WEST PITTSTON — Many hours were spent on the same grass, sweating through practices under a blazing sun all for 48 minutes of football on Friday nights on the manicured field nearby.
Time has moved on for former Wyoming Area standouts Nick Bartoli and Nick O’Brien. But Friday morning brought both of them back to their high school days.
Bartoli and O’Brien — both of whom now play at the Division I level — returned to their alma mater to help out in the Warrior Pride Camp, an event for current Warriors and future ones who will carry the program into the next decade.
“It’s great to get back to a place that’s given me a lot,” said Bartoli, who will be entering his third season as a starting guard at Sacred Heart University. “This place taught me everything and prepared me for what I was going up to. It’s good to come back and give back anything I can.”
O’Brien, who left Wyoming Area as the school’s all-time leading rusher, agreed.
“I miss it,” said O’Brien, who broke into the Bucknell University starting lineup as a freshman at cornerback. “I had a great time. We had great teams, great players, great coaches. When I come back, it’s not odd at all. I love being back here.”
The two Division I players were supposed to be joined at the camp by a third Wyoming Area alum, Connecticut starting defensive tackle Julian Campenni. Campenni, though, had some prior commitments at UConn and couldn’t attend.
That, Bartoli said, is just the way life goes at the Division I level. Leisure time isn’t in abundance.
“Time management,” Bartoli said. “You have workouts in the morning and class, obviously. Then you have meetings at night and class in the afternoon. So it’s constantly something.”
O’Brien will carry an extra burden into his sophomore season at Bucknell. He tore his left Achilles tendon in the spring. A thin vertical scar marks the location of the surgery. While Bartoli eagerly conduct drills, and even participated at times, O’Brien was reduced to a spectator.
“It was the first day of spring ball,” O’Brien said. “I expect to be back some time during the season, hopefully for the start. But I can’t rush it. I have to let it heal. If I can play, I can play.”
O’Brien showed he could play as a freshman at Wyoming Area. By the time he was done, the running back/quarterback was in the Warriors’ record books with 5,175 rushing yards and 82 touchdowns.
Circumstances changed his freshman season at Bucknell. O’Brien was moved to defense and his days of electrifying runs — something he really misses — ended. So did his playing time, although he returned kicks for the Bison and eventually started the final six games at cornerback.
“The first few games, it was weird standing on the sidelines because I never did it before,” said O’Brien, who will be easier to locate on the field as he has switched from No. 21 to No. 8, the number he wore in high school. “I got a few reps here and there.
“Then the Holy Cross game was the first game I played nearly the entire game. I played 50 snaps I think. We ran four corners on the field and ran man (coverage) the entire time. That was my first break.”
Unfortunately, O’Brien’s injury will likely make a head-to-head matchup with former teammate Bartoli unlikely. Bucknell travels to Sacred Heart for a Sept. 20 game.
Bartoli had a different set of hurdles to clear his freshman year at Sacred Heart, which is located in Fairfield, Connecticut. The program hadn’t posted a winning season since 2008 and had a new coach in Mark Nofri. Bartoli broke into the starting lineup as a freshman, but the team finished 2-9.
Things changed this past season as the Pioneers finished 10-3, their most wins since going 11-0 in 2001. Bartoli has changed as well. Although listed at 285 pounds by Sacred Heart, he said he weighs 275. That’s 10 pounds lighter than high school, but it’s obvious a college weight-training program has changed his physique.
“It’s amazing, unreal,” Bartoli said. “It’s a great experience. I love it.”
Sounds like those days back at Wyoming Area where he credits the coaching staff and faculty for preparing him for college.
“It’s great memories, thinking about all the games I played and plays that were made on the field,” Bartoli said.
Whether another Division I player comes through the Wyoming area pipeline — be it someone already in the program or one of those little kids running through drills Friday — remains to be seen.
“We’re very proud we had those type of kids come through our program,” Wyoming Area coach Randy Spencer said, “to get to the next level, establish themselves and do a great job representing us.”