Thursday March 21, 2013 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
St. Francis head coach Jerry Smith (far left) stands with six of his players who will move on to play football in college as they celebrate with their parents, who stand behind them, and friends during the high school’s gathering on March 19. They include, seated from left: John Sorgi, Brian Melisz, Jarrett Dolegala, Alex Misterman, Jordan Zakroczemski and Brendan Fitzpatrick.
While the 2012 season may not have turned out exactly as St. Francis had hoped, the Western New York football power continued to turn high school student-athletes into players at the college level.
Having to replace 19 starting spots from the year prior — 16 of which were occupied by eventual college-level athletes, St. Francis struggled to gel as a team for the better part of the 2012 season.
But because players did not give up or give in to a bleak situation, the Red Raiders won three straight games to somewhat salvage a season that started 0-8 and return to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the Monsignor Martin semifinals after having won the league title in 2011.
Although their season ended there to eventual league champion Canisius, St. Francis head coach Jerry Smith said his players ability to keep the faith and maintain their work ethic on the field and diligence with their school work off of it helped a number of these athletes appeal to schools and football teams at the next level.
A trio of St. Francis football players — Alex Misterman, Jarrett Dolegala and Jordan Zakroczemski, will land at Division II Mercyhurst, while Brian Melisz is Cortland-bound to play football, John Sorgi will do the same at John Carroll and Brendan Fitzpatrick will join Bethany College.
“I like to look around the Western New York area to compare and we have six guys here and another one deciding, and we were 3-8,” said Smith at St. Francis’ signing day festivities on Tuesday (March 19) inside the library at the private school in Athol Springs. “Look at other schools that were a lot better and they have two or one guy and some cases nobody going on to play in college.
“Here are six guys that have the opportunity to get a college education because of football,” he added. “When you sit there and say, ‘I want to play college football,’ this is the place to be. Every year, we wind up having guys with the talent and the grades to play in college.”
The experience of adjusting to college life and the game at the next level was made a little easier for the three Mercyhurst-bound student-athletes who will now embark on the new experience together.
Zakroczemski and Dolegala will be roommates, while Misterman was given the chance to play both football and lacrosse, a rarity at the Division II level. And with St. Francis graduate and Mercyhurst football player Ozzie Lumpkin ready to show them the ropes, the decision became a no-brainer for the three.
“I already have a few friends to look out for me, go to class with, sit in the cafeteria with, so you’re not alone,” said Misterman, a potential kick returner who will be given the opportunity at running back after he rushed for 1,586 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2012. On the lacrosse field, he should continue to play as a middie.
“The coaches here also seem to have mutual respect for each other,” he added. “They really seem close; they’re friends who hang out. What kind of got me was the opportunity to do two sports that I love the most.”
Even before his St. Francis teammates made the decision to also attend the college, Zakroczemski said he felt very much at home during a visit.
“When you went down there, you almost felt like you were meant to be there, like you were already part of the program,” said Zakroczemski, a linebacker who made 62 tackles last season, but also showed quite well as a physical blocking fullback, a need of Mercyhurst according to Smith. “It’s a great program and hopefully we can help them out.”
Dolegala, a three-year varsity contributor, learned a valuable lesson from the 2012 season not to take anything for granted or make assumptions about how a season may play out.
“Last year (in 2011), we had a great team; we thought we’d do well this year, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. But you have to continue to work hard no matter what,” said Dolegala, who may contribute as a hybrid halfback/tight end or as a linebacker where he led St. Francis last year with 90 tackles, 12 of which were for losses.
Melisz may have decided to play for a Division III college but he’ll get what feels like a higher level experience and all while taking on the fitness development/exercise science program he hoped to make his major. Melisz also considered Mercyhurst but felt like he would receive a better financial aid package at Cortland.
“Cortland made sense,” said Melisz, who for the better part of three seasons started at quarterback, where he hopes to compete for time as soon as he gets to the college. “And the stadium and facilities are awesome — even better than a lot of D-II and I-AA schools.”
John Sorgi considered Wagner and Staten Island but John Carroll seemed to make the most sense. There, the offensive lineman and defensive end will join 2012 St. Francis graduates John Denecke and Jeff Basty on the football team.
“Those two definitely had a big hand in me going there,” said Sorgi, who may get an opportunity right away to be the team’s long snapper. “The goal is to contribute as soon as possible.”
Fitzpatrick said that Bethany College of West Virginia offered a good fit, being a smaller school and one that is redoing its athletics facilities. He said the school’s new president has shown a vast interest in helping improve the athletics at the college, as well.
He’ll be more of a special teams player and may work in at safety, while majoring in international relations. Although he didn’t get a lot of playing time with St. Francis, Smith said Bethany liked the way Fitzpatick showed on film.
While they may not have won a championship or posted a memorable record, this group helped continue a tradition of St. Francis students advancing their education while enjoying some of the opportunities provided by football. Smith said they’re a fine example for the future leaders of the program.
“Your team’s a family so even if things don’t go as planned, everyone has to know you have each other’s back,” Misterman said. “You’ve always got to help each other out the best you can.”