Time for young core of Serra Catholic football team to rise up

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Thursday, August 22, 2019 | 8:01 AM


Pat Brennan, Khalil Smith, Bernard Lawson, Matt Ulishney, Noah South and Mark Banner.

Those are half of the 12 seniors the Serra Catholic football team is aiming to replace this season.

“We had a couple of guys we groomed through the system that were key for us,” Serra Catholic coach Jose Regus said. “It’s going to be hard to replace those guys, but we have younger guys that need to step in and take on their roles.”

Of the 23 players on the roster, a majority are sophomores Regus said played “silent roles” on last year’s team.

According to the third-year coach, the mic is in their hands, and it’s time for them to sing.

“Our strength lies within our sophomore class,” Regus said. “We had a lot of ninth graders that played last year, and they’re really stepping into starting roles now. They have to be the seniors that we need now because of our limited number of seniors.

“It’s time for them to shine. They can’t be the sophomores who enjoy the mistakes that could have been made if they were on a team with upperclassmen because they are the starters. They have to mature quick.”

One of Serra’s talented sophomores will take over for Brennan at quarterback. Max Rocco, a 6-foot-0, 170-pounder, steps in under center after watching Brennan throw for 1,076 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

Regus said he’s enjoyed seeing Rocco’s progression over the last year.

“Observing him from Day 1 as a freshman to where he’s at now, he’s a totally different player,” Regus said. “He’s put in a lot of work. He’s worked with an offseason trainer, he’s coming to practice and he’s learning and getting more confident.”

Smith is arguably one of the most notable departures from Serra’s offense.

As a senior, he carried the ball 204 times for 930 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 84.5 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry.

Senior Ray Holmes will step in to the starting role at running back after getting some touches last season. He carried the ball 47 times for 351 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. He averaged 7.5 yards per carry and should experience a seamless transition into the starting role.

“He had a great season at running back last year, but he did play a backup role to Khalil. If you go back and look at the film and the stats, teams will remember who he is,” Regus said. “He runs hard, and he’s a big, strong kid.”

Ulishney is a key loss in the Eagles passing game as he totaled 492 receiving yards and four touchdowns last season.

But sophomore Jayvon Holt returns as Rocco’s top target after finishing with 18 receptions for 348 yards and four scores.

Holt is taking on a few responsibilities for Serra, additionally playing at defensive back and taking a few snaps at quarterback.

“Jayvon is looking at being our No. 1 receiver,” Regus said, adding sophomores Terrell Booth and Zach Weber will be options at receiver, as well.

“Max is going to have a good bit to work with in the passing game.”

Seniors Nate Greenlee, Emmanuel Stitch and Logan Mazur will be joined as starters on the offensive line by junior Kyle Sullivan and sophomore Danny Opferman.

“We’re going to have to rely on those seniors,” Regus said. “They’ve been here, and it’s their show right now.”

With the smaller numbers, players will be tasked with playing both sides of the ball.

Sophomore Paul Pearson, who also will line up at receiver, will be one of three returning starters on Serra’s defensive line along with Greenlee and Holmes.

Junior John Banner and Booth return as starters at linebacker, but the other linebacker position is up for grabs.

Junior Zion Latouche and sophomore Machai Brooks-Dutrieuille join Holt and Weber in the Eagles secondary.

Regardless of the amount of talent Regus has on his roster, his low numbers mean injuries could be disastrous.

“Staying healthy is a key element,” Regus said. “It’s going to be tough, but we have to grind out week by week and can’t look ahead. Every game is a major game for us.”

Serra Catholic is coming off a 6-5 season with a 4-3 record in Three Rivers Conference play. The Eagles advanced to the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs before being ousted in the first round by Shady Side Academy, 22-20.

They return to the Three Rivers Conference this season and will be joined by Brentwood, Burgettstown, Carlynton, Fort Cherry, Seton LaSalle, South Allegheny and South Side.

“We wouldn’t want to do this if we didn’t have the expectation of going all the way,” Regus said of his team’s expectations. “No matter how small we are, we’re looking to do the best that we can, and that is one of our goals.”

Schedule

Coach: Jose Regus

2018 record: 6-5, 4-3

All-time record: 208-326-6

Date, Opponent, Time

8.23, Yough, 7

8.30, Ellwood City, 7

9.6, at South Side*, 7

9.13, Shenango, 7

9.20, at Carlynton*, 7

9.28, at Burgettstown*, 1:30

10.4, Brentwood*, 7

10.11, South Allegheny*, 7

10.18, Seton LaSalle*, 7

10.25, at Fort Cherry*, 7

*Class 2A Three Rivers Conference game

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