North Catholic ready to rebound under new coach

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Saturday, August 12, 2023 | 11:13 PM


North Catholic first-year football coach Chris Rizzo traveled about 2,000 miles to take over a program that’s not too far from where it wants to be.

“It was time to get back,” said the Bethel Park native, who spent the past four seasons as head coach at Glendale (Ariz.) Ironwood. “It felt really right, and I was blessed to have the opportunity.”

Rizzo, 30, was hired in early January to replace Pat O’Shea, who stepped down after six seasons to spend more time with his family. O’Shea went 53-14 overall, including 37-4 in conference play. But the Trojans, after moving up to Class 4A, went 5-5 last season and missed the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2011.

“We’re really motivated to turn the team around this year and build a new culture and try to get back to a winning program that makes the playoffs every year,” all-Greater Allegheny Conference senior running back Jack Fennell said. “(Rizzo) is changing the program around for a way better team and a better culture.”

Junior all-conference defensive end Brady O’Hara said the attitude is already changing under Rizzo, who played and coached at John Carroll before heading west.

“Our culture has been bad,” said the 6-foot-6, 245-pound O’Hara, who also starts at tight end. “We have to come together. In practice (last season), we would kind of buddy up. Offense and defense would say, ‘Hey, let’s not block each other here. Let’s take it easy.’ We learned that there’s no buddy program for the offense and the defense. We’ve got to go at it the whole time in practice. It’s a whole new scene this year. I like practice more this year.”

The Trojans, who won or shared five consecutive conference titles before last season’s backslide, are poised for a rebound. They return their top skill players and boast solid depth on the offensive and defensive lines.

The starting quarterback job was up in the air during training camp, with senior incumbent Jason Siket, who last season threw for 793 yards with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions, and senior Kaden Sarver auditioning for the spot.

“They are competing,” Rizzo said. “But that’s a job that probably won’t make itself known until after our scrimmage (with Beaver Falls on Aug. 19).”

Fennell, who last season rushed for a team-high 591 yards and seven touchdowns and added 14 receptions for 238 yards, will be the featured back. Senior wide receiver Gavin Kamody, who doubles as an all-conference defensive back, returns after last season posting a team-best 16 receptions for 216 yards and three TDs.

The offensive line includes senior left tackle Alex Jackson (6-4, 260), junior guard/center Roman Sylvester (6-0, 260), senior guard Gabe Paredes, junior guards Perry Meenan and Joey Strano (6-0, 250), sophomore tackle Landon Walker (6-4, 295) and senior center Oliver Gibson.

A trio of first-team all-conference seniors — O’Hara, linebacker Danny Franco and defensive back Kamody — lead the defense. Other key contributors are senior ends Chase Aguglia and Trey Purnsley, nose tackle Jackson, DBs Fennell and senior Lucas Baker, and the two players locked in the QB duel, Sarver, a linebacker, and Siket, a safety.

Rizzo is installing new offensive and defensive schemes and desires for his players to understand the finer points of what goes into the sport in college and even the NFL.

“I want them to really know what the gears inside the machine look like for some of the (higher) levels of football,” he said. “If we take care of that and we worry about the X’s and O’s and we establish a winning culture that they used to have, the winning will take care of itself.”

North Catholic

Coach: Chris Rizzo

2022 record: 5-5, 3-3 in Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference

All-time record: 471-315-32

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.25 Serra Catholic, 7

9.1 at Shady Side Academy, 7

9.8 Aliquippa, 7

9.15 Highlands*, 7

9.22 at Kiski Area*, 7

9.29 Armstrong*, 7

10.6 at Hampton*, 7

10.13 at Avonworth, 7

10.20 Indiana*, 7

10.27 at Mars*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Jay Siket

53-115 793 yards, 7 TDs

Rushing: Jack Fennell

106-591 yards, 7 TDs

Receiving: Fennell

14-238 yards, 2 TDs

FAST FACTS

• North Catholic returns five first-team all-conference players, most in the Greater Allegheny. Armstrong brings back four.

• North Catholic’s four nonconference opponents (Serra Catholic, Shady Side Academy, Aliquippa, Avonworth) all reached the WPIAL playoffs last season, going a combined 38-12. Aliquippa, Avonworth and Serra have each won at least one WPIAL title in the past four seasons.

• The Trojans’ roster includes seven players from Eden Christian, which is part of a first-year co-operative football agreement with North Catholic.

• Senior Rylee Kumer, an all-WPIAL goalie for the North Catholic girls soccer team, returns after being named first-team all-Greater Allegheny Conference kicker last season.

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