By Todd Hummel
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG — As the 2013 high school football season starts, one of the more underrated performers of the 2012 season steps to the forefront.
Daily Item Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year Brandon Smith rightfully took a lot of the spotlight for the Lewisburg Green Dragons football team that finished 8-3 last year in Jeremy Winn’s first season.
But it’s a decision Winn made before last season that should help Lewisburg remain among the top Class AA teams in District 4 with Smith and three-fifth of its starting offensive line graduating.
Nick Costagliola quietly put together a pretty impressive debut season for the Green Dragons, completing 54 percent of his passes for 1,347 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Maybe the most important statistic that Costagliola put up last season was his number of interceptions in 11 games — 4.
“We didn’t ask him to do too much early. We tried to make the formations and things complicated for the defense, but we made the reads real simple for him,” Winn said. “As the season wore on, we put more and more on his shoulders, but I think the biggest thing was we didn’t put too much on him right away.”
It’s a number that Costagliola is quite proud of as well.
“Coach emphasized decision-making as soon as he got here,” Costagliola said. “I knew he coached (Blake) Rankin at Bloomsburg and (Danville’s) Andrew Shoop) the quarterback at Lafayette. I knew he could teach me stuff I hadn’t learned yet.”
Winn downplays how much he had to do with Rankin and Shoop’s success.
“I didn’t make Blake Rankin 6-foot-5 or hand Shoop a great arm,” Winn said. “They were both very gifted from before I had the opportunity to work with them.”
However, it’s those coaching experiences at Danville High and Bloomsburg High, along with a stint on the staff at Bloomsburg University that played a role in win in formulating exactly what he wanted to do with Costagliola to put him in a position to succeed.
“I think I’ve been fortunate to work with some really good kids. It wasn’t necessarily something we did,” Winn said. “We’ve just played to their strengths. I’ve worked with some great coaches that taught me a lot. I played fullback in college (and) I had to learn to coach quarterbacks.”
Costagliola started from the first game of the season, a trip to Towanda. A trip — despite a 20-10 victory — that didn’t go quite as planned for the Green Dragons and their young quarterback.
Costagliola struggled in the first half as Smith went down with an injury that caused him to miss most of the game.
“Last year, I went into (the Towanda game) with a lot of nerves,” Costagliola said.
“The first couple of series of that game were just so sloppy. We lost Brandon early in the game, there were fumbles, penalties and they lost their best player too,” Winn said.
However, that sloppiness and mistake-prone play the Green Dragons showed early in that contest was also one of the biggest learning experiences of Costagliola’s young career.
“That game showed me what my role (in the offense) was,” Costagliola said. “It really prepared me for the games ahead.”
Games like Montoursville during the regular season, where Lewisburg trailed 16-0 before rallying to win in the second half or the playoff game against the Warriors, an eventual 37-33 loss, that Costagliola helped engineer a comeback from a 14-0 deficit.
Now as the 2013 season is just hours from beginning — the Green Dragons host Towanda at 7 p.m. Friday at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium — one would think Costagliola would be a bit nervous becoming the focal point of the offense.
And one would be wrong.
“There is definitely not as much nerves going into the first game (this year), Costagliola said. “There isn’t as much pressure with a year under my belt.”
Winn isn’t surprised at Costagliola’s comfort level entering the season.
“He’s got a laid-back attitude that’s good for him. It drives you up a wall sometimes, but he doesn’t get too worked up about anything,” Winn said. “I think it also comes down to us being a predominantly running team. He doesn’t have to go into a game thinking he has to throw the ball 35 times for us to win. Our running game takes a bit of that pressure away.”
But wait. Don’t the Green Dragons have to replace 1,461 yards that Smith gained on the ground last season?
“We are certainly going to miss Brandon, but I don’t think the drop-off is going to be as big as people think,” Costagliola said. “We still have some weapons.”
Winn also says to expect some wrinkles this year in Lewisburg’s Delaware Wing-T. Long-time Bloomsburg High offensive coordinator Dave Fortunato — the former head coach at Milton High — rejoins Winn on the Lewisburg staff this year.
“It’s Nick’s second-year in the wing-T. We added some things this year since he’s more comfortable,” Winn said. “Coach Fortunato joined us this year and added some of his touches. He’s going to call all of our protections this year is one of the things.”
Now for Winn and Costagliola it’s just matter of continuing to get better each week this season.
“Like last year, Nick needs to improve each week and learn from his mistakes,” Winn said. “We’ll have a successful season on offense if that continues.”