With numbers up, Shady Side Academy grateful for chance to play this season

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Friday, September 4, 2020 | 10:52 PM


Shady Side Academy’s football team made headlines last year when low roster numbers and injuries conspired to cause the forfeit of a Week 5 conference game at Apollo-Ridge.

But the players regrouped, and the next week, they defeated conference foe Summit Academy to solidify their position in the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs.

Shady Side, 5-5 overall last year, bowed out against No. 1 Washington, 21-7, in the first round, but things were starting to turn in its favor.

“It was extremely difficult for the guys to have to lose that one game,” coach Chuck DiNardo said. “You work very hard for so very few Friday nights. To not be able to play one of those games, it was really tough on them. But they handled it very responsibly. They were very team-first. Their resiliency was unbelievable.”

Now, with eight starters back on offense, seven returning on defense and a bolstered roster that numbers 35, Shady Side hopes to continue riding a wave of momentum into the 2020 season.

“We had a small team in terms of numbers last year, but every guy showed up to practice and games and gave 110 percent to do whatever they could to help the team,” senior quarterback, safety and punter Josh Castro said.

“We had eight or nine freshman, and they really showed they belonged. A couple of them even played both ways. It was nice only graduating five and having a number of players come in, including a nice freshman group. It was exciting to be around the guys again after all that went on in the spring with the pandemic and quarantine. We’ve seen a lot of improvement. There is a lot of excitement heading into the season.”

Shady Side Academy will have to wait longer than most teams to return to competition.

In an effort to limit potential exposure to the coronavirus, the school’s administration decided to cancel a Sept. 4 scrimmage against Springdale and a Sept. 18 game against Carlynton. A Sept. 11 game against Summit Academy already was canceled when the Butler County school decided to not play football this season.

Shady Side will now open Sept. 25 at Sto-Rox and follow that with four games against Allegheny Conference opponents.

“We’re following all of the protocols to try and keep everyone safe,” DiNardo said. “We’re doing what we can to get ready for the season. There has been so many adjustments from the norm. It’s not anything that every other team hasn’t also gone through. But the guys are just excited to have games to play. That’s what they are focusing on.”

Castro owns a Division I punting offer from Dayton. The all-conference performer is rated one of the top punters in the country for the Class of 2021.

He also is back as a dual threat in the Shady Side offense. He ran for 810 yards and 14 touchdowns as a complement to leading rusher Eddie Faukner, now a freshman on the football team at Slippery Rock.

“Josh’s looking really good,” DiNardo said. “He made the most of his time in quarantine. He’s in great shape and has done a really good job taking control of the offense.”

Shady Side hopes to improve on its 19.5 points-per-game average from last year

Sophomore Joey Bellinotti is the top returning receiver from a year ago.

“Joey’s done a nice job of taking on more of a leadership role as a sophomore,” DiNardo said.

Junior Ryan Jones also is a pass-catching threat, while junior Chris Sullivan, a backup to Faulkner last year, hopes to impact the rushing attack while catching a few passes out of the backfield.

Six linemen with starting time from last year are back. Senior Jack Keating, a three-year starter at center, leads the way after earning all-conference laurels a year ago. He is joined by seniors Sam Morton, Joe Mele and Watts Coulter, junior Andrew Marous and sophomore Nate Ewell.

“The line is a position of experience, and we feel good about our leadership coming from there,” DiNardo said.

Mele, the team’s leading tackler last year, will run the defense from his middle linebacker spot.

Watts, who DiNardo said trimmed down in the offseason to 290 pounds, will be a part of a defensive tackle rotation with Keating and Marous, while Ewell and Morton will be at defensive end.

DiNardo said sophomore outside linebacker James Bernier is looking good, and Castro, Jones and Bellinotti will lead an experienced secondary.

A pair of transfers, junior Phil Pollice (Mt. Lebanon) and sophomore Isaiah Grier (Woodland Hills), are expected to help at both wide receiver and defensive back.

“Since football season ended last year, I’ve been counting down on a white board in our weight room how many days until our opener,” Castro said. “Not knowing if we were going to have a season was a tough thing to deal with, but we kept working, kept focused and controlled what we could control. It’s a blessing to be able to play this fall.”

Schedule

Coach: Chuck DiNardo

2019 record: 5-5, 3-3 in Class 2A Allegheny Conference

All-time record: 533-431-46

Date, Opponent, Time

9.18, Carlynton, ppd

9.25, at Sto-Rox, 7

10.2, Serra Catholic*, 7

10.9, at Apollo-Ridge*, 7

10.17, Steel Valley*, 3

10.23, at Ligonier Valley*, 7

*Class 2A Allegheny Conference game

Fast facts

• Shady Side Academy won 16 games the past three seasons after going winless in 2016.

• Shady Side will face Serra Catholic in conference play, and the game is a rematch of a 2018 WPIAL Class 2A first-round game won by Shady Side, 22-20.

• The team last year gave up 19.7 points per game overall and just 8.8 a contest in its five victories.

• In addition to his 14 touchdown runs last year, Josh Castro added four TD passes.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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