(Statistical Information Courtesy of Professor Briggs' archives)
SLIPPERY ROCK ROCKETS 2020 FOOTBALL SEASON PREVIEW
Head Coach: Larry Wendereusz, 5th season (19-24)
Last Year: 4-6 overall, qualified for District 10 playoffs
A number of new faces will dot the lineup this year for the Slippery Rock Rockets as they look to rebound from an up-and-down 2019 season. The Rockets went 4-1 at home last year but struggles on the road and a minus-13 turnover margin helped keep the Rockets from another postseason run.
While the Rockets will feature a relatively young squad in 2020, fifth-year head coach Larry Wendereusz welcomes back seven starters on defense. Defensive ends Tony Pilosi, a junior, and senior Justin Schaeffer will again anchor the Slippery Rock defensive line. Pilosi earned Second Team All-Region honors last year.
Junior Shane Thompson returns at outside linebacker, while on the opposite site, both senior Evan Long and sophomore Brett Galcik shared duties last year. Senior Ethan Plesakov and junior Ryan Montgomery return at cornerback. Junior Brendan Earl joins the secondary returnees at free safety.
How the front seven will be deployed is still to be determined, according to Wendereusz. Throughout much of his tenure as head coach, the Rockets have used a 3-4 defense. But personnel could induce a change to a four-man defensive line.
"Our inside linebacker spots, we lost both of them," Wendereusz said, regarding the graduation of inside linebackers David Duffalo and Vito Pilosi. "We have to create our system around the guys we have. If that means changing things up a little bit, then we'll have to do that. We may have to go a different route this year, because of who we have and what they can do."
Junior Trent Duncan, sophomore Brody Galcik and junior Jacob Humes are all vying for spots at nose tackle or defensive tackle, depending upon the alignment. Long could move inside and senior Charlie Dugo will also contend for time at inside linebacker.
Seniors Alex Duffalo and John Sabo are battling with junior Julian Brigham at cornerback. Senior Ethan Sarver will look to fill the vacant safety spot.
The offensive line features three returning starters from last season. Tony Pilosi will move from left tackle to left guard while Brody Galcik returns at right tackle. Schaeffer is back at right guard. "We are excited to have those three guys back up front," Wendereusz said. "Hopefully, that will help us get moving up front."
Junior Russell Barkey has the inside track to start at left tackle while Humes is the front-runner at center.
A new starting quarterback will take the snaps from center after Vito Pilosi quarterbacked the Rockets for the last two-plus seasons. Sophomore William Mokel and junior Andrew Massella are battling for the starting spot.
"Our depth chart at quarterback still says 'QB,' because we don't know yet," Wendereusz said of a possible starter. "We're still doing some different things. We're still plugging through it."
Earl and Plesakov return as starting wide receivers. Plesakov caught 20 passes for a team-best 258 yards last year while Earl had 10 receptions. He led the Rockets with three touchdown catches and a 20.8 yards-per-catch average. Sabo and Brigham also saw time at receiver last year and return for 2020.
Montgomery, Thompson and Brett Galcik will likely hold down the backfield spots this season. Wendereusz likes the potential of that trio. "We think they can be three pretty good athletes and we hope to rotate them. They look pretty good."
Alex Duffalo will kick and several men are working out at punter.
Wendereusz considers the team's offensive and defensive lines to be strengths, as well as the secondary. He is also excited about the team's overall athleticism.
"We have guys with a little more 'wiggle,' as people like to call it. They're a little more athletic," Wendereusz said. "They're young, but they are athletic. The question is going to be: How fast are those young kids going to mature into a spot that we can be successful? If they mature quickly, then we could have some fun. If it takes them a while, in the region that we're in, it's going to be tough."
Slippery Rock will play Grove City, Hickory and Sharon in region play.