North East Grapepickers
Coach: Matt Shesman (21st season, 110-95-1)
2013 overall record: 5-5
2013 region record: 3-4 (fifth)
2013 playoff results: Did not qualify for the District 10 Class AA playoffs.
Top players lost: Josh Gillespie, Jordan Bryan, Jeff Smith, Grayson Hill
Top returning players: Mike Macaulay, Craig Zuccolotto, Ben Stritzenger, Logan Reynolds, Jarod Rathman, Brendon Tinko, Garrett Owens, Kevin Cooney
Assistant coaches: Shawn Humes, Joe Shesman, Bob Sensor, Mike Whitney, Mike Wydro, Brady Lynn
Outlook: North East continued its recent run of 1,000-yard running backs last fall as Jordan Bryan ran for 1,185 yards and 11 touchdowns on 161 carries. The Grapepickers will need someone to step up to keep it going this season as Bryan graduated in the spring. Garrett Owens is back after rushing for 755 yards and seven touchdowns on 149 carries. Grayson Hill was North East’s third-leading rusher with 453 yards and three touchdowns, but he transferred to Cathedral Prep. Brendon Tinko is back at split end after hauling in six passes for 137 yards and one touchdown. Mike Macaulay returns at quarterback after having a breakout season in 2013. He threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for 141 yards and one touchdown. The Grapepickers have an experienced line back as well with center Craig Zuccolotto, left guard Ben Stritzenger and right tackle Logan Reynolds. Jarod Rathman is back at tight end as North East has a total of seven starters returning on offense. Kevin Cooney is in the mix to start on the offensive line, while Trey Tanner and Dominic Collazo could step up as running backs. Trent Leonard transferred from Mercer and could make an impact right away, while Nick Hupp could fight for playing time at wide receiver and sophomore Dylan Garske at tight end. The offensive line could also receive a boost from new players Justin Palazzotto, Luke Still, Robert Wagner and Jeff Kraemer.
North East was young on defense last fall, but that experience the Grapepickers gained could pay off this season. North East returns eight starters on defense, including Zuccolotto, Stritzenger, Cooney and Rathman on the defensive line. Macaulay, Owens and Tinko return to lead the secondary and Reynolds returns at linebacker. The ‘Pickers run the 40 defense with 3 and 4 deep, giving opposing offenses plenty of different looks. North East will need to replace an inside linebacker and one outside linebacker before the season to support a strong defense. Macaulay had two interceptions as a junior, while Zuccolotto had 49 solo tackles and Rathman had 38 solo tackles, including two sacks. The ‘Pickers’ defense is physical up front and will need to continue to play hard to stop the run in a run-heavy region. North East held teams to 18.9 points per game last fall and will need a similar effort to make a run at the postseason. The ‘Pickers could also receive contributions from new players Tanner, Hupp, Leonard, and Collazo in the secondary as well as Palazzotto, Wagner, Kraemer and Garske on the defensive line. Still could also earn playing time right away at linebacker.
North East has most of its team back from last season, but losing all-region lineman Josh Gillespie, Bryan and Jeff Smith to graduation as well as Hill to transfer will hurt. The ‘Pickers’ program finds ways to stay competitive each season and just missing out on the playoffs last season will be enough incentive for North East to work hard this fall. The ‘Pickers have an experienced quarterback and solid backfield and North East could get a boost from Leonard transferring up from Mercer. Leonard started as a defensive back for the Mustangs and was a backup quarterback to Logan Clarke. North East has won at least five games in the past 10 years and they won’t need too many new players to solidify the starting lineups to make a run at the District 10 Class AA playoffs. North East is tough to beat at home and will get a chance to defend Ted Miller Stadium in three of the first four weeks of the season. The ‘Pickers get Fort LeBoeuf, Northwestern and Seneca at home, but they will have to travel to play Girard and Fairview. North East loaded its non-region schedule up with Greenville, Strong Vincent and Reynolds, which could prepare the ‘Pickers for the playoffs if they can reach one of the four playoff spots in Region 4.
29 Greenville 7
5 Fort LeBoeuf* 7
12 at Harbor Creek* 7
19 Northwestern* 7
26 at Girard* 7
3 Seneca* 7
10 Strong Vincent 7
17 at Mercyhurst Prep* 7
24 at Fairview* 7
31 at Reynolds 7
*Region 4 game
Up next: Northwestern