Ellwood City embraces obstacles on path to success

Friday, August 28, 2020 | 11:18 PM

Coach Joe Lamenza read a book over the summer that he found useful when preparing for the Ellwood City football season.

Called “The Obstacle is the Way,” it explores the philosophy of stoicism, the wisdom of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and the idea that struggles are a necessary part of success.

Lamenza found the book pertinent when facing the challenges that come with preparing a high school football team to play in the middle of a pandemic.

“We have to be a little more agile in our response to things,” Lamenza said. “Figuratively speaking, we have to be able to put our foot in the ground and go in a different direction and make the best of those circumstances. I bring this up to the team almost every day. Circumstances can change in an instant without any warning.

“The obstacle becomes the way. This is new territory for all of us, and we have to chart the way as we go as we work through all the obstacles.”

Frankly, the lessons learned from the book might prove useful on the football field as well.

Ellwood City, which went 0-10 last season, has faced its share on obstacles between the white lines.

When Lamenza took over at the beginning of last season, he was the team’s fourth head coach in as many seasons.

“It was no one’s fault. It just was a crazy set of circumstances,” Lamenza said.

As a result, numbers waned.

“I can’t quantify it, but it had to have affected the numbers. I’m sure there weren’t any positive effects,” Lamenza said. “So we had a smaller roster last year in terms of veteran leadership. We had three seniors. They did a great job. They helped steer the ship. They were positive. And we played a lot of young guys, whether they were ready or not.”

As Lamenza prepares to begin his second season, numbers are up, freshmen have become sophomores and sophomore have become juniors.

“There’s no substitute for that,” Lamenza said. “We can’t replicate that in practice, as much as we try. There’s no substitute for Friday nights. We want to capitalize on that experience if we can.”

Ellwood City will have returning starters all over the field. Three-year starter Ryan Gibbons is back at quarterback and leading rusher Tyler Powell returns in the backfield.

Senior Sammy DiCaprio is a versatile performer on both sides of the ball. At tight end, Lamenza said he can block or line up as a slot receiver, and at defensive end, he can stop the run, rush the passer or drop back in coverage.

The entire offensive line also returns, including seniors Cam Rennels and Andy Vrabel as well as Donovin Stiffler, Ben Bobbert and Anthony Baird.

Lamenza said he has depth in his group of wide receivers and defensive backs. Junior Ashton Wilson is a playmaker. Anthony Spadafore and Carter Lutz are experienced safeties.

Another obstacle that will have to become the way for the Wolverines this season is their schedule. The addition of Beaver Falls and Laurel should make the Midwestern Athletic Conference as tough as ever.

“One of the challenging things about our conference is you have different styles of play,” Lamenza said. “You see it all in our conference. We see the traditional Wing-T offense. We see the spread. We see traditional two-back, three-back offenses. There’s definitely some challenges there. The conference is strong top to bottom.”


Coach: Joe Lamenza

2019 record: 0-1, 0-7 in Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference

All-time record: 430-557-44

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, Mohawk*, 7

9.18, at New Brighton*, 7

9.25, Beaver Falls*, 7

10.2, at Neshannock*, 7

10.10, at Freedom*, 7

10.16, Riverside*, 7

10.23, Laurel*, 7

*Class 2A Midwestern Conference game

Individual statistics

Passing: Ryan Gibbons

59-136, 572 yards, 2 TDs

Rushing: Tyler Powell

184-733 yards, 5 TDs

Receiving: Ashton Wilson

30-324 yards

Fast facts

• Ellwood City’s offense improved in the second half of last season. The Wolverines scored a total of 14 points in their first six games. They had 55 points in their final four games.

• Ellwood City’s last playoff appearance was in 2011 when the Wolverines went 7-4 overall, 5-3 in the Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference.

• This season marks the 95th anniversary of Ellwood City’s lone WPIAL football championship. The school went undefeated and was declared champion in 1925.

• Ellwood City went 0-10 last season, but its losing streak doesn’t extend any longer than that. The Wolverines defeated Brentwood in three overtimes in the 2018 season finale.

Jonathan Bombulie is the TribLive assistant sports editor. A Greensburg native, he was a hockey reporter for two decades, covering the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for 17 seasons before joining the Trib in 2015 and covering the Penguins for four seasons, including Stanley Cup championships in 2016-17. He can be reached at jbombulie@triblive.com.


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