BROCKWAY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Brockway had a season full of exhilarating ups and disappointing downs in 2021.
The Rovers opened the campaign with a thrilling upset win over Union/A-C Valley, but then dropped four straight.
They righted the ship by winning three of their next four, but their season came to an end with a loss to Brookville in the finale to close at 4-6.
This season, head coach Jake Heigel and a group that learned on the job last year are hoping for fewer wild swings in fortune.
“Going 4-6 last year, not reaching our goals and making the playoffs, that stunk,” said senior linebacker Tanner Guaglionne. “Now we’re putting in the work in the offseason on the little things to get better and better.”
There’s a lot to build on.
Brayden Fox is back in his second year as the starting quarterback. As a freshman last season, the left-hander was like the Rovers in microcosm. He showed flashes of brilliance with 2,568 yards passing and 23 touchdowns, but also displayed some growing pains with 16 interceptions.
Fox, who was a key member DuBois Central Catholic’s PIAA Class A championship baseball team in the spring, is a year older, a year wiser and also a bit stronger.
Even through some of his struggles, Fox was unflappable.
He didn’t get the nickname “Arctic Fox” for nothing.
“I have a lot of weight off my shoulders compared to last year around this time,” Fox said. “I hit the weight room to try to get bigger compared to last year. I’ve grown a lot. I’ve got my weight up. I started throwing the ball a lot more compared to last year.”
Fox won’t be overlooked like he was last season.
He’s more than ready for that pressure.
“People now have expectations,” he said, “but I’m just going to go out and not worry about what other people think.”
Fox has a wealth of talent around him on offense.
A bulk of Brockway’s weapons return, including four of its top five receivers.
Senior Alex Carson led the Rovers with 71 receptions for 791 yards and four touchdowns in Brockway’s patented and often imitated Frank Varischetti spread offense.
Sophomore Blake Pisarcik is also back. He hauled in 39 passes for 634 yards and five scores a season ago.
“These guys have put in a lot of work this offseason,” Fox said. “You can tell these guys want to win.”
The players are talking a run at a District 9 Class A championship.
Heigel likes that they are setting such a lofty goal.
“A District 9 championship is an expectation that we’ll always have at Brockway,” Heigel said. “That’s how it will always be. We’ve had some down years in the past. When guys have said (that they want to win the D9 title) in the past, you know, you heard a little bit of a lack of confidence. With these guys … they know what they’re capable of and I think that instills confidence in them.”
With a year of experience under their belt, Fox and his receivers may have even more opportunities to get the ball down the field.
“There’s ways we can get the ball to different guys on some different routes this year than we did last year,” Heigel said. “We understand who our playmakers are and we know who we have to get the ball to.”
Last year’s leading rusher, Carter Hickman, is moving to wide receiver. Hickman is also making a move on defense, shifting to linebacker.
The new primary running back is Jendy Cuello, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound junior.
“He’s a guy who put a lot of time in the weight room, a lot of time into speed training,” Heigel said. “He’s gone to camps. He’s putting himself in position to start at running back.”
But like any good coach, Heigel knows the fortunes of his team lie up front.
Brockway has an experienced core group back in 6-foot-3, 260-pound center Reese Yahner, Stewart and Guaglionne.
“Reese has kind of anchored us since he was a freshman,” Heigel said. “Now he’s a junior and he’s started every game. The expectation for them is to be one of the better blocking offensive lines this year. They won’t get there unless they put the time in the weight room, and they really have, especially Reese.”
Brockway will have to put the work in to face a challenging schedule.
The Rovers are in the revamped Region 2 league in D9 — gone are the days of the Small and Large divisions.
Brockway will compete in Region 2 with Kane, Ridgway, Port Allegany, Smethport, Redbank Valley, Union/A-C Valley and Keystone. There are also non-conference games against DuBois and Coudersport on the slate.
“We’re gonna be battle-tested,” Heigel said. “If we look ahead from any of these teams that we play, it’ll bite us. There’s no bad teams on our schedule. I think District 9 as a whole has elevated its play over the last few years. I think from the top down it’s very good. It’s not as top heavy as it used to be. The talent is as good as there’s ever been in District 9.”