LOWER BURRELL, Pa. - Noah Cornuet had a legitimate chance to start on the offensive line for Burrell this season, but the well-liked sophomore never got that chance.
Cornuet collapsed during a heat-acclimation workout earlier this month and died from a rare heart tumor.
(This article was written by Bill Beckner Jr., the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch.)
Cornuet's tragic story has cast a humbling shadow over opening night, giving longtime rivals Valley and Burrell perspective and purpose as they get set to meet for the 35th straight time Friday night at Valley Memorial Stadium.
Football will happen as usual, but not before Cornuet is fondly remembered.
“We have a very unique group this year,” Burrell coach Kevin Horwatt said. “We're a very young team. We don't want to be rah-rah (for Cornuet). We want the kids to do what comes natural. They can be natural leaders. We want the kids to take it and go with it versus the coaches constantly bringing it up. It's all part of the healing process.”
Burrell went to training camp with just 31 players. It pushed on for 32.
“We're small in numbers but big in heart,” Horwatt said.
Valley has discussed ways to honor Cornuet as part of the pregame events.
New Valley coach Muzzy Colosimo, aware of the heightened nature of Burrell-Valley, took 25 of his players to the funeral home to see Cornuet. The team offered a gift of wind chimes and their condolences, a family member telling Colosimo, “I hate Valley, but I hope you win every game except when you play us.”
“Football is nothing compared to that,” Colosimo said. “With any football game, you win or you lose, and you're either happy or sad. But the next day it changes. With Burrell's situation and what they've been through, that doesn't change.”
Colosimo hasn't led a team through the paper sign-busting emotion of an opening night since 2011, when he was at Greensburg Central Catholic.
Colosimo was an assistant at Valley in 1994. He knows about the rivalry's tradition.
“All I know is that last time I coached against Burrell we lost,” he said. “We had that same type of rivalry with Jeannette. You want to win for bragging rights. But it's a rivalry: It happens on the field and stays on the field.”
Colosimo went 143-46 in 17 seasons at Greensburg C.C. and led the 2009 team to a WPIAL Class AA title. He has big plans for Valley, albeit over time.
“The goal isn't just to beat Burrell,” Colosimo said. “It's to beat Aliquippa. You have to set goals. It's the only way you get better.”
Valley broke a four-game losing streak in the series last season with a convincing 26-0 victory in New Kensington. Valley leads the Battle of the Bypass series 20-14, and the shutout was their first against Burrell since 2006.
“It's always exciting to open with Valley,” Horwatt said. “It sets the tone for the rest of the season. You see a lot of character in that game. You can build off it and shape things off of it.”
Burrell should have a strong running game with senior Ryan Sowol but is generally inexperienced across the board.
Valley has talent at the skill positions, particularly with juniors D'Aundre Johnson and Tyson Hill returning.
Junior Eugene Bailey and senior Nick Marzullo also are viable targets for new quarterback Philip Petit.
Those players also could see time in the backfield as Valley tries to replace all-conference running back Demetrius Houser.
“I've never had four wideouts that good,” Colosimo said.
Tight end Vinny Dicarolis and Logan Ludwiczak, a potential center or guard, are key senior leaders on the lines.
Valley will run a 3-4 defense.
“You always love to play at home, but my first start (as a Burrell quarterback) was at Valley,” Horwatt said. “It's a hostile crowd but a great atmosphere. You don't get to enjoy it until Friday night when the lights come on.”
Horwatt never has met Colosimo but knows about his success in Westmoreland County football.
“Being a young coach myself, I want to meet him,” Horwatt said. “It will be enjoyable to listen to stories from someone like him.”
(Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.)
- August 7, 2014 -- Coroner: Player who collapsed died of heart tumor
- August 7, 2014 -- Family, friends mourn death of Burrell HS football player