Freedom ready to move forward, focus on fun

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Saturday, August 21, 2021 | 6:01 AM


There’s one particular stat coach John Rosa would like to see Freedom lead the WPIAL in this season.

Touchdowns? Yards? Turnovers? Sacks? Well, yeah, sure. What coach wouldn’t want that?

But what Rosa really wants his team to lead the district in is smiles.

“This game is about these kids enjoying their three or four years of high school football,” Rosa said. “That’s what we want to do. That’s my most important goal this year. I want the kids to have fun.”

Rosa’s focus on football’s fun factor is a direct response to the way last season went for the Bulldogs. In a season often described as strange and challenging because of covid protocols, Freedom’s season was stranger and more challenging than most.

After a 24-6 loss to New Brighton in the season opener, Greg Toney resigned when the relationship between the coach and his players fell apart. Rosa, the school’s athletic director, stepped in on an interim basis.

“It was a miserable couple weeks leading up to what happened,” Rosa said.

The misery steadily dissipated, though, as the wins started piling up. Freedom won five of its last seven games, including a quality victory over playoff-bound Laurel.

After the season ended, when the time came for the school to look for a permanent head coach, Rosa stepped forward. The team had undergone three coaching changes in the previous four years, all during the season. The last thing the Bulldogs needed was another change in leadership.

“We needed to try to get some stability, and the board looked to me knowing I’ve been in the district 32 years,” Rosa said. “I know the kids. Just trying to get that stability back to have some sense of normalcy back in the program.”

Rosa will field a lineup long on talent at the skill positions but lacking in experience in the trenches.

Cole Beck, a first-team all-conference pick on offense and defense who threw for more than 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns, graduated. So did his top target, Reiker Welling. But Rosa is excited about his new quarterback: senior Carter Slowinski.

“He’s probably a kid who, under most circumstances, would be a three-year or four-year starter,” Rosa said. “He’s a very talented young man, but he just happened to be playing behind Cole Beck the last couple years.

“He waited. He paid his dues patiently. He contributed to our offensive last year as a wide receiver, and now he’s going to be the guy. He can do a lot of things both with his legs and his arm. We think he’s going to have an excellent season and he’s going to be the catalyst for our offense.”

Between four-year starter Josh Pail, three-year starter Damian Grunnagle and Josh Yeck and Tristen Clear, the Bulldogs have plenty of weapons at running back and wide receiver on offense and linebacker and defensive back on defense.

The biggest question mark is on the line. Freedom graduated all five starters.

“You’ve got to protect the quarterback and you’ve got to open up some holes for the running backs,” Rosa said. “We’ll see how that works with our offensive line. They’re all first-year starters, but they’re good kids working hard. We hope they can develop quickly.”

Freedom

Coach: John Rosa

2020 record: 5-3, 4-3 in Class 2A MAC

All-time record: 422-537-54

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.27 South Side, 7:30

9.3 Western Beaver, 7:30

9.10 at Quaker Valley, 7

9.17 Riverside*, 7:30

9.24 at Neshannock*, 7

10.1 Laurel*, 7

10.8 at Ellwood City*, 7

10.15 at Beaver Falls*, 7

10.22 Mohawk*, 7:30

10.29 at New Brighton*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Cole Beck*

100-192, 1,278 yards, 16 TDs

Receiving: Reiker Welling*

38-759, 10 TDs

Rushing: Josh Pail

51-211, 1 TD

FAST FACTS

• After going 12-0 at home the previous two seasons, Freedom was undefeated on the road last year, going 4-0.

• With the WPIAL taking only the top two teams in each conference due to pandemic scheduling changes, Freedom saw its streak of four consecutive playoff appearances snapped.

• Freedom’s defense will face two radically different offenses in the first two weeks of the season. The Bulldogs will take on the Wing-T attack of South Side in the opener followed by the spread passing game of Western Beaver in Week 1.

• Rosa is in his third stint as Freedom coach. He also held the position from 1996-98 and on an interim basis in 2018.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review Assistant Sports Editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at jbombulie@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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