A wild 2000 season in MCAC Class A football left Sharpsville High at the top, and the momentum carried the Blue Devils all the way to the state semifinals.
If the Blue Devils can weather the storm of a crucial preseason injury, they certainly have the roster to repeat that performance, if not carry it all the way to Hershey in the late fall.
Before summer camp opened in August, Sharpsville touted one of the most impressive rosters of any team in the Shenango Valley, namely because almost every name on it was also on it last year, with just a few names missing.
But one of the names heavily inked onto that roster which, for the moment can be erased, is that of would-be starting quarterback Billy Stiger, who was felled two weekends ago during the Blue Devils initial 2001 scrimmage at Grove City.
The senior passer was a pivotal cog in coach Paul Piccirilli's 2001 season plans, and his injury could not have been more poorly timed.
"When we had Billy the first week, we were pretty fine tuned," he said. "I'm afraid we're a little bit behind right now."
The injury, according to Piccirilli, cost the Blue Devils much of their summer progress.
"The unfortunate thing is that with our quarterback going down, it's almost like starting all over. We've had to redefine our offense and scale everything back, which has hurt us a little bit."
And despite having a roster literally filled with seniors, and having only four starting positions left open from last season, it will be a sophomore that leads the Blue Devils offense on the field Friday night.
Mark Anglin has had little time to prepare himself to take the snaps for an experienced varsity team, but Piccirilli said the sophomore has a solid grasp of Sharpsville's offense.
"He understands everything," Piccirilli said. "Now it's just a matter of putting that to use. It's slow to start with, but he's a talented ball player and I know he'll do a good job for us."
Stiger's damaged knee ligaments will require at least three weeks of rehab, according to Piccirilli, so Anglin will be the man under center for the moment.
Surrounding him will be plenty of talent and experience. He will be handing off to pair of solid senior running backs in Eric Major and Ronnie Haywood.
As with every role on the offense, Piccirilli said his backs will have to work twice as hard to help make up for the loss of Stiger, normally one of the fleetest Blue Devils out of the backfield.
"Between the three backs we have, we try to make it pretty even," Piccirilli said. "Haywood seems to take just a little more of the share than the others. He is up and beyond the level he was at last year. But I told them all that they have to give 10 more percent because of Billy not being in there."
Flanking the Sharpsville offense is another pair of valuable seniors in Brandon Pavone and Brett Peruzzi. All four players are likely to start on the defensive side as well, Piccirilli said.
The four spots lost to graduation should be ably filled, and again mostly by seniors. A vacancy at right guard will be filled by Mark Zreliak.
All-MCAC selection Blaise Iorio moves this season from center to tackle to fill a void. Ray Rotell, also Piccirilli's prized punter, moves to a vacancy at end.
Senior Randy Veccia and junior Jeff Watson will both help to fill the void at the wing position.
According to Piccirilli, basically the entire starting offense stays on the field as defenders. But he noted that seniors Iorio, Mike Kulka at middle linebacker, Chad Bucciarelli at defensive end and Matt Holsopple on the line will be his anchors on defense. Having such a gigantic senior class is actually not new for Piccirilli, whose 1997 state playoff squad was comprised chiefly of second-year starters and seniors.. "The team that went to state in '97 was basically the same from the year before," he said.
As for the coming season, Piccirilli said he expects the usual tough grind in the MCAC's Class A division, noting both West Middlesex's experience and Kennedy's tradition for great players.