Young Bucs starting over but aiming for playoffs

August 22, 2017
Chartiers-Houston quarterback Thunder Minney - Celeste Van Kirk

Terry Fetsko has been coaching long enough to know that sometimes you an urge to use an R-word.

In high school athletics, the worst R-word is rebuilding.

But when you lose a group of seniors as talented as Fetsko and Chartiers-Houston did to graduation, rebuilding might be inevitable.

Chartiers-Houston, we might have a problem.

“It’s probably the most challenging year that I’ve had here,” said Fetsko, whose team is coming off a 7-4 season that included a 6-1 record in the Century Conference. “We lost 13 seniors from last year and they all started and played a lot. We have a lot of new faces. It will be a challenge. But I really like their work ethic. They’re working hard. They are good kids. But they need to develop their roles. We need to develop leadership.”

Fetsko enters his 12th season at Chartiers-Houston and has had winning seasons in eight of the past nine years. But last year’s group, led by quarterback T.J. Johnson, offensive lineman Trey Lober, running back Spencer Terling and wide receiver A.J. Myers, was especially effective, helping the Bucs make the transition back to Class AA after years of playing in Class A.

“My seniors last year, we had five of them start as freshmen all the way up through,” said Fetsko. “It was a really nice group in that aspect.”

There aren’t many starters returning, but the ones who are will be players Fetsko counts on to provide leadership and stability.

That group is led by Matt Whitfield, an all-conference player at linebacker last season when he recorded more than 100 tackles. Whitfield also was the team’s third-leading rusher behind Terling and Myers, gaining 119 yards on 28 carries.

Whitfield will be a key player both offensively and defensively.

“We expect a lot from him,” Fetsko admitted. “He started at linebacker. He played running back, but he wasn’t a full-time starter. He’ll move into that role this year.”

Senior linemen Michael Paluda and Noah Minnie are the other returning starters.

“Those are three guys we’re going to count on a lot for leadership,” Fetsko said. “But you’re going to see a lot of new players out there this year.”

Of the 29 players on the roster, nine are first-time football players.

Because of that, Fetsko expects to see constant growth from his team, even if that doesn’t necessarily add up to wins early in the process.

“I want to see improvement, and we’ve shown that already,” Fetsko said. “I want to see them improve from week to week and see them get better as the season goes on. If we continue to do that, by the end of the season, if things fall right, we’ll be competing for a playoff spot. That’s still our goal, to make the playoffs.”

Making the postseason in a rebuilding year, with a young roster dominated by 13 sophomores, might seem like a stretch for many but the Bucs have been a consistently tough team during Fetsko’s tenure. The Bucs have typically been a balanced offense during that time but might be more run-oriented this year while they try to get their quarterback situation settled.

Thunder Minnie, Seth Dunn and Robbie Ward are competing for the starting quarterback job. Minnie and Dunn are sophomores and Ward is a junior. Of the group, Dunn threw one pass last season and had three rushing attempts. Ward had two rushing attempts.

“We’re going to look the same but we have to take advantage of their strengths, what they do well,” said Fetsko. “We’ll probably be a little more run, less passing this year. We’ll have to make things a little more simple on defense, not as complex, until they get a good understanding of what they’re doing.”

If everything goes well, the Bucs will be in contention for a playoff spot. But there’s more unknown than usual to deal with in Houston this year.

“That’s high school football, especially when you’re talking small schools,” Fetsko said. “You go through these type of rebuilding years. We’ll see who steps up and who plays well for us.”

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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