WPIAL’s leading passer makes Armstrong dangerous

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Friday, August 20, 2021 | 6:01 AM


Cadin Olsen burst onto the WPIAL football scene last year by throwing for more than 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns in his debut season as the Armstrong quarterback.

Olsen led the WPIAL in passing yards and earned All-State honors.

Now a junior, he’ll look to put together an encore performance, while working with a younger group of receivers.

The River Hawks graduated their top four receivers from last year in Cole Brown, Noah Cooper, Jesse Hepler and Aaron Robb.

“The one thing I’ve been preaching with Cadin is patience when working with the younger guys,” Armstrong coach Frank Fabian said. “Isaiah Brown is really the only one back with any experience under his belt. We’ll rely on him, but we have some other guys. There have definitely been some growing pains because some of the guys we will be relying on haven’t played football before. Cadin has done a good job with them this summer, but we have a ways to go to get them ready.”

Brown, a sophomore, had 10 receptions and one touchdown last year. Noah Shuttleworth and Jack Valasek have also worked at receiver during 7-on-7s. Valasek, a basketball player who is good friends with Olsen, is out for the football team for the first time.

Fabian is confident that Olsen will find chemistry with his new targets and pick up where he left off last season.

“Not to put too much pressure on him, but with a quarterback from the first to second year is usually when you see the big jump,” Fabian said. “Last year was all about executing a play for him. This year he’ll have a little bit more responsibility pre-snap with the run protections and the checks at the line and he can handle that.

“He can make just about any throw. We’ve put plays back in that we haven’t had in a long time at Armstrong, or even when I was at Kittanning. We have throws that are intermediate or even further down the field that most high school quarterbacks can’t make, but he can.”

A problem area for Armstrong last year was the run game. The River Hawks averaged only 63 yards per game on the ground, something that Fabian said has to change this year. A major emphasis during the summer has been getting better balance offensively, and that starts with being more physical up front.

“With Cadin, obviously we’re going to throw it a good bit, but there were times last year where we got what we call favorable looks to run the football and we weren’t able to do it on a consistent basis,” Fabian said. “That was disappointing. When a defense is daring us to run the football, we have to run better.”

Armstrong returns the entirety of the interior of its defense. Dylan Gaggini, Julius Barnes, an all-conference performer, Caleb Retzer and Cherokee Schrecengost make up the defensive line. Jaxson Crissman and Dozick Zablocki return at inside linebacker.

“That’s a group that maybe struggled a little bit early last year, but by the end of the year, they were playing their best football,” Fabian said. “I’m excited to see how that group progresses and takes the next step.”

Armstrong finished 4-4 in Greater Allegheny Conference play last year and missed the playoffs. The River Hawks have three nonconfence games beginning with a Week Zero game at Freeport on Aug. 27 prior to traveling to Hampton on Sept. 17 to open conference play.

“With the amount of inexperience at the skill positions, it’s big for them to get three games under their belt before we roll into conference play,” Fabian said. “That first game is always a crapshoot. You never know what you’re going to get or how the kids are going to react. After that you build from there.

“I’ve done it both ways where you play a conference game right out of the gate and where you get a schedule like we have this year, and I definitely prefer what we have this year.”

Armstrong

Coach: Frank Fabian

2020 record: 4-4, 3-4 in Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference

All-time record: 31-28-0

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.27 at Freeport, 7

9.3 Deer Lakes, 7

9.10 McKeesport, 7

9.17 at Hampton*, 7

9.24 Knoch*, 7

10.1 at Mars*, 7

10.8 Greensburg Salem*, 7

10.15 at Highlands*, 7

10.22 Plum*, 7

10.29 at Indiana*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Cadin Olsen

118-230, 2,035 yards, 23 TDs

Rushing: Olsen

25-167

Receiving: Cole Brown*

31-555, 2 TDs

FAST FACTS

• Cadin Olsen’s father, Ryan, was a standout quarterback at Mechanicsburg high school and played defensive back at Pitt. Ryan is a chiropractor and has his own practice in Kittanning.

• Armstrong has played in three classifications since it was formed from the merger of Kittanning and Ford City in 2015. The River Hawks were in Class 3A in their debut season and then moved to Class 5A after the PIAA went to six classifications in 2016 before moving down to Class 4A last year.

• Armstrong will face a pair of Kittanning and Ford City’s former rivals from the old Allegheny Conference the first two weeks of the season. They’ll travel to Freeport and host Deer Lakes the following week.

• The River Hawks have missed the postseason the last two years and have qualified three times in their six years. They’re still searching for their first playoff victory.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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