Cougars started in promising fashion, winning their first two games — over Bishop Canevin and Fort Cherry — convincingly. Then, the injuries started to pile up.

In the middle of the fifth game, Piccinnini was forced to switch schemes, installing Dallas Paolino as a wildcat quarterback. Running the ball on every play, the Cougars’ offense became predictable.

On top of it, the Cougars, because of the injuries, often suited up fewer than 25 players.

It added up to a seven-game losing streak that ended Carlynton’s season short of the playoffs. Again.

Through it all, however, Piccinnini saw hope. Mostly, he saw a team that refused to quit.

“We fought hard a lot of games,” he said. “Some games, we were outmanned due to injuries. But the kids are playing to the last play, fighting to the whistle.

“Not one kid has left the team. The attitude is there. The effort is there.”

The Cougars’ fight and belief led to better play. Piccinnini called the first half of the Oct. 11 game against Brentwood and the second half of the Oct. 18 game against South Park the Cougars’ best halves of the season. Down 28-6 at halftime against South Park, Carlynton rallied to make a game of it before losing 28-20.

“I can definitely see there’s something different going on,” said junior Bryan Lee, a running back/linebacker. “Everyone seems to be playing for each other rather than just going through the motions and getting through the season.”

Paolino, a senior, has been one of the bright spots. He entered the final week of the season with a shot at 1,000 rushing yards — he had 915 through the first nine weeks — and a team-leading 11 touchdowns.

And while few other Cougars posted noteworthy stats, Piccinnini said he can see strides that don’t show up in the box score.

“We were thrown into some situations we were not expecting, and I thought we handled them accordingly,” Piccinnini said.

Perhaps better than any statistic, a good measurement of how far the Cougars have come is in the form of the question several players have asked Piccinnini: When does offseason training start? To Piccinnini, that is a sign the players who will return are eager to keep pushing the program forward.

The team didn’t have the benefit of a full offseason under Piccinnini last summer. By the time he was hired and got his staff together, it was July. But the coaches and players will have the entire offseason to work together.

That works both ways, Piccinnini said. In many respects, this season was a learning experience for him and his staff, too, so once they begin preparations for the 2020 season, they will have a better handle on the players.

“We are going to be able to do more football in the offseason,” he said. “We will be incorporating football-specific drills and be able to watch some film with the kids and put more things in.”

Lee, for one, is looking forward to next season as well as seasons beyond. He is confident the program is headed for better days.

“I think we’re all looking for the upward,” he said. “Being the older kids, we have to give (the younger kids) something to look up to. … There’s always the upward. We don’t want them to have that losing mentality.”

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