The 2016 season wasn't a great one for Avella as the Eagles won only two games.
But the two wins was good enough for Avella to make the postseason out of the Class A Tri-County South Conference. The Eagles lost to powerhouse Clairton in the first round.
Head coach Ryan Cecchini is hoping that experience can help Avella make another playoff run this season.
“The goal for us every year is to make the playoffs,” Cecchini said. “We've made it three of the last four years – before I got here we didn't make it for 35 years – so goal No. 1 is to get back to the playoffs.”
To do so, the Eagles will have to get it done with a very young and inexperienced team. Avella lost much to graduation, including all-state wide receiver Garrett Geresti.
“We are very young,” Cecchini said. “We have a lot of freshman and sophomores who will be starting. I think we only have four starters returning on offense and five on defense. It's all going to depend on how the young players come along.”
Avella will be inexperienced in the backfield, where Owen English moves from wide receiver to quarterback. Junior Matt Craig could step in at wide receiver.
The running back spot was to be determined through competition at preseason camp, so there could be plenty of new players getting opportunities this year.
“We don't have a lot of skill-position guys coming back,” said Cecchini. “Owen will be the quarterback and we are going to use camp to see who is going to get the ball.”
If there is a strength for the Eagles on offense, it's likely to be the line, where they have starters returning in James Taylor, Zack Cannon and Randall Kidwell.
“I think our experience up front will be big for us,” Cecchini said. “We expect big things out of our guys coming back on the line.”
On defense, Avella will try to improve on the 37.2 points per game they allowed a season ago. The Eagles also will be young on defense, but the experience up front in Taylor, Cannon and Kidwell should help.
There are holes to fill at linebacker and in the secondary, though Cecchini will be counting on junior Frank Craig to be an impact player at middle linebacker. Craig, who also plays wide receiver, started in the middle at the end of last season and will be looked on to lead a young group of linebackers.
“The biggest thing for us will be how well our linebackers come along,” Cecchini said. “If you can tackle well at this level, then you can stop teams from putting points on the scoreboard. Ideally, we would like to have some strength in the front seven to help hide some of the inexperience in the secondary.”
Avella opens the season with a pair of road games, Aug. 26 at Western Beaver, a game the Eagles were competitive in last season, and Sept. 1 in the conference opener at West Greene,a team the Eagles beat last year.
Getting off to a fast start could be the difference on if Avella reaches the postseason for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
“Getting off to a good start is very important,” Cecchini said. “Having success early on prevents the young guys from getting down on themselves. If you can start off on the right foot, then hopefully you can carry that momentum for the rest of the season. That's especially important with such a young team.”