NEW CASTLE —
The sounds of fall returned yesterday.
Coaches were yelling. Whistles were tootin’. And shoulder pads were popping.
High school football is back around the state, with the first day of practice kicking off.
Two first-year coaches — Joe Cowart (New Castle) and Fred Mozzocio (Neshannock) — also got their careers started.
Comfortable morning temperatures greeted a total of 335 participants. The temperatures rose gradually throughout the day, but not quite to the levels they have reached in recent weeks.
“I don’t know who planned this, but it’s phenomenal,” Cowart said of the conditions during the afternoon practice. “As long as we don’t get rained on. But it’s been great to this point.”
The number of players around the county continued to fall, even if it was just slightly. Last year, 336 players suited up on the first day and two years ago it was at 341. Three years ago, the total was 358.
Cowart welcomed a county-high 53 Red Hurricane players to practice. That figure is up by two, but does not include most freshmen for the second straight year.
“It’s been great. Our numbers are very good,” Cowart said of the turnout. “I’m very excited about it. We have about 28 juniors. That’s our big group right now.
“Our junior high numbers have been great. It’s exciting to see it transfer over to the varsity level.”
The ’Canes opened the morning session by working on defense before switching over to offense and special teams in the afternoon.
“The energy has been great,” Cowart said. “We want our kids to be able to not question what they’re going to do in a particular situation. Whatever the situation is, they should know what the standard is for that situation, what we expect as a coaching staff.”
New Castle opened camp at Taggart Stadium for the second straight year. In previous years, the ’Canes went away to camp.
“There’s a positive to both sides,” Cowart said. “I love going away. For the team-building purpose of it, it’s tremendous. But being here, the facilities here are tremendous. As far as getting things done on the turf, it’s wonderful.
“We’re trying to save money for the district for the most part. We won’t do something unnecessary. It is a great thing to go away, though.”
Quarterback has been one position that was locked up early on for about the last seven or eight years. Michael Bongivengo held the spot and then passed the torch to Johnny Matarazzo. But now Cowart has a battle to find Matarazzo’s replacement.
“Quarterback is one of the top battles for us,” Cowart said. “Right now, our No. 1 quarterback is a freshman, Pat Minenok. He’s going to play a bunch for us.
“But going into camp, it doesn’t matter what position it is, every day at camp is going to be a battle. I don’t care how great you were on Friday night, come Monday when we go to practice, you’ll be evaluated on a daily basis.”
Julian Cox, a junior quarterback who transferred from Ellwood City Lincoln, is on the ’Canes’ depth chart, according to Cowart.
“Julian is with us. He will help us in some situations,” Cowart said, adding that Cox has to sit out the first two games of the season for “team reasons.”
“When he comes back, he’ll be a big part of this football team.”