Union has big goals despite small roster
Thursday, August 26, 2021 | 6:01 AM
Union coach Stacy Robinson knows that football can be a numbers game. Right now, however, he just is not seeing the numbers he would like to see.
Robinson, entering his 25th season at the helm of Union’s program, will be dealing with a thin roster this season.
Union’s enrollment and participation has dropped so low that, two years ago, there were talks of the program being absorbed in a co-op with a neighboring school district. Those talks never fully materialized, and Robinson and the Scotties have been fighting on. But day to day, it presents challenges.
“It’s hard to practice,” Robinson admitted. “We can’t even go 11-on-11. We only had about 22 players at heat (acclimatization practices). We’ll continue to try and recruit. We need players. But we’ve got some quality players who are there. We’ll coach the players who are there and get them better.”
He rightfully sees potential for his team after winning four of its final five games in 2020, finishing with a 4-3 record, just a game out of a playoff spot in Class A’s Big Seven Conference.
“We thought we maybe let our first one or two (games) get away at the beginning and we knew we were behind the eight ball,” Robinson said. “But we also knew that we had a good football team, and once we got adjusted and got ourselves going in the right direction, we did finish up on a strong note.”
Leading the late push was quarterback Tyler Staub, who returns as the leader of the offense in his senior year.
“He likes the ball in his hands and he likes to compete,” Robinson said. “That’s what you need at the quarterback position. He can get you into trouble and get you out of trouble.”
Another senior, Jackson Clark, will carry the load in the backfield.
“We’re going to put a lot on his shoulders this year,” said Robinson, who added that Mark Stanley will see time at tailback.
The primary receivers will be Braylon Thomas and Mike Gunn. Stanley, Doug Fisher and Marcus Gunn — Mike’s cousin — will play some tight end.
Speaking of Gunns, Union lost its biggest one. Aaron Gunn, one of the WPIAL’s top recruits last year and Marcus Gunn’s older brother, is now a freshman at Louisville. The Scotties will need to find a way to make up for Aaron Gunn’s 6-foot-3, 308-pound presence on the offensive line.
“He’s maybe a once-in-a-career lineman,” Robinson said. “He was a cog in the middle on both sides of the ball for four years. But time marches on.”
Nick Vitale and Anthony Faraone bring a veteran punch to the offensive front.
Clark is the leader on defense, as he will start at inside linebacker after being first-team all-conference in 2020. Nick Vitale works alongside him.
Staub and Mike Gunn return as starters in the secondary. Antonio Faraone and Stanley will hold down defensive line positions.
Robinson, however, knows that none of those positions is necessarily set in stone.
“I learned a long time ago that you can’t have people specializing in one position,” he said.
Of Union’s 22 players, eight of them are seniors.
“We have some good kids, some coachable kids,” Robinson expressed. “The seniors have to lead the team. They can’t just talk about it. They have to get the job done.”
That group and their younger teammates look to make a splash in the Big Seven Conference. They’ll have chances early and late, bookending conference play with the top two finishers from 2020, Rochester and Shenango.
“Our goal is to get into the tournament,” Robinson said. “I learned a long time ago that, if you get out of the grind of the Big Seven Conference, you take your chances. And who knows what can happen?”
Coach: Stacy Robinson
2020 record: 4-3, 4-3 in Class A Big Seven Conference
All-time record: 355-487-26
Date, Opponent, Time
8.27 at Mohawk, 7
9.3 Ellwood City, 7
9.10 Neshannock, 7
9.17 Rochester*, 7
9.24 at Northgate*, 7
10.1 at Cornell*, 7
10.8 OLSH*, 7
10.15 at Fort Cherry*, 7
10.22 at Burgettstown*, 7
10.29 Shenango*, 7
Passing: Tyler Staub
84-149, 1,276 yards, 11 TDs
Receiving: Anthony Nealy*
32-513, 5 TDs
Rushing: Jackson Clark
96-502, 6 TDs
• Union is looking for its first playoff appearance since going 8-4 and reaching the quarterfinals in 2017. The Scotties are 10-17 over the last three seasons.
• A number of Union’s key players are members of their 2021 WPIAL championship baseball team, including starters Jackson Clark, Nick Vitale, Tyler Staub, Mike Gunn and Mark Stanley. Vitale’s brother, Jake, tossed a no-hitter to beat Riverview for the district title in June.
• Union has never won an outright WPIAL title but did share the Class A crown with Avonworth in 1959.
• Mark Stanley’s dad, also named Mark, is the basketball coach at Union. His brother, Matt, was one of the top scorers in the WPIAL last season, averaging 24.5 ponts per game on the hardwood. The younger Mark, Matt and another brother, Anthony, all started on the basketball team last year.
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