AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Austintown Fitch football team has not had a losing season on the field since 2007. But this summer, the Falcons will need to overcome their biggest loss of all, with the sudden passing of head coach Phil Annarella back in June.
“Me and him always walked out. I always asked him, it’s a beautiful day for football. He said every day is a beautiful day for football. So, I kinda lost a friend,” recalled senior defensive end Christian Armstrong.
“We all know Coach Annarella would want us to keep pushing. So we just know that we always hear his voice,” said junior quarterback Nathan Leskovac.
“There’s just situations that you think he’s here, and that there’s parts where he’s gonna talk. But, he’s just not here. But, he’s here with us in spirit,” said Falcons defensive end Thomas Rader.
Annarella’s locker is now completely sealed in glass, left untouched from his last visit to the coaches’ locker room.
“His name is up there and so, it’s kinda a special place,” said interim head coach Jon Elliot. “So that when we walk into that locker room every day, we see his locker and where he was, and everybody kinda feels it in their hearts that they want to go out and do something special.”
Veteran assistant Elliot is charged with carrying on Annarella’s legacy of success. Elliot brings 32 years of coaching experience to what will be the toughest test in his coaching career, replacing a life-long friend and mentor.
“It’s not that difficult to me. It’s just making sure that everything continues on like he would want it. I’ve known him for a long time and been with him for a long time,” Elliot said.
The Falcons have dedicated all of their efforts this season to Annarella’s memory.
“This season is to go out and win as many games as possible. Go out and perform to our best, with Coach Annarella in our hearts. We know he’s gonna be there with us and we just want to do our best for him,” Rader said.
Austintown Fitch will kick off the season Friday, Aug. 30 on the road at Erie.