Charley Rossi doesn’t play tennis, but the South Fayette High School senior is using that sport’s equipment to help him make a racket on the football field this fall.
Because of the coronavirus crisis sweeping the country, Rossi, like most of his teammates and opponents, have been confined by Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home orders and the PIAA’s restrictions to not allow formal workouts by scholastic athletes until at least July 1. Hence, Rossi has resorted to some homespun training methods.
For example, there is the tennis drill. While balancing himself on an exercise balance saucer, Rossi catches balls shot from an apparatus much like a pitching machine.
“It’s to improve hand/eye coordination,” Rossi said.
The machine is usually housed at the school, but because his father, Joe, is the football coach as well as an educator in the school district, he brought it home where it sits in the garage. Rossi said he has used it every day and while his workouts vary, he estimated his minutes have increased exponentially because he has “so much free time” to train now that he’s not in school.
Though he is communicating with his teachers via email and taking online instruction to maintain his 3.9 GPA and prepare for SATs, Rossi said he spends a good portion of his day getting ready for what he hopes will be the 2020 high school football season. It’s a critical year regarding his college prospects.
Rossi has received interest from Ivy League schools such as Princeton, Yale and Cornell. Lehigh, Bucknell, Fordham and Albany are on the list of his potential collegiate landing spots, too. He also has offers from Division III schools such as Grove City and Case Western. Rossi plans to major in economics and finance.
“Thought about medical, but decided it was not for me, so business,” Rossi said of his potential major, “because I’d like to make money.”
Rossi said majoring in education could be an option so he could stay close to football and potentially coach like his father some day.
“It’s in the back of my mind,” he said.
At the forefront, however, is chasing championships.
Rossi led the Lions to an eighth-straight undefeated conference title, an 11-2 overall record and an appearance in the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals in 2019. As a sophomore, he had the game-winning touchdown reception in South Fayette’s 31-24 win against Thomas Jefferson in the 2018 WPIAL championship game at Heinz Field.
An all-conference wide receiver, Rossi had 53 receptions for 816 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019. He also made 48 tackles with four interceptions from South Fayette’s defensive backfield.
Rossi is doing plenty of running. He had that already factored into his plans as he would have competed in track this spring. He looked to lower his 40-yard dash speed to 4.5 by racing in the 100-, 200- and 400-yard dashes as well as relays.
“That would have been beneficial to me,” he said.
Alas, the PIAA canceled spring sports. However, Rossi does speed work with his girlfriend.
South Fayette’s Amy Allen finished third in the WPIAL in the 300-meter hurdles and 10th in the PIAA in the 4-by-100 relay as a sophomore last year. During this winter’s indoor season, Allen finished first in the 200 and 400 dashes and 60-meter hurdles.
In addition to his sprint workouts, Rossi does endurance running around the steep hills near his home.
“Since we have no access to weight rooms and the track at the school, it’s hard,” Rossi said. “So I’m doing all sorts of things to maintain agility and quickness.”
Rossi lunges up hills, utilizes resistance bands and belts in his speed training and performs change-direction drills to replicate the short movements he is required to make on the field. While Rossi owns a set of weights with a few dumbbells, he sometimes fills jugs of water for lifting.
“There are ways to improvise,” he said. “Kids are getting creative everywhere so there is no reason to make excuses or drop off with workouts. We are all in the same situation. So we have to focus on the positive.”
Once a week, Rossi said he “safely” works out with Lions quarterback Naman Alemada, who threw for 3,004 yards and 34 touchdowns last fall.
“We take precautions,” he said. “We use Clorox wipes and wash the gloves. We always wear those.”
Unfortunately for Rossi and his teammates, the pandemic has prevented South Fayette from participating in normal off-season workouts and 7-on-7 competitions with his teammates. Rossi noted that though the players and coaches conduct meetings online, it is not the same thing.
“It is hard not being a team. Not seeing the guys every day in the locker room. Playing ping pong and just laughing,” he said. “It’s great seeing each other’s faces, but what has made us successful is our camaraderie. We are family within those walls.”
Rossi said that camaraderie will “not fade away” once training camp opens.
“We are so regimented,” Rossi said. “We know what it takes to be a good team.
“Western Pennsylvania football is so important around here and everybody takes is seriously. We are the same. We continue to strive to get better. Sure, we are all facing difficulties, but there are things we can focus on to get better. For us, I think the thing is to say in shape and for the team to win. We mostly want to win. Really, right now, there is nothing else to focus on.”