Al Wolski, busy this week getting his State College high team ready to play La Salle on Saturday night at HersheyPark Stadium for the PIAA Class AAAA state football championship, is a well-traveled coach whose roots are in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Wolski grew up in Phoenixville. He graduated from Phoenixville High, where he played on the offensive line for the Phantoms, and then played the same position at West Chester University, graduating in 1972 with a degree in education.
"I come back to the area now and again for family functions and reunions," Wolski said. "My brother [Ray] lives in Phoenixville."
Wolski is in his sixth season as the head coach at State College high school in Centre County, Pa. Before that, he was the boss at Reading High for nine years. Other head-coaching stops came at Troy, a PIAA Class AA school located about an hour north of Williamsport, and Deerfield Beach (Fla.).
"In Florida, there's speed all over the place," he said. "But the kids up here are great to coach and football is important to the community."
Wolski has compiled a 58-19 record at State College. At Reading, he won three Lancaster-Lebanon League titles.
Following college, Wolski was a graduate assistant for two years at Penn State, spent one year at Troy High, and then was an assistant coach at Ithaca College, under Jim Butterfield. Wolski was there when the Bombers won their first Division III national championship in 1979.
"I've been fortunate to play for and coach with a lot of great people," Wolski said. "In my career, I've sprinkled in a little bit from each of the coaches I've been around."
State College's Alex Kenney, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior slotback and cornerback, has orally committed to neighboring Penn State. He is expected to play receiver for the Nittany Lions.
For the run-oriented Little Lions, the quick-footed Kenney, also a dangerous kick returner, has carried 146 times for 1,153 yards (an average of 7.9 yards per carry) and 20 touchdowns. He has caught 24 passes for 388 yards and four scores.
"He's really grown as a player since he's been here," Wolski said. "He runs with more self-confidence and plays defense with more self-confidence. He's gotten better each year."
This is State College's first appearance in the state final, but the District 6 champion has advanced to at least the state quarterfinals in three of the last four seasons.
Last year, the Little Lions bowed to eventual runner-up Bethel Park, 17-14, in the quarterfinals. In 2006, they reached the semifinals before falling to eventual champion Upper St. Clair, 28-20.
"We've been knocking at the door, but never got this far before," Wolski said. "This is really nice for our kids. This team is a group of guys that continued what they started last year."
For most of this season, State College has rotated senior quarterbacks Dom Mills and Matt Mazzara.
However, in last week's 35-13 semifinal victory over District 3 champion Cumberland Valley, Mills (41 for 69 passing for 594 yards and 5 TDs) played while Mazzara (36 for 59 for 373 yards and 3 TDs) rested with an injury. Wolski - not wanting to reveal the specific nature of the injury - described it as an "arm or shoulder."
The 6-3, 235-pound Mills, the better passer of the two, was the Week 1 starter but suffered a foot injury and was replaced by the 6-foot, 195-pound Mazzara while sidelined for three weeks. From there, Wolski began rotating the two.
And the coach's plan for Saturday night?
"It could be both," he said. "They're both healthy and ready to play. We'll see how things go in the days leading up to the game."
In addition to Kenney, the Little Lions, with a spread-option offense, make use of three other ballcarriers: speedy tailback Bryan Schmidt (46 carries for 290 yards and 3 TDs), fullback Jamal Albro (70 for 346 and 1), and H-back Colby Way (64 for 325 and 4).
Said Wolski: "We've got more than one weapon. We've got other guys who can make a play."
The top receivers are Kenney, Schmidt (13 catches for 53 yards), Way (22 for 252 yards), and 6-2, 180-pound wideout Ben Sallade (13 for 232).