Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Day 2: A house of Hillers

The second day of my area football camp tour took me to Trinity’s living room. Or was it the Hillers’ dining room? I don’t know. I couldn’t tell.

Trinity is one of the few WPIAL schools to hold an overnight camp at the school. Players sleep on air mattresses in the cafeteria and shower in the locker room. It’s an odd setup that I’ll get to in a bit.

I went to Trinity today for a sit-down interview with head coach Ryan Coyle, who was hired to replace Ed Dalton (now at McGuffey) – despite the fact that he’s just 26 years old and has never been a head coach before.

It will be the main story for our football preview tab, and hopefully I can do it justice; I know Trinity is one of the better programs around here, and hiring a 26-year-old to head your program is, um, an interesting move.

But after my afternoon at Trinity, I see what those hiring saw. Coyle is affable but stern, smart but not arrogant, and he’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met.

(He paid his own college tuition with odd jobs, something I’ll write in more detail about later.)

It was almost funny hearing him talk to players. Some younger coaches have a fairly friendly relationship with their players. Coyle was personable and had no problem communicating, but there was no screwing around; I kept waiting for a smile that never came.

“As a young guy, it’s hard to expect him to be in your face and everything,” senior tight end Jared Deep said of Coyle. “But there’s no messing around with him. It’s all serious, all the time.”

More Coyle stuff can wait. I thought I’d use this post to talk about these living conditions.

Coyle said this is something that his mentor, former Penn Hills and Shaler coach Neil Gordon, always did. And it was something that he told himself he would do when he got his own program. It’s also something that Dalton did at Trinity.

Players purchase their own air mattresses and essentially make a giant bedroom out of half of the cafeteria, a dining and lounge area out of the rest.

Even the coaches get in on it: Four double-bed size air mattresses are wedged into a long, narrow office, with a projector playing overhead.

I asked Deep whether it was a competitive thing to get the best air mattress, and he told me that the biggest status symbol was how close you were to an electrical outlet. That way you could plug in fans and other devices.

“It’s first come first serve … unless a senior kicks someone out,” Deep said. “But that doesn’t really happen because the seniors are here pretty early. The sooner you get here, the better it is for you all week.”

I also talked to wide receiver/defensive back Corey Hunsberger, who admitted that most players don’t think anything of it. It’s something they’ve done their whole lives, and until someone else points out how strange it must be to LIVE AT THE SCHOOL, he hadn’t really thought twice about it.

“From the outside looking in, I’m sure it’s bizarre,” Hunsberger said. “But it’s pretty much all we’ve known as far as football. Everyone looks forward to it – not so much during camp, when you’re drained, but you look forward to coming up and getting to partake in everything, all the traditions and little things that go on.”

I asked whether it was weird waking up together in the morning.

“Waking up in the morning, I don’t think you’ll ever get used to that,” Hunsberger said. “It’s still like, ‘Why am I not sleeping? Why am I getting up? Why’s my coach here? Leave me alone.’ ”

On the field, Trinity returns several skills players, including running back Kyle Dugan, who had 65 carries for 422 yards and five touchdown last season, as well as backfield mate Pat Frey (76 carries, 388 yards, four touchdowns), who missed the second half of last season with a broken leg.

Hunsberger was Trinity’s leading receiver with 13 catches for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Jason Vankirk returns after completing 50 of 100 passes for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns, but Coyle said there’s an open competition between Vankirk and Donnie McWreath, a bigger, pro-style quarterback who played tight end and linebacker last season.

Lineman Xavuer Severns and Evan McWreath will be two of the leaders on defense.

“We do have some guys who have been in the fire before, but maybe just in a little bit different way,” Coyle said.

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