Increased numbers, returning talent fuel Serra Catholic in quest for success

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Friday, September 4, 2020 | 10:53 PM


Serra Catholic battled No. 4 Neshannock in last year’s WPIAL Class 2A first round before falling, 31-17.

Eagles fourth-year coach Jose Regus said despite the playoff loss, much was gained by his players throughout the 2019 campaign, which finished with a 6-4 overall record.

With increased numbers — from 23 last year to a current roster of 35 — and numerous starters and overall experience back on both sides of the ball, Regus said big things could be coming from his team this fall.

“We returned a lot of guys and have some incoming freshmen who will do some things for us,” Regus said. “With just 23 players, it was tough for some practices. Every kid wasn’t a specific position where we could utilize a practice against each other. Now, we have depth at different positions, and guys are ready to step in to replace the ones we did lose. It’s a beautiful thing.”

When the WPIAL introduced shortened schedules because of the pandemic, Serra’s original Week 10 Class 2A Allegheny Conference game against Steel Valley became the Sept. 11 opener, and a nonconference contest against Imani Christian set for Sept. 11 was eliminated.

The Oct. 23 date, originally a conference game against Summit Academy, remains open.

“These kids just want to play football,” Regus said. “They understand what the pandemic is all about and all of the things that are going on with it. They are just concentrating on being the best players and best team they can be so they are ready when it is time.

“When we started summer workouts (in the third week of July), I could really tell these guys put in a lot of work. They’ve really grown from last year.”

Regus said he will be counting a lot on a large junior class of 13, and it includes returning quarterback Max Rocco, who threw for 244 yards and a touchdown against Neshannock. Rocco sees a great opportunity ahead.

“Last year was a learning year for all of us,” Rocco said. “We experienced all of that, including the playoff loss, and we’re really hungry for this season. We have higher expectations now.”

Rocco will have a lot of support in the passing game from junior wideouts Zack Weber, Jayvon Holt, Paul Pearson and Terrell Booth. Sophomores Elijah Ward and DaiQuann Chatfield and junior Imani transfer Pharoh Fisher also are in the mix.

Booth earned first-team All-Three Rivers Conference honors last year.

“We plan on moving fast, so we have to keep guys switching in and out,” Regus said.

Pearson is expected to carry the ball, along with junior Machai Brooks, as Regus looks for the replacement for Ray Holmes, last year’s leading rusher who also earned first-team all-conference recognition along the defensive line.

Senior Kyle Sullivan and junior Danny Opferman return as anchors along the offensive and defensive lines.

Pearson (defensive end) and many of the top offensive players also are expected to make an impact on defense. Regus said he is high on senior John Banner (offensive line/linebacker) and sophomores Michael Schanck (running back/linebacker) and Antoine Smith (offensive line/defensive line).

In addition to Steel Valley, Serra Catholic will face Apollo-Ridge, Shady Side Academy and WPIAL newcomer Ligonier Valley in conference play.

Ligonier Valley comes from District 6, where it finished 12-1 and lost to Richland in the District 6 title game last year. Apollo-Ridge returns a plethora of starters from last season’s 7-4 Class 2A playoff qualifier.

“It should be really interesting,” Regus said. “We owe Shady Side a little payback from the (2018) playoffs. It looks like Ligonier Valley lost a lot from last year. I’m not sure what they have back to replace.”

Shady Side Academy, as the No. 1 seed, edged Serra Catholic, 22-20, in the 2018 WPIAL Class 2A first round.

“We’re really confident, and the coaches are confident in us,” Rocco said. “We have a winning mindset, and we are using that to work hard for the start of the season.”

Schedule

Coach: Jose Regus

2019 record: 6-5, 4-3 in Class 2A Three Rivers Conference

All-time record: 214-331-6

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, Steel Valley*, 7

9.18, at Seton LaSalle, 7

9.25, Carlynton, 7

10.2, at Shady Side Academy*, 7

10.9, Ligonier Valley*, 7

10.16, Apollo-Ridge*, 7

*Class 2A Allegheny Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Max Rocco

98-196, 1,321 yards, 10 TDs

Receiving: Terrell Booth

23-525 yards, 5 TDs

Rushing: Ray Holmes*

196-1,267 yards, 12 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• The Eagles running game, led by Ray Holmes, averaged 215.4 yards per game last year.

• Five Serra Catholic receivers caught touchdowns last year.

• John Banner led the Eagles defense in tackles last year with 96, while Paul Pearson recorded a team-best 19.5 tackles for a loss.

• Serra Catholic is hoping to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs for the fifth year in a row.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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