With a veteran line returning, Old Forge running back Brandon Yescavage knew expectations were going to be high for the Blue Devils.
But he entered his senior season as a rookie starter and understood what was ahead of him in trying to replace record-setting back Brian Tomasetti.
“I knew I had to train hard,” Yescavage said. “I went to a football camp in Oklahoma. What I picked up there was that if I didn’t work hard, I wouldn’t get anywhere.”
Yescavage matched his linemen’s intensity in the weight room in the offseason, and prepared like his team’s success depended on his play as Old Forge’s featured back.
After gaining more than 2,600 yards rushing and scoring 46 touchdowns to lead the Blue Devils to the state Class A championship game, Yescavage was picked as co-player of the year and earned a berth on the Class A all-state team as selected by the Pennsylvania Football Writers.
He was one of seven Old Forge seniors chosen for the team as offensive linemen Ryan Paulish and Paul Papi, linebackers Shane Schuback and Jorden Sekol, defensive lineman Joey Bruno and defensive back Jake Manetti also were rewarded with all-state honors.
“I believe all our players deserved to be on the all-state team but you can’t have everybody picked,” Yescavage said. “After all the hard work we did during double sessions, and to get all the way to the state championship game …”
Paulish and Papi were among those great linemen who Yescavage said made his job as a first-year starter so much easier. Paulish, who verbally committed to Colgate earlier this week, prepared for a run at the all-state team while Papi was caught a little off guard when he learned of the honor.
“I’ve put in a lot of hard work, and knew it was expected of me,” Paulish said of making the all-state team. “Since I was a sophomore, I’ve been the anchor of the line, and I wanted to keep progressing. This [the all-state team] was the final individual honor I could achieve, so it meant a lot to me.”
“I was surprised, I didn’t expect to make it,” Papi said. “I looked at the other linemen and I’m undersized [at 6 foot, 228 pounds, he was the only offensive lineman under 6-2 and 250 pounds]. But we definitely earned this by the work we put in this year.”
Schuback, who was also picked for the PFA all-state team a year ago, felt the pressure to have another stellar season because of that honor a year ago.
“I knew I had to step it up to get there [the all-state team] again,” said Schuback, son of Blue Devils head coach Mike Schuback.
Making that happen again was a little tougher because teams generally tried to run away from Schuback, according to Shane.
But the solid play of Sekol made it tough for teams that chose to stay away from Shane Schuback, and the result was Old Forge getting a second linebacker picked as an all-state player. Sekol joined Schuback to give Old Forge perhaps the best 1-2 punch at linebacker in the state.
“With me being all-state last year, he took on the role of shedding one blocker, then going to make the tackle,” Shane Schuback said. “We all knew he worked hard at getting better.”
Bruno, who also started on the offensive line, caused problems for opposing teams in his first full year starting on defense, where he played both end and tackle.
“He did a great job, being the big body up front,” Shane Schuback said of Bruno, adding that Bruno was able to tie up offensive linemen long enough to enable Sekol and Schuback to have a clearer shot at making tackles.
Manetti, a three-year starter like Old Forge’s other all-state players aside from Yescavage, patrolled the secondary for the Blue Devils well enough to pick off eight passes. He wasn’t shocked by all the all-state recognition for Old Forge.
“If you told me at the beginning of the year, I’d say I would be surprised. But after the year we had, I wasn’t,” Manetti said. “I’ve never seen anything like we accomplished, with so many guys picked.”
The Blue Devils needed all of their honored players to get through the playoff gauntlet and reach the state final as Dunmore [two all-state players], Southern Columbia [three], Schuylkill Haven and Steelton-Highspire [one each] had their share of stars, as did North Catholic [three], which beat the Blue Devils, 15-14 in overtime, in the state final.
“I never counted them, but we had to beat a lot of good teams,” Manetti said.
And Old Forge was as impressive as any team in the state, based on the seven players who achieved all-state recognition.