By Matt Popchock
John Tortorea couldn’t wait to talk to “Mr. High School Sports” about taking over as Quaker Valley’s head football coach. It’s not the easiest job in the WPIAL; in fact, he had a tough time even digging up stats from last season for our own benefit.
But it’s probably for the best he leave those alone, because, once again, the Quakers are trying to wipe the slate clean.
That’s what they were trying to do last off-season as well, when the school hired former Pittsburgh Central Catholic assistant Bob McIntyre to guide the varsity squad. One season and one win later, McIntyre resigned for personal reasons. Tortorea, his assistant at QV last fall, stepped forward to become the program’s third different head coach in as many years.
Quaker Valley hasn’t reached the WPIAL playoffs since 1999. It has only won six games over the past four seasons, enduring a winless campaign in 2009. Is Tortorea the spark plug who can get the football machinery humming again in Sewickley?
He’s not the only thing that’ll be new at Chuck Knox Stadium this year. Quarterback Pat Conlan, the son of former NFL great Shane Conlan, has graduated, and junior Burke Moser takes over.
Tortorea got a glimpse of the future when Moser completed six of ten passes for 119 yards, threw for a touchdown, and ran for another in mop-up duty against eventual WPIAL Class AA champion South Fayette in the 2010 finale.
At least they’ll have some stability in the backfield. Senior tailback/slotback Jordan Vescio led the team with 256 rushing yards and two rush TD’s as a junior, averaging over five yards per carry, and several of last year’s starting linemen are back, so expect QV to be, like so many others in the WPIAL, a run-first team. Senior fullback Lex Gibb will probably be counted on more as well.
Vescio’s most memorable performance of last season, not surprisingly, came in Quaker Valley’s lone victory, a 42-26 triumph at home over Century Conference rival Burgettstown in Week 6. He hauled in a 19-yard TD pass from Conlan and ripped off a 48-yard scoring run to help push the Quakers into the win column.
They need him to have more of that magic up his sleeve while Tortorea grooms his new QB, to say nothing of the rest of his players. Conlan really was the lynch pin of that offense, but it managed just 15.1 points per game in 2010, putting them in the bottom ten of Class AA in that category.
When it comes to defense, the “Q” in “QV” stands for “questionable,” and that might be putting it mildly. How soon can Tortorea help that group improve noticeably? Quaker Valley was dead last in the conference last year at 47.9 points allowed per contest, and dead last in the entire classification, although graduated senior Shane Dugan did make first team all-conference at defensive back.
The returning starters up front are probably anxious to start turning that around. Four of Quaker Valley’s five regular linemen should get plenty of “ironman” playing time, and Tortorea thinks senior guard/defensive tackle Jacob Smith could have a big year on both sides.
In the meantime, the goal for the 2011 Quakers is certainly to build off that one win, but the most crucial word there is “build,” which will take Tortorea a while. It definitely seems like he’s pumping energy into the program, and as interesting as it will be to watch South Fayette and Seton-LaSalle battle for the Century Conference title, with the Golden Eagles of Keystone Oaks possibly flying under the radar, it will also be interesting to see how soon this program, under his watch, which has seemed so far from greatness, can get there…or at least get close.
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