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Slippery Rock’s Mokel, Sabo aiming high

Go Getters

SLIPPERY ROCK — Beeeeep. Beeeeep. Beeeeep.

Most mornings, with the sun still rising, Slippery Rock seniors William Mokel and John Sabo woke up to an unyielding ring. They’d have to blink away sleep, doing their best not to quiet it and retreat back into the comforts of slumber.

Beginning when they were freshmen, they’d trudge at dawn to the field at Troy-Alan Stadium — long before they had to be in their seats for first period — to build a rapport that would eventually develop into Friday night fireworks.

“That’s how we built our connection,” said Mokel, affectionately known as Zip. “We’d come every morning. We’d come for an hour, hour and a half before school.”

Of course, the routine wasn’t always easy. Every now and then, busy schedules came to be too much and the extra hour of rest was much-needed. In that case, the two would get together on the weekends, making sure to get their reps in.

“It was rough for a while there,” Mokel said. “Waking up, I was like, ‘Oh man, I don’t want to do this anymore.’ … Those morning workouts, that’s what really kicked it off for us.”

Mokel, who also wrestles, would show up even after grueling practices on the mat. Sabo, a guard for the Rockets’ hoops team, was always down to reel in passes or do footwork drills. The year-round gatherings gained traction to the point where other teammates joined.

“When you get the leadership of guys willing to put in that extra effort, when other guys see that (and) see the success they’re having, they want to do the same thing,” said Rockets coach Larry Wendereusz.

It didn’t stop there. During the spring, Mokel and Sabo would find enough room to run routes on a field filled with practicing track and field athletes.

“All the hard work and preparation that we’ve put in every day, we know where we are on the field,” Sabo said. “That’s what helps us win games … We push each other everywhere we go.”

It was as a freshman that Sabo brought a noticeable energy to the Rockets’ special teams units. He flipped that into playing time as a receiver by the end of that same season. The next fall, after signal-caller Vito Pilosi graduated, Mokel joined him on the unit.

“I think, when you have a sophomore quarterback and a sophomore receiver start, there’s some camaraderie that’s already there,” Wendereusz said. “Just that comfort level of Zip knowing where Johnny’s going to be and Johnny knowing where Zip’s going to throw the ball ... I think that makes the two of them pretty special to have on your team together.”

Both have been named all-conference performers in their time starring for the attack.

“He can make any throw,” Wendereusz said of his senior triggerman. “He may be the strongest kid, pound for pound, on our football team.

“We’re going to utilize that strength and that speed, as well as his arm strength in every way that we can.”

Sabo spent time in the offseason attending and competing at camps at local colleges, including Slippery Rock University and Youngstown State.

“The strides that John has made in the last two years, he’s a special young man,” the coach said.

His confidence in the seasoned duo is evident. Mokel can see a pre-snap opening — in the middle of the field, for instance — and can signal to his receivers for an audible.

“As you get more mature players, you can do that,” Wendereusz said. “I think as William has gotten more comfortable in his role and Johnny has gotten more understanding — and I think that’s the biggest piece of what’s going on — they can make those adjustments.

“We always tell them going into a game, ‘This is what we expect to get. If it’s something different, we’ve got to adjust.’”

Usually, it’s a quicker type of route, but when Mokel is set to drop back, that’s when Sabo can do the most damage.

“He’ll have time to do double moves,” the passer said. “He’ll make them miss and I’ll throw it out there and let him go get it.”

He and Sabo are constantly communicating with their coaches in the press box, updating them on what they’re seeing up close.

“There were several games where I can think of last year where our receivers came off the field and said, ‘Coach, they’re jumping this, this will work,’” said Wendereusz, who stresses a belief in his players. “The next drive, we called it and we’re celebrating in the end zone.

“If they believe that you trust them and what they see, they’re going to start to understand and learn the game more than just doing their job.”

More than anything, Wendereusz is excited to see how the tandem guides its peers.

“We pick captains, they’re captains,” he said. “They’re doing a great job right now in what we’re trying to build and the culture we’re trying to breed.”

Statistically, the pair wants to hook up for 15 touchdowns this campaign. They won’t be tracking their progress, though.

“We pick a touchdown or a yardage gain that we want at the beginning of the season and we try to accomplish that,” Sabo said. “We’ll check it at the end of the season. We’re locked in.”

Senior quarterback William Mokel is heading into his third season as a starter in the Rockets’ offense. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Senior wideout John Sabo tied the Rockets’ single-season record for touchdown receptions (9) last fall. He’s out to top that performance this time around. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

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