Hard-hitting linebacker leads Laurel

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Saturday, August 21, 2021 | 6:01 AM


With coach Brian Cooper planning to add heavy doses of spread offense to his usual Wing-T attack, opposing defenses won’t know exactly what they’ll be getting from Laurel this season.

Opposing ballcarriers know precisely what to expect, however.

Pain.

Courtesy of senior linebacker Luke McCoy.

“He’s a special player,” Cooper said. “He’s so athletic and explosive and quick. Coaching him, watching him play, he’s so violent when he gets there, the collisions at linebacker. I’d say a lot of that is his speed. Strength comes with it, obviously. He’s a special ballplayer, that’s for sure. Glad to have him back for another year.”

Led by McCoy, a force on both sides of the ball who also rushed for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, the Spartans earned a spot in the exclusive WPIAL Class 2A playoff field last season. That was a significant accomplishment, especially after they knocked on the door so vigorously the previous two seasons without getting in.

The result once they reached the postseason — a 21-20 loss to eventual WPIAL finalist Sto-Rox — is motivation to advance further next time.

“We know we’ve been real close,” Cooper said. “Love to push it over that hump and make a run. But obviously, you’ve got to start all over. I feel we’ve got a good nucleus to do that with all our skill kids coming back, so we’re hopefully going to make a push.”

Cooper isn’t exaggerating. Starting with McCoy, pretty much all his skill players return this season.

That includes quarterback Kobe DeRosa, who was a threat in the ground game as a junior last season.

“He’s not only a threat running the ball this year. We’ve had all offseason to work on his throwing and stuff like that,” Cooper said. “We expect a lot of him this year.”

Add in the return of top receiving target Michael Pasquarello, and a new look on offense is looming.

“The primary part of our offense will be more spread with all the skill kids we have,” Cooper said.

On the occasions the Spartans return to their Wing-T roots, Cooper is considering using McCoy and DeRosa in the backfield with Logan Ayres or Chase Tinstman under center.

“With Kobe and Luke, if I had to go with those two in the backfield, it’s a nice one-two punch that is hard for teams to defend,” Cooper said.

With conference defensive player of the year Mitch Miles, all-conference offensive lineman Rylan Collier and Andy Harlan among the losses to graduation, the Spartans will have some remodeling to do in the trenches.

They’re hardly starting from scratch, though.

Former tight end Cam Caldararo is a returning starter at guard. Ryan DiMuccio and Coltin Hill played extensively as sophomores last season. Three others — Joey Hudak, Sam Arblaster and Keegan O’Brien — are competing for the final two starting spots on the offensive line.

As the Spartans worked to revamp their offense over the offseason, players showed up at 7-on-7 competitions and weight-room sessions with a renewed sense of enthusiasm.

That’s only natural, considering the restrictive nature of last year’s pandemic-tinted season.

That enthusiasm, Cooper said, wasn’t confined to the locker room, either.

“It wasn’t just the kids. It was the adults too,” he said. “Last year, we felt very fortunate to get in the season, but to be able to get back to business as usual has been big.”

Laurel

Coach: Brian Cooper

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

All-time record: 341-258-10

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.27 North East, 7

9.3 at Shenango, 7

9.10 Ambridge, 7

9.17 Beaver Falls*, 7

9.24 at Riverside*, 7

10.1 at Freedom*, 7

10.8 New Brighton*, 7

10.15 at Mohawk*, 7

10.22 at Ellwood City, 7

10.29 Neshannock*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Kobe DeRosa

21-45, 385 yards, 5TDs

Receiving: Michael Pasquarello

6-173, 3 TDs

Rushing: Luke McCoy

120-1,039, 11 TDs

FAST FACTS

• Laurel is among the smaller schools in Class 2A in the WPIAL, and coach Brian Cooper expects the Spartans to return to Class A in the next enrollment cycle.

• Luke McCoy is a two-time 1,000-yard rusher. He missed most of his sophomore year with a knee injury.

• Laurel has made the WPIAL playoffs in its last three seasons as a Class 2A team. It also qualified in 2016 and 2017.

• Laurel’s offense picked up steam as the season went on last year. In their first four games, the Spartans averaged 19.0 points per game. In their last four games, they averaged 33.5.

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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