(Statistical Information Courtesy of NWPASports.com archives)
SLIPPERY ROCK ROCKETS 2022 FOOTBALL SEASON PREVIEW
Head Coach: Larry Wendereusz, 7th season (28-32)
Last Year: 7-2 overall, advanced to District 10 Class 3A championship game
Optimism is high for the Slippery Rock Rockets as the 2022 season approaches as the Rockets return six players who earned All-Region recognition last year after helping the team to a 7-2 record and a berth in the District 10 Class 3A title game.
Slippery Rock welcomes back a two-year starter at quarterback, three starting offensive linemen, the team's top receiver in 2021, two running backs who ran for 100 yards or more in at least one game, three starting defensive backs and one of District 10's top kicking specialists.
Seventh-year head coach Larry Wendereusz and his staff also welcome back several other veterans who will take on increased roles this season.
"We have a good core of guys who are back and we're relying on them to do a lot for us on the field and off the field," Wendereusz said.
That group helped Slippery Rock reach the district title game in 2021. However, archrival Grove City pulled out a 28-20 victory in the championship game. That narrow setback has been used as motivation for 2022, but the Rockets are also solely focused on this season, not history.
"We talked about it at the beginning, because I want them to have that little bit of a chip on their shoulders," Wendereusz said. "But now that we're into this season, that's in the past."
A piece of the past remains very prominent at Slippery Rock, however -- senior quarterback William Mokel. Mokel took over as the Rockets' starting quarterback as a sophomore and became an All-Region honoree following his junior season. In seven games last year, Mokel threw for 1,157 yards, 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He also shared the team lead with five rushing touchdowns.
"(Mokel) is talented and he put in a lot of time in the offseason to get bigger, stronger and faster," Wendereusz said. "He's a big, strong kid and the way that he has gotten faster is amazing."
Senior wide receiver John Sabo returns after leading the Rockets with 35 catches and 597 receiving yards in 2021. The All-Region honoree tied for second in the Mercer County area with nine touchdown catches.
Senior Lucas Allison and junior Sam Schwartz, a pair of starters on defense last season, are expected to hold down the other wide receiver spots in Slippery Rock's spread set.
Senior Brett Galcik and junior Maddox Allen are back at running back after sharing time with the graduated Ryan Montgomery and Shane Thompson. Allen ran for 277 yards, including his breakout 182-yard performance in a critical 35-33 win over Sharon last season. Galcik added 258 rushing yards, along with eight receptions. He had 14 receptions in 2020.
"They are both talented young men," Wendereusz said of his projected starting running backs. "Maddox works so hard and doesn't say a word. He's an amazing young man. His work ethic is awesome. Brett is a very talented young man at running back and maybe even moreso at inside linebacker."
Slippery Rock also returns three senior starters on the offensive line, tackle Brody Galcik, guard Isaac Bell and center Braiden Reich. "Those three have had a good camp so far," Wendereusz noted.
Junior lettermen Matthew Cratty and Blaise Mullen are battling for the two open spots, along with classmate Austin McFarland.
Slippery Rock will again employ the 4-2-5 on defense. Brody Galcik returns as a starting end while Mullen has the inside track on the other side. Bell, Cratty and Reich are expected to share time at the tackle positions.
Brett Galcik returns at inside linebacker. Wendereusz believes that sophomores Aiden Corrace and Klint Shamblin will both see action at the other linebacker post. Allison, an All-Region selection, returns as a hybrid outside linebacker/safety spot.
Allen moves from cornerback to safety, where he will join Sabo. Schwartz returns at cornerback. Juniors Eli Anderson and Tyler Arblaster are battling to start opposite Schwartz.
Wendereusz wants his team to improve its run defense after yielding 149.6 rushing yards per game last season. In the playoffs, Slippery Rock yielded 215 rushing yards to Hickory in the D-10 semifinals, then allowed Grove City to amass 221 rushing yards in the title game.
"In high school football, we have to be able to run the ball and be able to stop the run," Wendereusz said. "I didn't think we did a great job of either last year at times. We have to do a better job of that. We're looking to get there and we're taking the steps to get there. But right now, we're a little ways away."
All-Region kicker Nick Kingerski returns for his senior season. He will be placekicker and punter. Kingerski went 3 for 4 on field goals last year, including a 43-yarder. He finished with 41 points last year and also boasted a season-best punt of 60 yards.
"Nick has worked a lot this summer," Wendereusz said. "You can see the growth that he has made, even from last year to this year. It's going to be fun."
Slippery Rock will play in the rugged Region 3, with Class 3A brethren Grove City, Hickory and Sharon. Class 2A powers Farrell, Greenville, Sharpsville and Wilmington will also compete in the league.
"It is a tough league and a physical league," Wendereusz said. "I think that's the part that all of us coaches are looking at the most. It may be the team that stays the healthiest is the team that wins it.
"We have to stay healthy," he continued. "We have to do what we need to do to prevent injuries and to recover our bodies the right way."