Rochester eager to atone for WPIAL title game loss
Tuesday, August 20, 2019 | 8:08 PM
Though Rochester came up short against OLSH in the WPIAL Class A championship game last season, coach Gene Matsook does not spend time reflecting on the past.
“This is a new team with new kids,” he said. “We can’t be worrying about what happened in 2018.”
The Rams made it back to Heinz Field for the first time since 2010, but Matsook will have youth as a roadblock on the way to getting back.
“This year’s team is the youngest in my 19 years at Rochester,” he said. “The younger guys are listening and absorbing everything the coaches say. It has been a slower process (than in years past).”
Matsook believes in the next-man-up mentality after losing Darius Goosby and Noah Whitleather to graduation. Goosby and Whiteleather were the team’s top two offensive players, with Whiteleather leading the team in receiving (129 yards), rushing (2,002 yards) and scoring (27 touchdowns). Goosby finished second to Whiteleather in rushing and scoring with 1,001 rushing yards and 18 total touchdowns.
“(Making it to the WPIAL championship) was beneficial because we have a younger team, and those guys got to play in 13 games,” Matsook said. “They got to see (the process) of making it that far, and they were a part of it. Hopefully, they realize what it takes.”
With the team being more inexperienced than in recent years, Matsook will rely on his seniors to lead the way. Free safety/wide receiver Parker Anthony returns as a three-year starter as well as quarterback Zaine Jeffers, who led the team in passing last season (342 yards).
Darius Coleman returns to solidify the line on both sides of the ball, along with junior lineman Matt Bedekovich. Matsook expects running back/cornerback Mike Lucci to make an impact in the backfield and secondary.
Bedekovich thinks it is essential for experienced players to set a precedent.
“The young guys look up to us, so the older guys need to bring them up to our level,” he said. “That includes being a good leader and doing the little things right in practice.”
Parker Anthony is optimistic last year’s runner-up finish will push his teammates to the next level of success.
“I think the young guys will fill the shoes of graduates,” he said. “It hurts to lose the championship, but everybody is hungry to finish the job.”
Anthony said offseason workouts forged a stronger bond between teammates.
“A lot of us went to our running backs coach Sam Laurie’s house to run hills in his backyard with weighted vests,” he said. “We had 32 kids attend (at one point), which is the most in 10 years.”
Matsook is confident in players looking to make a name for themselves such as junior wide receiver Rashawn Reid and sophomore running back/cornerback Denny Robinson Jr.
“For the team to succeed, we need to get better at being physical on defense and fill the holes,” Matsook said. “The younger guys need to grow up fast, and we need to be tough as a unit.”
Coach: Gene Matsook
2018 record: 11-2, 6-1
All-time record: 661-404-54
8.23, at New Brighton, 7
8.30, Laurel*, 7:30
9.6, at Leechburg, 7
9.13, at OLSH*+, 7
9.20, Union*, 7:30
9.27, Cornell*, 7:30
10.4, at Sto-Rox*, 7
10.11, at Northgate*, 7
10.18, Monessen, 7:30
10.25, Bishop Canevin*, 7:30
*Class A Big 7 Conference game
+At Moon Stadium
Passing: Zaine Jeffers
18-39, 342 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving: Noah Whiteleather*
279-2,002 yards, 27 TDs