Colin Gdula didn’t enjoy watching games from the sidelines.
That’s not something he was accustomed to during a standout playing career at Forest Hills High School, and Gdula didn’t like biding his time along the offensive line for St. Francis.
Rather than sulk, Gdula decided to do something about it. One day during the spring he approached head coach Chris Villarrial.
“He didn’t like sitting on the bench and, one day, he came to me and said, ‘Coach, I’m going to start this fall.’ As a coach, you love seeing that,” Villarrial said Wednesday in the midst of his team’s preparation for today’s game at Northeast Conference rival Duquesne.
Of course, coaches have heard that before.
This time, however, Gdula’s guarantee was different.
“The best thing is he did something about it,” Villarrial continued. “Over spring ball, he graded out the highest among the offensive linemen. He meant what he said. He’s a great kid, he cares and he comes to work every day.”
This season, Gdula’s workplace has been at right tackle for St. Francis (2-2, 1-0), which has already matched or bettered its win total in any of the previous four years.
The main reason for the strong start and program optimism is a rushing offense that ranks among the nation’s best.
And, Gdula, a 6-foot-4, 284-pound starter, has been a key cog in a Red Flash run game that ranks first in the NEC and sixth in the Football Championship Subdivision at 271.3 yards per game.
After being a seldom-used lineman his first couple years at St. Francis, Gdula has started every game this year, and he’s anxious to take some shots at Duquesne, which has long been one of the premier programs in the NEC.
“We’re having a blast,” Gdula said, one of three juniors starting along the offensive line. “For me, to be out there every day and helping the team, it’s what I always wanted. And, this year, we’re a completely different team. Everything about us is different. The locker room is different. We’re playing together. We’re as one.”
St. Francis, whose losses have come to No. 6 James Madison and No. 13 Towson, is hoping the total sum of its parts is enough against Duquesne (3-1, 1-0) in a rivalry that dates back 99 years. The Dukes hold a 32-6 series advantage. Kickoff for the Red Flash’s fourth road game in five weeks is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. at Arthur J. Rooney Athletic Field.
“We found out during those (losses to James Madison and Towson) that we did a lot of things well. There’s just been one or two things we have to work on,” said Gdula, who planned on attending Friday’s game between Forest Hills and Cambria Heights before the Red Flash board a bus this morning. “One thing we have to do is we’ve got to execute completely. We’ve got to finish. We have to finish every play.”
It’s that type of desire and team-first attitude that made Gdula stand out to Villarrial, who went from IUP to playing 11 years in the NFL between the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills as an offensive lineman.
“He’s a guy we rely on,” Villarrial said. “One reason our line has been successful is this is the second year together for this group. That’s a key component to building a successful offensive line.”
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