Offseason development sparks optimism for Franklin Regional

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Friday, August 16, 2019 | 10:22 PM


As Franklin Regional football coach Greg Botta was evaluating his 2019 team in mid-July, his areas of concern were at the quarterback, wide receiver and secondary positions.

When football in shorts, as he calls it, ended Aug. 9 and the official start of practice began Aug. 12, those concerns were somewhat relieved.

The Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach, who is beginning his 26th season, can’t wait for the season to begin.

bSince Botta took over in 1994, Franklin Regional’s program has become one of the best in WPIAL Class 5A. Since 2004, the Panthers have not had a losing season, accumulating a 122-46 mark during that stretch. Botta has 169 career wins.

“When I took the job, I had people calling, (telling) me not to take it because you can’t win there,” Botta said. “But I knew Franklin Regional had tough kids. We taught them how to win.”

And that tradition has continued as the three groups he was concerned about have progressed nicely.

Junior Trevor Brncic has improved and will take over the quarterback position left open by the graduation of Adam Rudzinski, who is now playing linebacker at Washington & Jefferson.

Brncic, in limited action, completed 3 of 8 passes for 96 yards and a score last season.

“The onus is on Trevor,” Botta said. “I like Trevor’s confidence No. 1. He’s ready for the position. It’s about making the right decisions, and he’s getting better. It’s good for the wide receivers and Trevor to work on their timing at the seven-on-sevens.”

The Panthers graduated all of their top receivers in Mike Evans, Devon Powell and Nick Leopold, so Botta is counting on Brandon Zanotto, Austin Gillespie, Mario Sarnic, Jeffrey Downs, Jerraine Turner and Caden Smith to fill the void.

While Brncic will be learning under fire, the Panthers are well-stocked at running back with Zac Gordon, Colton Johns and Zanotto returning in the backfield.

Gordon rushed for 545 yards and seven touchdowns, and Zanotto for 371 yards and four scores.

The wide receiving corps has athletes whom Botta is confident will be reliable in the passing attack.

“I was worried about a couple positions, but you guys have done a great job,” Botta told his team after the WCCA seven-on-seven tournament. “I like what you’ve done in the offseason and the questions you’ve asked to make yourself better. Now, we’ll see what type of players we have.”

The offensive line returns four starters, but Botta said he must find a replacement for three-year starter Jake Painter, who was injured in a vehicle accident and will miss the season.

The starting line will feature senior right tackle C.J. Ciecierski, senior left tackle Alex Hutsko, junior left guard Dylan Llewellyn, senior right guard Josh Gabster and senior center Anthony Bonacci, also a three-year starter. Painter started at left tackle.

“We’re excited about our defense,” Botta said. “We’re good up front, led by Bonacci. Justin Johns is back at middle linebacker, and if he has a good season he has a shot at breaking Bryce Lauer’s career tackle record, and he’s been starting since his freshman season.”

Lauer is now a starting defensive end at Towson.

“I feel the defense will be very solid,” Johns said. “We just have to continue to work every day at practice. I feel the key to our success will be discipline and knowing our plays.”

Botta also is excited about getting senior linebacker Brock O’Block back. O’Block missed the 2018 season with a hip injury.

“Brock is making up for lost time,” Botta said. “Colton Johns is back at outside linebacker, along with Anthony Damico. We should be OK on defense.”

With Zanotto and Gordon playing cornerback, Botta said he needs to find some depth. Botta said two or three players are battling for the safety spot.

Franklin Regional will need to develop more depth because of the strength of the Foothills Conference. The Panthers were 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the conference last season.

They defeated Bethel Park in the opening round of the playoffs and then fell to Gateway.

Botta said Penn-Trafford, Gateway and McKeesport return a lot and will be a tough test.

“Everyone will be better in the conference,” Botta said. “It’s a meat-grinder.”

Schedule

Coach: Greg Botta

2018 record: 7-4, 4-3

All-time record: 287-250-12

Date, Opponent, Time

8.30, at Plum*, 7

9.6, Latrobe*, 7

9.13, at West Mifflin*, 7

9.21, at Shaler, 1

9.28, IDLE

10.4, at Gateway*, 7

10.11, at Connellsville*, 7

10.18, McKeesport*, 7

10.25, Penn-Trafford*, 7

*Class 5A Foothills Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Adam Rudzinski*

76-168, 1,444 yards, 19 TDs

Receiving: Mike Evans*

32-801 yards, 10 TDs

Rushing: Zac Gordon

101-545 yards, 7 TDs

*Graduated

Franklin Regional roster

No., Name, Pos., Ht./Wt., Cl.

1, Justin Johns, FB/MLB, 6-1/232, Sr.

2, Colton Johns, RB/OLB, 6-3/208, Jr.

3, Garrett Deller, FB/MLB, 5-9/185, So.

4, Austin Gillespie, FB/OLB, 5-9/167, Jr.

5, Brandon Zanotto, RB/DB, 6-0/167, Jr.

6, Mario Sarnic, WR/DB, 5-9/156, Jr.

7, Jared Ribar, WR/CB, 5-5/139, So.

8, Connor Donnelly, QB/FS, 6-0/162, So.

9, Roman Gambardella, WR/DB, 5-6/130, Fr.

10, Jeffrey Downs, WR/CB, 5-11/55, Jr.

11, Taylor Vasos, WR/CB, 5-6/146, So.

12, Jordan Suvak, WR/RB, 5-10/177, So.

13, Trevor Brncic, QB/FS, 5-10/175, Jr.

14, Logan Donnelly, QB/DB, 5-9/146, Fr.

15, Anthony DeFalco, K, 5-9/161, So.

17, Brock Kephart, WR/CB, 6-1, So.

18, Colton Dover, WR/CB, 5-9/160, Jr.

19, Jack Pedrosky, TE/DE, 6-3/189, Jr.

20, Jerraine Turner, WR, 5-9/155, Jr.

21, Maddox Morrison, WR/CB, 5-8/144, So.

22, Jacob Brand, WR/CB, 5-8/168, Sr.

24, Tyler Bewszka, RB/OLB, 5-9/155, So.

26, Caden Smith, WR/FS, 6-1/166, So.

27, Evan Farbarik, OL/DL, 5-11/146, Fr.

28, Tyler Waryas, WR, 5-10/138, Sr.

32, Daniel Luko, WR/DB, 5-9/151, Fr.

33, Roman Sarnic, QB/OLB, 5-9/148, Fr.

34, Brett Fricke, RB/OLB, 5-8/159, So.

35, Nicholas Petrucci, TE/OLB, 6-2/165, Fr.

39, Anthony Damico, FB/MLB, 5-8/165, Sr.

40, Zac Gordon, RB/CB, 5-10/170, Sr.

42, Eric Hanchey, RB/LB, 5-9/151, Fr.

45, Luke Reppermund, TE/DE, 5-11/187, Jr.

46, Boston Waryas, WR/DB, 5-6/112, Fr.

48, Zach Bewszka, RB/OLB, 5-6/152, Fr.

49, Brock O’Block, TE/OLB, 5-11/198, Sr.

50, Brandon Gaur, OG/DT, 5-11/215, So.

51, Christo Marion, OL/DL/DE, 6-0/185, So.

52, CJ Ciecierski, OT/DE, 5-11/210, Sr.

53, Eric Hutsko, OL/DL, 5-9/209, Fr.

54, Noe Perez-Sanchez, OL/DL, 5-8/239, So.

55, Alex Hutsko, OL/DT, 6-2/242, Sr.

56, Nick Kravits, OT/DE, 5-10/185, Jr.

57, Jack McGivern, OL/DL, 6-1/237, Fr.

58, Dylan Llewellyn, C/DE, 5-11/225, Jr.

60, Patrick McMillen, T/OLB, 6-1/180, Jr.

61, James Weir, OL/DL, 5-11/149, Fr.

62, Max Kodat, OT/DT, 6-3/333, Sr.

63, Ethan Hollen, OG/DT, 5-11/268, Jr.

64, Andrew Golda, OL/DL, 5-10/212, Fr.

66, Josh Pelusi, OG/DT, 5-11/325, So.

67, Jake Painter, G/DT, 6-2/280, Sr.

68, Reese Harwood, OL/DL, 5-11/160, Fr.

71, Joe Purdue, C/MLB, 5-9/169, So.

73, Andy Baldwin, OT/DE, 6-0/191, So.

74, Anthony Bonacci, C/NG, 6-1/266, Sr.

75, Mitchell Eckersley, OT/DE, 6-2/233, Jr.

76, Jared McGillivary, OT/DE, 5-10/232, So.

77, Rew Nesler, OL/DL, 6-0/248, Fr.

78, Josh Gabster, OG/DT, 6-2/232, Sr.

81, David Soisson, WR/DB, 5-10/137, Fr.

83, Nathaniel Chiarizio, TE/DL, 6-0/187, Fr.

86, Austin Patak, WR/DB, 5-7/105, Fr.

88, Hayden Sliva, WR/DB, 5-7/138, Fr.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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