One of the busiest persons in the McGuffey football program this offesason might have been strength and conditioning coach Nate Parry.
Parry surveyed various college programs about redeveloping and varying workouts for the Highlanders to avoid a repeat of their injury-plagued 2016 season.
Parry and head coach Ed Dalton needed to find answers. They know why they missed the WPIAL playoffs but what baffles them is how to stay away from season-ending injuries that produced a 5-5 record, 3-4 in the Class AA Interstate Conference.
Parry and Dalton are particularly concerned about major knee surgeries, the number of which matched the amount of losses. Those injuries mounted early in the season.
“When it rains, it pours,” Dalton said. “I’ve lost some great players over the years but never that amount. It was unbelievable. It was nothing like I’ve ever seen in my coaching career.”
Instead of a weightlifting program that typically centered on squats, McGuffey has turned to an approach of becoming more flexible.
The Highlanders will be more flexible on the field, thanks to the use of different players to fill in for the injuries. Many return this season, including seven starters on offense and nine on defense. It all starts on the line for McGuffey.
Seniors Brett Perlestine, Marko Olivarez and Adam Blacharczyk, along with junior Jake Phillips, return on an offensive line that will be responsible for opening holes for what will most likely be a run-heavy offense after the loss of two-year starting quarterback Marcus Czulewicz.
Czulewicz was the lone constant with the ever-changing McGuffey offense because of injuries. He led the Highlanders in rushing with 1,122 yards, passed for 469 and scored eight touchdowns.
The biggest game for Czulewicz came in the season opener against Frazier in the Western Pennsylvania Legends Classic at North Allegheny. He accounted for 358 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in the Highlanders’ 38-28 win.
Dalton will have to make a decision between Matthew Mounts or Marshall Whipkey, who saw time last season. Mounts, McGuffey’s best wide receiver, will most likely remain there but be prepared to step in for Whipkey.
Olivarez, a 6-3, 255-pound tackle, and Chase Miller, a 6-2, 225-pound linebacker, have been getting Division I looks.
“Marko needs a really good start,” Dalton said. “He hasn’t got as much interest because he lacks a junior video.”
With 25 seniors, Dalton admitted last year was a frustrating time after making the WPIAL playoffs the two previous years.
He also is hoping that experience will stop the Highlanders’ early playoff exits in those two years, when they were outscored 65-6 in losses to Freeport and Seton-La Salle, respectively.
“It showed our players just how fleeting your season can be,” Dalton said. “Our kids realized how much we lost. They value every single day. That was not our expectations going into last season. We have a lot of experience and guys who have been on the field for playoff games with many coming back. We know that we have to get better every day and have a window to be pretty good.”