Hard work pay­ing off for CWNC QB

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Varsity Xtra - By Brad Everett

Car­di­nal Wuerl North Catholic first-year coach Pa­trick O’Shea was the team’s of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor last sea­son, so he knew he had a spe­cial player in sopho­more quar­ter­back Zack Rocco. But it wasn’t un­til a 7-on-7 camp this sum­mer at Pitt when O’Shea re­al­ized he was work­ing with a po­ten­tial FBS-level tal­ent.

“When we were down there, we re­al­ized what his po­ten­tial could be if he con­tin­ues to work hard, con­tin­ues to work in the weight room, and fol­lows what the coaches want him to do, which I know he will. Then the sky is the limit,” O’Shea said. “He’s the kind of kid that down the road will get a lot of at­ten­tion from the schools you watch on tele­vi­sion each Satur­day.”

For now, Rocco is mak­ing his mark on Fri­days, and the 15-year-old is al­ready one of the area’s top passers. Rocco ranks sec­ond in the WPIAL in touch­down passes with 21. He has helped North Catholic to a 5-2 over­all record and 4-0 mark in the Class 2A Mid­west­ern Con­fer­ence. The Tro­jans host No. 4 River­side (5-1, 5-0) Fri­day with first place on the line.

Rocco ( 6 feet 3, 200 pounds) has com­pleted 62 per­cent of his passes (103 of 166) for 1,167 yards. He has thrown for at least two touch­downs in ev­ery game, and had his sec­ond four­touch­down out­ing last week.

O’Shea talks a lot about Rocco’s in­tel­li­gence and work ethic, traits O’Shea was in­tro­duced to when he taught Rocco in govern­ment and eco­nomics in eighth grade. Rocco also has shown a lot of re­silience while bounc­ing back from a bro­ken leg that cost him most of his fresh­man sea­son.

“It was a pretty grue­some in­jury. Now he’s gain­ing con­fi­dence bounc­ing back from that in­jury,” O’Shea said. “He’s an ex­tremely mo­bile quar­ter­back. Big frame. Su­per strong arm. He has never missed a day in the weight room. He takes that part very se­ri­ously.”

Rocco didn’t as­sume the start­ing job un­til the third game of the sea­son. Up un­til then, Rocco and se­niors Jack Cas­sidy and Ryan Maziarz were split­ting time. But Cas­sidy sus­tained a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury and O’Shea de­cided to move Maziarz — who started at quar­ter­back for much of last sea­son — to wide re­ceiver. Maziarz leads the team in re­ceiv­ing and touch­downs.

Charleroi

The Charleroi Cougars are 6-1 and con­tend­ing for a con­fer­ence ti­tle. That’s not a typo. What a sea­son it has been for Charleroi, which isn’t quite Aliquippa or Clair­ton when it comes to foot­ball tra­di­tion. The Cougars (3-1 in Class 2A Cen­tury Con­fer­ence) are on the verge of qual­i­fy­ing for the WPIAL play­offs for the first time since 2004 and the sec­ond time since 1998. They are guar­an­teed to fin­ish with a win­ning record for the first time since 2009.

Don­nie Mil­itzer has helped res­ur­rect the Charleroi pro­gram in his four years as coach, but it has been a process. Charleroi went 2-8 and 0-9 in Mil­itzer’s first two sea­sons, but took a big leap last sea­son when it fin­ished 5-5. The Cougars host un­de­feated Bur­gettstown (6-0, 5-0) and ri­val Beth-Cen­ter (6-1, 3-1) the next two games.

“To be hon­est, I didn’t know how long it would take,” Mil­itzer said. “Last year I could see it turn­ing. This year it’s taken off. Credit to our kids, the par­ents, the school district, the whole com­mu­nity. The com­mu­nity is wild about it. One of my goals when I came here was to make Fri­day nights at Pot­tios Sta­dium the place to be, and it will be the next two weeks.”

Charleroi has made ma­jor strides on both sides of the ball. The Cougars av­er­age 40.6 points per game af­ter av­er­ag­ing 21.6 a sea­son ago. Ju­nior quar­ter­back Geno Pel­le­grini and ju­nior wide re­ceiver Dakota Ro­mantino form one of the best pass-catch com­bos in Class 2A. De­fen­sively, the Cougars give up 13.3 points a game, an im­prove­ment from the 21.9 they al­lowed in 2016.

Freeport

With a win at Se­ton LaSalle (6-0, 5-0) Fri­day, Freeport (5-1, 4-0) can move into first place in the Class 3A Al­legheny Con­fer­ence. A much-im­proved de­fense has played a key part in Freeport’s suc­cess.

Af­ter sur­ren­der­ing 26.2 points per game a sea­son ago, Freeport is giv­ing up a con­fer­ence-best 13.7. The Yel­low­jack­ets have al­lowed 30 points to­tal in their five wins. Head­lin­ing that de­fen­sive unit are se­nior line­backer Austin Kemp (teamhigh 59 tack­les) and ju­nior cor­ner­back Austin Ro­man­chak (two in­ter­cep­tions and 13 passes de­fended). Ro­man­chak is also the team’s quar­ter­back and has rushed for team highs of 506 yards and 12 touch­downs. Foot­ball note­book Class 1A, 2A, 3A

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