Heindl reflects on 2020 Elkers football season

Bob Parana - Staff Writer

It wasn’t a normal football season for the Ridgway Elkers. Heck, nothing is normal during these times of the COVID-19 pandemic but head coach Mark Heindl, his assistants, and players did get the opportunity for a shortened season that in many ways was a success.

The abbreviated season did not produce a fifth-straight district title but Heindl is thankful his squad was able to play and took time to discuss the 2020 season on Monday as players turned in their equipment.

“When the kids got sent home back on March 13 for the year we thought it was going to be two weeks. We didn’t realize we physically wouldn’t be back in the actual buildings until September 8. In between that time, a lot of things took place. There were a lot of emotions from we’re going to play to we’re not going to play. If you would have told me in July we were going to get six games in I probably would have laughed at you. We didn’t know we’d get one in – so that has to be looked at as a success,” he said.

The Elkers finished 3-3 and were knocked out of a chance at a fifth straight district title by Brookville on Oct. 23 in the district semi-finals. It wasn’t a normal 10-game regular season for Ridgway which opened the campaign with a 17-14 win over fellow Class-AA foe Kane, beat Bradford twice, and lost to Class AAA district runner-up St. Marys twice before bowing out against Brookville.

“You can’t judge [the season] by wins and losses especially with all the curve balls thrown at us. I give our kids the utmost credit. When this all went down, not having the ability to do all the things you normally do in the summertime, and with a lot of new faces going into new positions it isn’t fair to judge the season by our record,” said Heindl. “To get the opportunity to line up against Kane in week one and to get five more games was a blessing no matter how you look at it,” he added.

Off the schedule from the District 9 Large School Division, won by the Elkers in both 2018 and 2019, were Brookville, Karns City, Clarion Central, new-comer DuBois (replaced Brockway), Moniteau, and Punxsutawney, and a week 10 non-league game with Penns Valley. The switch was made to an IU9 "Bubble" schedule which included two games each with St. Marys, Bradford, and Kane. When the schedule was first introduced there was uncertainty with district playoffs. When the post-season was announced to begin Oct. 23 an away game at Kane was replaced by the semi-final contest in Brookville.

It would have been interesting to see how the Elkers would have developed during a “normal” season which would have given Heindl and his assistants Mickey Delhunty, Rick Viglione, Jack Kifer, Tony Defilippi, Brian Hinton, Adam Ehrensberger, Scott Salberg, Russ Myers, and Colton McClain more time to assess talent and make any necessary changes to enhance the chances of a fifth district title. The Ridgway coach talked about the abnormalities his team faced in 2020.

“It’s not an excuse but it’s big. People may not realize the importance of a weight room and the little things [involved] with our summer practices. You can only look at each other and go against each other over and over again before It becomes monotonous. That’s not only the wall we were against but all the teams were against,” Heindl said while giving an overview of the season and the future. “We finished 3-2 in the large school division where we were the smallest team. I think our kids held their own pretty good. I think we saw improvements as the year went on but it showed these juniors now that are going to be seniors next year the importance of time. You’re never in control of it so you better make the best of it.”

Heindl acknowledged the season was tough on the 18 seniors that donned the maroon-and-white for a final time in Brookville. “Six games isn’t the way you want to send your seniors out with but six games were better than five and five better than four and so on. To be part of the program is big. We had a lot of our alumni reach out to a lot of our guys this year via text and social media and all the ways kids communicate with each other. To me, that’s pretty cool because they realize they’re part of something special. Even though they didn’t get the opportunity to get a full 10 games in, six games were huge to them. It hurts now but hopefully, in about four or five months they’ll realize how big it actually was,” he said.

With the season in the books, it’s time to look towards the future and Heindl is excited about it.

“Today we had our last little meeting with the juniors to kind of let them know the importance of being a leader and why it’s important to take advantage of every possible moment you can. You never know when it could be pulled,” the Ridgway coach said pointing out the abnormal season was hopefully a learning experience. “Tough times show a lot about people. Our kids went through a lot this year. They got a season in but it wasn’t what they envisioned. It was hard for them after the Brookville game to realize there was no tomorrow. The cool thing is tough times build character. I think our kids looking back are going to realize how much this is going to help them down the road.”

Heindl is looking forward to next season and having district teams again look at his squad as the team to beat. “We like the bullseye and I think our younger guys like it too. The guys that are going to be seniors next year want that bullseye back on us. Hopefully, we’re back in our league schedule and we can pick up where we left off. We have a lot of work to do but we’re looking forward to it,” he said while discussing the mindset going into next year. “The last couple of weeks have given us a time to look back at things and there are a lot of good things we did this year but there’s a lot of things we didn’t do as well that we have to work on in the off-season. To me, that’s what’s important. You can’t stay stagnate. Nick Saban (Alabama head coach) says success brings success but it can also build complacency. We as a group need to look at some of our weaknesses and get those addressed for our kids because we have a nice group coming back.”

At this time last year, the Elkers were preparing for a District 9 Double-A championship showdown with Clarion. It is strange to not have football on the docket but Heindl said he and the coaches are making the most of it.

“It stinks. This is the first November we’ve had off in a long time but we’re going to take advantage of it and spend some family time we haven’t been able to do the last few years. It’s strange not being around the kids and coaches that you’ve been with for so long but we’re going to do our best to get these kids ready for 2021,” he said.

2020 Ridgway Elkers roster

Seniors: Dominic Gaudino, RJ Miller, Cole Casilio, Michael Gresco, Ben Briggs, Dominic Cherry, Ricky Delhunty, Cole Haight, Austin Geitner, Harry Snyder, Armandt Rosario, Jake Kunselman, Austin Scruggs, Frankie Andrade, Shawn Breindel, Isaac Zimmerman, Alex Bon, and Isaac Rose.

Juniors: Maurice Bullers, Jonathan Hinton, Wil Howard, Tyler Merritt, Eric Salberg, Camron Marciniak, Domenic Allegretto, Nate McCurdy, Dan Park, Hunter Wall, Kenny McKenna, Brayden Renaud, Anna Duffield, and Dylan Goetz.

Sophomores: Ty Lewis, Rayce Milliard, Aiden Zimmerman, Nolan Galbo, Marcus Crowe, Mikey Steis, Steven Nagle, and Aaron Sorg.

Freshmen: Luke Zimmerman, Eric Hoffman, Dominic Jacobs, Tim Groscup, Aidan Bittler, Jackson Kilpeck, Nathan Schult, Alex Merritt, Brady Heindl, Nicky Myers, Samuel McCurdy, Theo Coder, Nick Aiello, and AJ Tassone.