CRANBERRY TWP — Replacing star quarterback Zack Rocco will not be easy for North Catholic's football team.
A three-year starter, Rocco passed for nearly 6,000 career yards and 80 touchdowns and was also a threat to run the ball.
Carson Laconi and Joey Prentice, both juniors, are vying to lead the offense in 2020.
Trojans' coach Patrick O'Shea believes that the current battle going on in camp will yield a confident and talented starting signal caller.
“Number one, both are tremendous young men,” O'Shea said. “They have pretty much the same skill set, mobile and a great arm and they understand the offense. I think the competition is very healthy for both of them.”
Prentice saw a bit of action at quarterback last season, completing three passes for 91 yards and a touchdown.
“Both are so talented, whichever one is not at quarterback will be playing somewhere, running back or receiver,” added O'Shea.
Senior wide receiver Nick Maher had a breakout season in 2019 and will surely be a top target once again. Aside from him, the Trojans have a multitude of skill position players eager to get their hands on the ball.
Running back Pierce Khoury hopes to get more carries while Tyler Maziarz will join Maher on the perimeter.
Isaiah Jackson, Kyle Tipinski and Liam Straub could each see time at running back and receiver and Mathias Benson returns at tight end.
“I'm so impressed with the guys who will be handling the ball,” said senior center Jack Friel. “I'm excited to see what they can do.”
Friel is the only starter back on the offensive line.
“He's a three-year starter, played center as a sophomore and tackle last year,” O'Shea said. “Jack can relate to all his teammates and is a cornerstone for us.”
Friel has a weight room in his basement and stayed in shape during the quarantine.
“The thought of getting back on the field with my buddies, that's what motivated me,” said Friel, who said he owes much to Dom Prentice and Carson Primrose, two stalwarts on the line who graduated last spring.
“Carson taught me a lot about technique and Dom was a great role model. They both helped me become a better player.”
North's defense experienced some growing pains last year, the most notable ones coming in a 32-27 loss to South Park in the Class 3A district quarterfinals.
“I don't think people realize how young we were at a lot of positions on defense last year,” said O'Shea. “If you don't take fundamentals seriously, you're not going to reach your potential.
“These kids now have that experience, what a game looks like when you tackle on initial contact and when you don't.”
The Trojans have a number of defensive players returning as either full-time starters or part-time contributors — Friel, Tipinski and Jaren Thimons on the line; Peyton Jones and Benson at linebacker; Laconi, Khoury, Prentice and Jackson in the secondary.
“It's comforting knowing we have Laconi and Jackson back, especially, two players of their caliber,” O'Shea said. “They're both lockdown corners.”
O'Shea senses a hunger from his team that can only benefit the Trojans as they look to defend their conference title from last year.
“We have other players that are so anxious to get in the game,” he said. “We tell our guys every year that we need about 16 or 17 starters on both sides of the ball.
“If you're out there for the first play of the game, that means you start, but it doesn't guarantee you'll be out there the whole game.”
Sept. 11-at Derry, 7 p.m.; Sept. 18-VALLEY, 7 p.m.; Sept. 25-at East Allegheny, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2-BURRELL, 7 p.m.; Oct. 9-SOUTH PARK, 7 p.m.; Oct. 16-at Deer Lakes, 7 p.m.; Oct. 23-FREEPORT, 7 p.m.
2019 results (9-2)
Seton LaSalle 58-0, Burrell 54-6, Freeport 28-20, Central Valley 14-35, Derry 13-3, Mount Pleasant 42-28, Elizabeth Forward 12-7, Uniontown 56-14, Yough 48-13, Deer Lakes 42-21
South Park 27-32