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Rovira returns to coaching to take over Madonna

WEIRTON — Madonna football has embarked on a new era with the hiring of Dan Rovira as the head coach, and he believes his 2020 Blue Don club has the size, speed, depth and talent to compete in the West Virginia Class A ranks.

“I was pleasantly surprised with the intensity this group of kids showed during our three-week summer camp,” Rovira said. “Despite having to follow the COVID-19 rules, the kids worked hard, and we got a lot accomplished toward adapting to a different coaching style.”

Rovira replaces Darrin Hicks, who resigned following Madonna’s 6-3-1 regular season and appearance in the state playoffs with its 16th-place ranking.

Hicks was the head man at Madonna for four seasons.

Rovira said it is difficult for him to judge how his charges can compete because he hasn’t coached in the West Virginia Class A ranks yet, but he and his staff were able to make judgments on his team’s depth, and he is pleased with all 27 young men on the team.

Rovira and his staff are tasked not only with developing plans for how they will coach with a “new normal” because of the coronavirus pandemic, but also with replacing eight seniors from the 2019 team that graduated. They are Marion University recruit Brennan Secrist (an all-stater who was the top receiver among the 11 teams in the Daily Times/Herald-Star coverage area with 61 catches for 787 yards and 12 touchdowns), Angelo Quattrochi, Antonio Daddario, Roman Baird (the leading ground gainer), Seth Arnold, Nathan Zanieski, Jacob McCombs and Josh Gasvoda.

The Blue Dons have a good group of veteran players returning from that successful team a year ago, including seniors Evan Daniels, Ethan Rowing, Thomas Sessi, Lucky Pulice, Joe Soos, Jacob Bonner and Mason Smith.

Tyler Starvaggi joins this group of seniors as a transfer from Weir High. Sessi, Soos, Bonner and Smith are three-year lettermen.

That group is backed up by 11 juniors that includes Santino Arlia, the leading passer in the area with 2,022 yards a year ago, along with returning starters Colton Littleton, Evan Bone, Mark Pietranton, Evan Quering and Nick Elias. Michael Burdine, Trey Kush, Cameron Gray and Nate Elias also saw a lot of playing time last year as sophomores. Seth Humberson joins the Blue Don junior class as a transfer from the successful Oak Glen program.

Rovira also is high on a trio of sophomores in Nico Connell, Harry Norman and Luke Sweat, who dressed for the Blue Dons last year as the lone freshman on the team. Connell and Norman are in their first year playing football.

There is a lot of talent in a five-player freshman class, according to Rovira. That includes Dominic DeMarco, Chase Littleton, Marquis Park, who starred on a very-good Brooke Middle School football team last year, Jonah McKay, a starter on the Weir Middle School team as an eighth grader, and Ryan Cline.

“We’re not huge on the line, but we have several guys in the 220-230-pound range,” Rovira said. “We’re very good at quarterback with Arlia, who started some games as a freshman and started all of the games last year. We have a couple of really good backs in Sessi, who is a veteran, and Pulice, and fans will see Danials a lot at fullback. Gray and Connell also are vying for playing time as ball carriers.

“My style is to establish the run if we can. I would estimate that we’ll shoot for a 60/40 split favoring the run game, but that could change each week with Arlia’s talented passing. We want to keep the opponents off balance as much as we can.”

Rovira added that he was very pleased with a pair of senior lettermen linemen, Soos and Bonner. Both are guards and showed a lot of leadership in the summer camp. Smith should be a starting tackle with Mark Pietranton, but Rovira said there is a lot of competition for offensive line spots among several players that could find their way into the starting lineup by the time the Blue Dons put on the game uniforms for the home opener Aug. 29 against Morgantown Trinity. Nick Elias and Bone are in a tight battle with with the other tackles.

Rovira, who has been the defensive coordinator at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Coraopolis, Pa., the past four years, said he has enough experience to know that there is a need for plenty of depth among the linemen. Norman, Sweat, Parker and Cline also are competing aggressively for playing time.

“We have the receivers to go get those Arlia passes,” Rovira said. “Quering, Rowing, Sessi, Pulice, Burdine, Colton Litleton and Kush all showed in summer camp that they have the speed and can catch the football when it is in their area. I’m pleased with Starvaggi at tight end. He has nice size and catches the ball.”

Most of the offensive line doubles on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage. Daniels, whom Rovira calls “a tough kid that is an outstanding wrestler” will be one of the linebackers, along with Rowing, Humberson and Gray. Vying for the defensive backfield positions are Sessi, Quering, Kush, Burdine, both Littletons, Connell and McKay. Chase Littleton is the backup quarterback, and Dominic DeMarco will do the kicking.

Rovira’s coaching staff includes former successful Madonna head coach Doug Taylor, who is the offensive coordinator. Joe Petrovich is the defensive coordinator. Eric Hayden, Justin Horstman, Conner Arlia and John Barnhart round out the staff.

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