Slippery Rock wants to get over hump
SLIPPERY ROCK — During a run that outdates coach Larry Wendereusz’s tenure, Slippery Rock has reached the postseason each season since 2011.
Last year, for the first time during that stretch, the Rockets reached the district title game. Wendereusz would prefer not to wait nearly as long to return to that stage.
“I’m not built to go to the championship game once every 12 years,” he said. “Our players understand that. Our coaches understand that.
“I think our players have a little chip on their shoulder about it, because they weren’t happy with the way it ended.”
The gut-wrenching 28-20 loss came to a Grove City team they’d beaten by nearly four touchdowns earlier in the fall. To watch the crown slip away is one thing, to have it happen against an arch rival is another.
“We felt sick to our stomachs,” said senior tailback-linebacker Brett Galcik. “Having that in the back of our heads, if we keep working hard and work for one goal in mind, we’ll do fine.”
The shortcoming provides all the motivation the crew needs heading into the new schedule.
“We were looked at as if we were going to win,” said senior offensive lineman Braiden Reich. “I looked at the predictions before the game of what it was supposed to look like. At the end of the game, that’s not what happened.
“That’s definitely what my motivation is this year, is to give something that Slippery Rock can be looking forward to at the end of the season.”
It will all start up front. The offensive line returns three regulars in seniors Brody Galcik, Isaac Bell, and Reich. While they don’t play the most glamorous roles, their work and experience — each has started for at least two years — figures to be crucial.
“We should be able to get the run started first, and then be able to throw the ball,” Wendereusz said.
Juniors Blaise Mullen and Matthew Cratty also put their hand in the dirt frequently last go-round.
“We’re really looking forward to getting down the field as linemen,” Reich said. “Our line is going to be very communicative up front and we’re going to be driving the ball downfield.”
If the Rockets’ plan of running a balanced attack goes accordingly, those blockers will be a big reason why. Toting the ball for the offense will be a mix of Maddox Allen, Sal Mineo, and Brett Galcik.
“They did a lot for me last year and they’ll do even more this year,” said the latter. “If we’re a dual threat with the pass and the run, I think we’ll be very effective.”
Third-year starting quarterback William Mokel, too, is a threat to take off and pick up large chunks of real estate with his legs. That is, when he’s not flinging the ball to the likes of seniors John Sabo and Lucas Allison or juniors Eli Anderson and Sam Schwartz
On defense, the Rockets have some moving parts. They have guys back, Wendereusz said, it’s just a matter of putting them in the right places.
“We have those kids that are doing that work in the offseason,” he added. “We’re able to say, ‘You’re just going to play the offensive side of the ball or you’re just going to play the defensive side of the ball.’
“That only makes our team better.”
The defensive line is made up of many of the same names as the offensive front is. Senior Robbie Foster, juniors Ian Fair and Austin McFarland, and sophomore Klint Shamblin will be on the second tier of both fronts. All will be counted on to improve their numbers against opposing rushers.
“I think it’s very important for us to keep ourselves in check throughout the season with, ‘How are we going to be not gassed after a game?’” Said Reich, who wrestles year-round. “Aggression is going to be needed … If we stop the run, that will definitely win games.”
The unit has openings at linebacker, where Allison and Allen are vying for a job, and at corner, a battle between junior Tyler Arblaster and Anderson.
Based on what he sees in preparing for an opposing offense, Wendereusz can split his 4-2-5 defense into different coverages.
“We can play one coverage to the strength and a different coverage to the weak side,” Wendereusz said. “When you start doing that and you’re mixing and matching different things, you really get into a lot of different coverages in a hurry.”
He counts nine different varieties. Sabo settles into a role at free safety and will be expected to help the members on the back end get to their spots.
“We try to disguise it the best we can,” Wendereusz said. “We try to look the same in every coverage until the last second.”
Junior specialist Nick Kingerski was an all-region kicker in 2021 and Wendereusz contends he should have had the same honor with punting.
The Rockets have the puzzle pieces. They just need to fit. In order to raise the District 10 trophy, the squad will have to go step by step.
“Our players got to stay in the moment,” Wendereusz said. “It's a football season. You will have ups, you will have downs. If you don’t, you’ve got a lot of ups, which usually doesn’t happen.
“They’ll have to stay where their feet are and keep their attention to detail where it needs to be at that time and that moment.”
His players look at things the same way.
“We need to be laser-focused on the next opponent and, right now, that’s General McLane,” Reich said.