Westmoreland Saints youth football program folds as Greensburg Central Catholic starts flag, middle school programs

Tuesday, July 18, 2023 | 3:57 PM

An ordinary Friday turned into All Saints Day.

When news began to travel last week that the Westmoreland Saints youth football program out of Greensburg was folding, former players took to social media to pay their respects to the middle school-level team.

The Saints are stepping aside now that Greensburg Central Catholic, through the Diocese of Greensburg, is going to field flag and middle school football teams for students in grades K-8.

The “Junior Centurions” will be more closely tied to the varsity team.

“It’s a caterpillar to a butterfly,” said GCC first-year varsity coach JT Thompson of the new venture. “GCC will now have a feeder program. We will build from within. Youth football is the lifeblood of any program. It starts with fundamentals at the lower levels.”

Many of the former players said they wouldn’t be where they are today without their time in a Saints uniform.

“One of the most fun sports seasons I ever had,” Ricco Ciccarelli tweeted.

Landon Honick added: “Some of my most memorable moments happened while playing for the Saints,” and Samuel Kifer offered, “You guys were instrumental in the last two years of my life and taught me the game I love.”

Current GCC standout Samir Crosby said, “Words can’t express how much the Saints did for me. Grateful for everything that I was taught about the game of football and all the relationships I built from playing on the Saints.”

The Saints were formed as a go-between for players who were aged out of “midget” programs and had nowhere to play leading up to high school ball.

With no boundary restrictions, the Saints welcomed players from neighboring districts. One was Jeannette, which also is forming a middle school team.

“It was meant to give the kids a place to play more than anything else,” Saints president Rob Dlugos said. “I will remember most the kids who came to us having never played football before. There were the big, clumsy kids; so many of those types of kids. They kept working, and you saw a shift in their confidence.”

Jeannette varsity coach Tommy Paulone is well aware of the rivalry between the Jayhawks and Greensburg Central Catholic and took over a Jayhawks program that had been decimated by transfers, many of whom left for GCC.

With the WPIAL Class A Eastern Conference schools discussing the formation of their own middle school league, players from Jeannette and GCC will have a place to play in their own backyards now after youth football and will not be as quick to look elsewhere.

“That is the idea,” Paulone said. “There is no eighth grade team in midgets. We had kids leaving to play because they had no other choice here.

“We’re all working together to make this happen.”

Dlugos said Saints players were never encouraged to play for GCC.

“We wanted to teach the kids the right way and get them ready for high school ball, no matter where they played,” Dlugos said. “It wasn’t just about winning championships.”

Dlugos said the middle school teams are talking about playing with less than 11 players if opponents can’t form full lineups. For example, a 7-on-7 game might suffice one week during the junior high season. Another time, it could be 8 vs. 8, if need be.

“With the kids having a middle school team, there was less of a need for us to exist,” Dlugos said. “I am sure we could have made it work, but the coaches are going to be able to see their kids play in college. We put in a lot of time.”

Players from Belle Vernon, Yough, Murrysville and other districts also have suited up for the Saints, who began 11 years ago and played independently in leagues in Mt. Pleasant and within the Pittsburgh Diocese.

“We calculated before last year that about 35% of the kids that played with us went on to play in college,” Dlugos said. “We’ve had some Division I kids, but there are guys at smaller schools, too. D-III schools. It means a lot to us because it shows how much those kids love the game.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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