Dom Patrick, Derry seniors passionate about returning to playoff contention

Friday, August 12, 2022 | 2:03 PM

Dom Patrick is embarrassed. So are his teammates. After all, this is a Derry program just three years removed from a fourth-in-a-row WPIAL playoff appearance.

The situation had deteriorated fast.

With a new coach on board and interest in the program rising, Patrick’s passion has begun to overshadow his abashment. On the opening day of heat acclimation week at Derry High School, he could be seen heading to a drill with a demonstrative step.

“Come on, we need to show it,” he barked. “Everyone do it.”

Mike Arone, the Trojans’ first-year coach, can’t help but love the passion.

A short distance north, in Indiana County, Arone witnessed a similar scenario in 2017 as an assistant at Homer-Center, which won a District 6 championship and raced all the way to the PIAA Class A championship game before losing to WPIAL champion Jeannette.

“Our seniors here (at Derry) were freshman when this program was still contending,” Arone said. “They saw what it took. We’ve not outwardly talked much about it, but you can see a resemblance in this group of what it was like in the older kids. You can see it in their work ethic. They’re a proud group.”

As a freshman in 2019, Patrick spent most of his time on the Derry sideline when the Trojans won a first-round playoff game in Tim Sweeney’s final season as coach before taking over at Class 5A Baldwin.

A year earlier, in 2018, Derry lost to Aliquippa in the WPIAL Class 3A championship game at Acrisure Stadium (formerly Heinz Field).

“A lot of embarrassment,” Patrick said, gazing out at his teammates while replaying the darkness of the past two years.

It was a time when Derry managed only two victories in 14 games during his covid-shortened sophomore year and then his junior season. It was enough to cost former coach Vince Skillings his job at his alma mater before the conclusion of last year’s schedule.

Arone and athletics director Brett Miller stepped in with the remaining assistants to guide the team through the final two games of a winless (0-9) season after Skillings, arguably Derry’s most celebrated athlete, earning all-state football honors in 1976 and eventually reaching the NFL, encountered a rough road following the departure of Sweeney in 2020.

“The coaching staff came in with high hopes, and they kept everyone’s head up when they were pushed down,” Patrick said, remembering the team’s final two games of last season. “I think they know what they’re doing.”

During Skillings’ brief tenure, Derry mainly was uncompetitive, with a majority of the games ending with a running mercy-rule clock.

“It’s been more mental than anything else,” Patrick said. “The mental drainage is terrible. I wouldn’t wish it on any player. I think it builds a lot but also takes a lot away from you emotionally. You’re not into the game anymore.”

Arone, in his first shot as a head coach, is out to turn the tide. Interest is growing with 57 players on board, nearly double the number in camp for Derry’s opening-night game a year ago against archrival Latrobe, an embarrassing 61-0 loss to the Wildcats.

“He’s a motivator and a general,” Miller said of Arone. “How he goes about his daily business … very professional.”

Patrick said the players on this year’s club talk at length about the upcoming season.

“We’re angry, and we’re coming back with a chip on our shoulder,” he said. “We’re working harder than ever to prove ourselves and prove to the team and the community that we’re no joke.”

Arone has orchestrated spirited workouts this week, stirring Patrick’s emotions and coaxing a smile from the 5-foot-11, 220-pound guard/linebacker.

“The coaching staff came in with a new head, a new passion for the team, and the team is running with it,” Patrick said. “They’re doing good so far. The team’s building. They’re bonding better than ever, and I think this year is going to be a good year for us.”

Derry has dropped in classification to 2A and opens its Allegheny Conference schedule Sept. 23 at Apollo-Ridge, the first of six consecutive conference games.

The Trojans start the year with three nonconference contests, beginning Aug. 26 at home in their traditional rivalry game against Class 4A Latrobe.

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