Presence of pros on campus leaves impression on Latrobe players

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017 | 10:07 PM


Of all the high school football teams in Western Pennsylvania — and there are many — only one consistently shares its stadium with the Steelers, if only for a day.

Lately, though, the hoopla was ramped up at Memorial Field in Latrobe by the presence of ESPN's “SportsCenter On the Road” segment Aug. 4.

“We saw it all. We were right down on the field to watch it,” said junior Trent Holler, an all-conference center at Latrobe.

With the Steelers conducting training camps annually at nearby St. Vincent, Latrobe is among a handful of area high schools in close proximity.

But only the Wildcats can claim to hosting an NFL team. And they've gotten a chance to get close and personal, an element of the preseason that provides hope for better success at Latrobe, which is without a winning season since 2011.

“We have great kids, and we want them to realize that if you work hard, you can fulfill dreams,” Latrobe coach Jason Marucco said. “We tell them that they always have an opportunity to learn when the Steelers are so close by practicing.

“You see those guys go through their routines, and you realize that with the right approach, it can be done.”

“The right approach” is exactly what the Latrobe coaching staff is hoping for in a program that has won just four games in the past five years.

Latrobe, a member of the Class 5A Big East Conference, returns 15 lettermen from a 1-9 team in 2016.

Prior to the official start of high school preseason camps, Latrobe's players and coaches found themselves mesmerized one day at their own locker room at the school's Unity campus by the presence of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

“He was going through his whole thing while he was (sometimes) talking to the security guard,” Holler said. “But he was in a zone until he was done working out. He said he does it before every practice and after every practice just to keep his body loose.”

Holler said that having such a unique opportunity shouldn't be taken for granted, though he knows some kids do. It's human nature.

“We've got good facilities, and we have the opportunity to make the most out of things,” he said, referring to the school's relatively new practice complex.

“When you have a chance to watch a guy like Ben Roethlisberger work out, like he did here, you take advantage of the knowledge. It really gives you an idea of what it takes if you want to go to college and play, or even the pros.”

Marucco laughed while relating to a tale about one of his younger players who was shaking his head while telling the coach that he wasn't familiar with many of the Steelers players.

“He said, ‘Coach, I don't even know half of these guys, but I love this team,' ” Marucco said, adding he told the kid to keep watching and realize that things, for his players, can be done in a similar way.

“Football is football,” Holler said. “No matter what level, there is a lot of lifting and a lot of film work. Getting a chance to see it done by the Steelers was pretty cool to watch.”

Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.

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