Running game, defense take precedence at Norwin
Monday, August 31, 2020 | 12:05 AM
With a nonexistent running game, a problem that was compounded by a multitude of injuries to its offensive line, Norwin struggled to move the football last season.
Rifle-armed quarterback Jack Salopek threw it 303 times but often had to scramble to avoid a rush.
Salopek is off to Western Michigan, so the Knights will look for a restart with a new quarterback, some talented receivers and a healthier line as they trek through the rigors of Class 6A.
“We were devastated (by injuries) last year,” Norwin coach Dave Brozeski said. “I have been around football and coaching a long time, and I had never seen a team get hit that hard at one position.”
Backups were thrust into action on the line, which could pay off for them this season.
Among the top returnees up front is senior Anthony Giansante, a Western Kentucky recruit who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds. He had 10 Division I offers despite limitations between recruits and college coaches because of covid-19.
“Anthony is a big, strong kid, and he leads by example,” Brozeski said.
Giansante said expectations won’t change for the linemen.
“We want to protect our quarterback and open up holes in the run game,” he said. “We have the best job on the field. We will, hopefully, get some more run plays called this year, and we will definitely be ready to run block.”
Another returning starter on the line is junior Jake Young, and senior Brennan Hileman is back after a knee injury cost him most of last season when Norwin finished 2-8 and ended on a four-game losing streak.
Brozeski said he had seven players competing for spots on the line, including juniors Justin Lane and Matt Seigler and senior Zach Elko.
The stalled running game produced fewer than 500 yards on the ground, but two backs who saw time in the backfield return: junior Dom Barca and senior Hayden O’Bryon.
They combined for about a fourth of the rushing total.
“A great point of emphasis for us is getting back to running the football and stopping the run,” Brozeski said. “We need to be able to control the tempo of games better.”
While the rushing attack is a work in progress, it appears the Knights have a sure-handed group of receivers.
Senior tight end Tanner Krevokuch led the team with 32 catches for 288 yards. He has an offer from Central Michigan.
Seniors Connor Crisman and Ty Bilinsky had 28 and 24 receptions, respectively.
“We have some guys who will be weapons, if you will,” Brozeski said. “They have experience.”
The tall task of replacing Salopek rests at the feet of two players: senior Nick Fleming and junior Luke Levendosky. While both have strong arms, they could be more of a threat to run.
Fleming (6-2, 200), a Division I baseball prospect, has more time under center as he attempted 14 passes and threw for a score last season.
Both QB candidates also will be valued on defense.
“They each bring individual abilities,” Brozeski said.
Newcomer Justin Turcovski, a senior, could be one to watch at receiver and linebacker. He and senior Tanner Babeo could help provide depth on defense.
Junior Sebastian Rosado-Guindin could make an impact on the defensive front.
And speaking of defense, the Knights surrendered 34.8 points, second-most behind Butler in Class 6A. An identity change is in order for the unit.
“Our guys will have a chip on their shoulder to do a better job and keep the point total down,” Brozeski said.
Krevokuch led the Knights with 75 tackles.
The single Class 6A conference lost struggling Butler and perennial power Pine-Richland but gained Baldwin.
Other regular members are Mt. Lebanon, Seneca Valley, Central Catholic, North Allegheny, Canon-McMillan and Hempfield.
“It’s going to be tough as always,” Brozeski said.
Coach: Dave Brozeski
2019 record: 2-8, 1-7 in Class 6A
All-time record: 390-576-36
Date, Opponent, Time
9.11, Hempfield*, 7
9.18, Central Catholic*, 7
9.25, at Seneca Valley*, 7:30
10.2, Baldwin*, 7
10.9, North Allegheny*, 7
10.16, at Mt. Lebanon*, 7:30
10.23, at Canon-McMillan*, 7
*Class 6A Conference game
Passing: Jack Salopek*
162-303, 2,037 yards, 16 TDs
Receiving: Tanner Krevokuch
32-288 yards, 1 TD
Rushing: Hayden O’Bryon
• Norwin averaged just 15.2 points and about 40 rushing yards a game last season.
• Assistant and standout alum Alex Dennison left to become the offensive coordinator at Penn Hills.
• Salopek finished with 6,150 career passing yards and 40 career touchdowns. The yardage total ranks 14th in WPIAL history.
• The Knights missed the playoffs two straight years after qualifying four years in a row.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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