Former Penn State standout pumps new life into central Pa. high school football program
When seniors Tyler Rossi and Jacob Shull take their final snaps in a Trinity uniform this season, they want to be remembered for helping bring back competitive football to the Shamrock program.
"Bring back" are the key words.
Rossi, who arrived at Trinity as a sophomore, and Shull, who is one of two four-year varsity players on the team, have fully experienced the recent highs and lows of Trinity football.
First came the lows ... a 1-9 2018 season, a 5-5 2019 campaign and during the pandemic-altered 2020 season, a spiraling 0-7 record for a program that hasn't finished above .500 since 2012.
This fall, it's been a different story.
"Instead of just molding us to what the coaches want," Shull said, "coach allows us to be ourselves and then uses that to build a better cohesive unit than we've had in past years."
"Coach" is first-year head coach Jordan Hill who, along with his staff, has aimed to provide a wave of culture the Trinity program has been searching for over the last decade.
Rossi and Shull say they knew the Shamrocks had the talent, the determination, the grit. They just needed that extra kick, that final boost, that hint of guidance.
" Coach Hill, he's brought in so many guys. It's just the character of who he brought in, and they all help us be better people," Rossi said. "It's just a different intensity around here. Even when we lose, there's never a day off, the intensity is there. We don't look back."
Shamrocks buy in: Hill realized bringing in a new playbook, staff and schemes wouldn't come without hiccups in the beginning. He experienced that type of change in his college career at Penn State University, where he played under three different head coaches ( Joe Paterno, Tom Bradley and Bill O'Brien), and during his five-year NFL career, which included stops with four separate franchises.
But from the start of camp, Hill said he has taken notice of his team's growth.
It's clear to him that the Shamrocks have bought in.
"Getting here and having a good week of practice, just getting back to work, seeing positive reinforcement, having positive plays," said Hill, who was a standout high school player at nearby Steel-High, "and that's been the biggest thing for us, and good things do happen. We continue to keep working, and that's what we're gonna keep doing."
With a 3-3 record, Trinity captured commanding wins over Delone Catholic in Week 1 (34-14), Halifax in Week 4 (70-0) and Newport in Week 5 (42-7). The Shamrocks dropped a 22-14 loss to Upper Dauphin in Week 3, and the team took its only step backward on the road against Boiling Springs in a 43-7 decision Week 6.
Pieces come into place: Hosting reigning Class A state champion and Hill's alma mater, Steelton-Highspire Friday, Trinity fought until the end in an eventual 34-28 loss.
It's a game where the players and coaches felt all the pieces of the puzzle came into place.
"We knew no one gave us a shot going into that game," Rossi said. "They don't going into a lot of games, and we're not going to be that team like we have been the past two years. We're there to stay. We're there to fight. We're not leaving. We're gonna hit you in your mouth and hopefully come out with a win. We didn't on Friday, but we're not gonna stop, and we'll get it done."
Hill noted the effort his team brought Friday as well. Rossi and Shull have provided the Shamrocks with energy and serve as the team's heartbeat on both sides of the ball, Hill said.
Prior to the start of the season, Hill said the senior duo, along with junior Max Schlager, who suffered a season-ending foot injury against Boiling Springs, gave him a group of players he knew he could challenge and turn to when needed most.
Rossi and Shull excel: From his running back position, Rossi has rushed for 683 yards and 10 touchdowns across 100 carries while also contributing four receptions for 156 yards and a pair of scores. Shull has notched 29 tackles (seven solo) on defense, including 2.5 for loss, with one interception in his five games of action.
"Jacob Shull, arguably our best defensive player and best linebacker for sure," Hill said. "Just his leadership and understanding football brings a lot to the table and has meant a lot to us.
"And then Rossi," Hill continued, "you know, he's a kid that wasn't sure of his situation, rolling into his senior year. And then he's gets a new coaching staff, not understanding what the offense is going to do, what we want to do, is it going to help him, and each and every week he has proven, you know, 'Hey, I need the ball. I don't want the ball. I need it.'"
Up next: Welcoming Big Spring to COBO Field for a Mid-Penn Capital clash Friday, the Shamrocks sit at No. 4 in the District 3 Class 2-A power rankings. Four schools from 2-A earn district playoff berths.
The Bulldogs, also coming off a loss of their own (a 44-28 setback to Boiling Springs) also find themselves on the district playoff bubble in Class 4-A.
Trinity aims to feed off the momentum from its game against the Rollers, entering Friday's bout.
"It meant a lot," Shull said of going toe-to-toe with the Rollers. "You know, a lot of our coaches are from Steelton, a lot of guys in this program come from Steelton, so we were hyped all week to play it. And to be honest, no one really gave us a shot, but I think we went out there and played as best as we could."
Setting the foundation: Win or lose Friday, and moving forward, Rossi, Shull and Hill, along with the rest of the team, have set the foundation and laid the groundwork for success in the Trinity program for years to come.
Along with Rossi and Shull, Hill said he's proud of the fight his team has built within itself and how, each week and every practice, he's seen his players set a stronger tone of enterprise, focus and will.
They brought competitive football back to Trinity.
"The culture, definitely, in the past couple years has not been there, and that's what we needed," Rossi said. "We've always had the players and the talent. I mean, our team, we're not much different than we have been in the past two years. We just needed someone to step in and fill the role like Coach Hill and what all the other coaches have been doing — just show us what football really is about and what leadership's about.
"They've really done that."