Oct. 14—A year ago, Robert Verba was just one of the guys on a Pymatuning Valley football team which went 8-1, including a win in the postseason tournament.
This season Verba is more like 'the guy' for the Lakers.
PV checks into Week 9 of the high school football season with a record of 5-2. They are currently in line to win a third consecutive Northeastern Athletic Conference title and make a second straight trip back to the postseason.
On Friday, the Lakers will host the Toronto Red Knights.
With several seniors from last year's Laker team having departed, Verba knew he'd be called upon to help replace the leaders from a year ago.
"I knew I was going to have to step up after everybody left a year ago," the senior said. "Coming into this season, we knew our goal was to win the NAC and get back to the playoffs, and it looks like we are going to do it."
So, what does Verba do for his team? The better question would be, what does he not do?
Offensively, he's the team's leading rusher at 578 yards. He's also complete a couple of passes, including one for a touchdown, and paces the squad with 12 receptions.
Defensively, Verba is third on the team in tackles with 33 and first in sacks with 4.5. He also has an interception to his credit. Verba also handles punting duties.
Being a multi-dimensional player is a role he has grown into and now embraces.
"At first it was a lot because I wasn't really in shape," Verba said. "But, as the season went on, I got used to my role and it's nice knowing, not that they need to rely on me, but that I'm one of the key athletes they look to win games.'
Lakers coach Neal Croston said Verba has done a nice job of transitioning to a leader on the team, on and off the field.
"Last year, you know he was just one of the guys I guess," Croston said. "He started on defense and rotated in on offense. This year he's one of the main guys. He's really stepped up and became a leader for us.
"He works hard, he gets in the weight room, and does extra things. He's done a good job, wherever we put him, he's had success. He's a big strong physical kid [6-foot-2, 235 pounds] and he'll just do whatever we need him to do to help the team."
Players like Verba, Devin Ray, Andrew Root and others were the reason PV was able to accomplish a year ago and not a one-year wonder. The culture has changed and the winning has continued.
"We always want to keep improving," Verba said. "Last year, we went undefeated in the regular season, of course, we can't do that this year, but we still want to prove that we're just as good if not better than last year. We also have a bunch of good freshmen and sophomores. Hopefully, they can keep it up when we're gone."
Croston believes that it well.
"Definitely," the coach said. "These seniors have been part of the last two conference championship teams and they know how the practices run and the hard work during the summer and all that. It's all kind of caught on and it's good when hard work pays off."
Coming away with a win Friday night may take some hard work as well.
The Red Knights, a Division VII program, have a 3-5 record. But Toronto has played four Division V schools. They've played only one Division VII team.
Croston said Toronto's size upfront will be the most difficult part to handle.
"Their line is just huge," the coach said. "They probably have at least five or six guys over 285 pounds. It's going to be a physical game, so we're going to have to find a way to move the ball on them and stop their run game."