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Annarella was consummate professional

It’s 9:32 a.m., and I’m speaking with Phil Annarella in the Austintown Fitch High School football locker room, adjacent to the Falcons playing surface.

It’s late July as the Fitch football coach spots a senior sneaking in the room, heading for his locker. It’s photo day, and if you knew coach Annarella, being tardy on this day was unacceptable, even if it was 2 minutes. The Fitch coach quickly excused himself and confronted the late-comer. Annarella told him he was a leader on this team, being later than the 9:30 deadline couldn’t be tolerated. Imagine that context being spoken in a harsh, stern, loud tone, echoing through the locker room.

On a Phil Annarella photo day, no matter if his team had 60, 70 or in excess of 80 players, you could count on being done in no less than an hour. Anything less was unacceptable.

I’m certain that young man learned a valuable lesson that day. Coach Annarella and John Popio from Robert Senn Studio worked in tandem like a quarterback finding a receiver through double coverage. Each knew the other wanted to achieve a timely goal.

The late coach Annarella was the consummate professional, keeping his players focused on the task when the sweat of the mid-summer heat dripped from their brows. The same applied to his coaches. You were going to get things done and in an orderly fashion. That’s what he expected. That’s what was done.

Annarella made sure I always had the pictures I needed as well as the information. He would type out a roster of all of his players, his lettermen, coaching staff and any other pertinent information, making my job that much easier when compiling the annual high school football preview.

His players, they were his family. He protected and taught them more than the game of football in everything he said and did. Coach Annarella was a proud Falcon through and through.

Darrin Hall and Billy Price were two of his most successful players. Price was a first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, while Hall was recently signed by the Bengals off waivers. The happiness that exuded through Annarella was evident as he spoke not only about these two, but all of his players.

They were his Fitch family, ones who bled the blue and red each two-a-day practice, with every repetition in the weight room and on the field Friday nights in the fall. His players had purpose. Their lives had meaning, not only on the field but in the classroom.

Annarella was quick to tell you about his players who were true scholar-athletes, settling for nothing less than As in their schoolwork. It’s what the veteran coach expected, just as much as committing the team’s playbook to memory. Expectations were always high at Austintown Fitch.

A couple of weeks from now, coach Annarella would have called me or left a message about his team’s photo day.

This year, my phone will be silent, and that consummate professional will be missed.

jvargo@tribtoday.com

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