Football Preview: Ruggiero seeing a better team attitude in Sun Valley

NETHER PROVIDENCE >> Sun Valley coach Ray Gionta didn’t bring up the exact year, but he knows it’s been a while since the Vanguards last made the District One playoffs.

To be exact, the year was 2006. The members of the senior class weren’t even teenagers yet. But breaking the streak in 2015 isn’t something this program can spend a lot of time thinking about.

“We haven’t been there,” said Gionta following his team’s scrimmage against Strath Haven in August. “Right now, we’re a young team. We’re looking to get better every week and to compete every week. So our goal is to do well every day along the road and the process and hope that each week we’re getting better as the season goes on.”

Coming off a 5-7 season in 2014, the Vanguards return four starters on each side of the ball this season. Elsewhere, they will be young and they will be inexperienced. Filling in the gaps will be a much-improved team camaraderie and mindset, something that wasn’t always there in 2014.

Returning starters Anthony Ruggiero (a two-way senior lineman) and Gabe Boccella (the junior quarterback) noticed it immediately when practices began this summer. Players weren’t lazily meandering through drills. The effort was there, the spirit was there. That’s a start.

“We’re coming together more as a team,” Ruggiero said. “Playing for the team, not being selfish.”

Gionta noticed it, too.

Junior running back Quentin West should get the bulk of the carries when Sun Valley this fall. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)
Junior running back Quentin West should get the bulk of the carries when Sun Valley this fall. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

With less concern about individual effort, Gionta and his staff can actually get down to the business of coaching. That’s all he really could ask for.

“Kids have a great attitude, they’re working hard and doing everything that we ask them to do,” Gionta said. “They’re paying attention to detail. It’s a tight-knit group. All of those things bode well for success.

“That’s probably the No. 1 thing that we’ve seen so far, the attitude’s terrific.”
For Sun Valley to succeed this season, specifically in the Ches-Mont American, it will start defensively.

Charlie Wendling, a sophomore, has had a strong camp after moving to inside linebacker. Gionta likes his size and his instincts. Ruggiero will control the defensive line. Standout senior kicker Tyler Smith can help win field position battles.

Offensively, junior running back Quentin West figures to get a bulk of the carries. Of course, more responsibility and pressure will be put on Boccella, who’s now in his second year under center.

“Last year, being a young guy, not having as much experience, it was a lot harder for me,” Boccella said. “We can improve on the little things.”

Gionta figures everything will eventually come together offensively, it just might take a little time getting there, is all.

“I think offensively we’ll be OK, it’s just going to take a while to (get) everything to gel,” Gionta said. “It’s going to be a process. We’re more concerned about the process than the results.”

A veteran coach and Delaware County Hall of Famer, Gionta knows not to panic if the scrimmage results are up-and-down. He knows the nonleague schedule is there for a reason.

There’s a long time between now and the league opener Sept. 25 against Oxford.

“I think that all teams are like that, but we’re young,” Gionta said. “We do have kids that played before, I don’t think it’s going to be a real slow process, but it’s going to take some time.”

The players are echoing the same tune. A more-confident Boccella sees the team coming together. Ruggiero sees his teammates picking up “the little stuff.”

Those types of things can definitely make the difference at the end of the season. Ruggiero hopes that come November, come playoff time, Sun Valley will be making noise.

“There’s a lot of talent on this team,” Ruggiero said. “Sooner or later, it’ll all come together.”

If that happens by the time the fall hits, Sun Valley could break its eight-year playoff drought. But it won’t be easy. And naturally, it’s not something Gionta is particularly concerned about right now.

“I don’t know anything about the other teams,” Gionta said. “I know historically (West Chester) Rustin and Unionville are pretty good. It’s a good league, our division’s a good league. So we’ll see, depends how it falls and how much better we can get as it goes along.”

Coincidentally, the Vanguards close the league schedule with those two teams. For Gionta, those games might as well be in 2025.

He’s focused on one game and one game only — Friday’s opener against Pottstown.

“Our goal is to just improve every game,” Gionta said. “We’d love to win more than we won last year, but more important is that we see the progress as we go along.”

This story appears in the Delco Times Football Preview, available on newsstands Friday.

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