Lyco’s Talerico happy to be playing again after time away

With the play that was called late in Lycoming’s game against Delaware Valley, there was a good chance the football was going to be thrown to Corey Talerico. It’s just how the play happens to be designed against the defense the Warriors were seeing.

Only Talerico isn’t usually in that spot. It was a spot usually occupied by senior receiver Matt Atkinson. Atkinson, though, had been battling a nagging ankle injury for much of the game three weeks ago at David Person Field and was standing on the sideline for the finish of the most crucial drive for the Lycoming offense.

Talerico, a sophomore from Riverside High School, ran his route, streaking across the back line of the end zone. Quarterback Tyler Jenny then delivered a head-high pass into his hands. Talerico rolled out of the way of the converging safety, corralling what turned out to be the winning score in a 19-16 victory.

Those 60 minutes of football on that warm Saturday afternoon signaled Talerico’s emergence as just another threat in a dangerous Lycoming receiving corps. That play call signaled the coaching staff’s growing confidence in a player who hasn’t played football in two years.

Talerico has added depth to a receiving corps which already included proven standouts in Atkinson and John Sibel, as well as sophomore Ryan Umpleby who was poised for a breakout season. He’s added a little pressure to Atkinson and Umpleby who have climbed to the top of the depth chart because the emergence of Talerico in recent weeks has proven he’s more than capable of handling a starting role.

Following that Delaware Valley game, Lycoming head coach Mike Clark called Talerico “tough, athletic and a dangerous guy with the football in his hands.” And maybe more importantly for the Warriors’ offense, Clark said the receiving corps loses nothing when Talerico replaces either Atkinson or Umpleby for a few snaps.

“He’s super talented, so no, we’re not surprised what we’ve gotten from him,” Clark said earlier this week. “At this point, we’re really pleased. We’ve gotten about what we’ve expected, honestly. I think if need be, he could have the kind of games Matt Atkinson is having. Corey’s maybe a little faster than Matt, and maybe a little more elusive. But I’m glad they’re both on our team.”

Talerico is the brother of former Lycoming cornerback Matt Talerico, who is currently working as a student assistant coach for the Warriors. He’s played in all six games for the Warriors, catching seven passes for 78 yards and the crucial touchdown – the first of his career – against Delaware Valley.

He’s only in recent weeks begun to flash the talent which made him the Class A Player of the Year in Pennsylvania after he guided Riverside to the PIAA Class A state championship game in 2010. He had three receptions in that Delaware Valley game, including a crucial third-down catch on the same drive in which he caught the winning touchdown.

Playing receiver is something Talerico always knew was likely in his future, even after throwing for 1,700 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior in high school. A few schools had approached him about playing quarterback, but he eventually accepted a scholarship to play receiver at West Chester.

He was essentially was an athlete playing quarterback his senior year, though. He had been an all-state wide receiver as a sophomore and ran for more than 1,000 yards as a junior running back. Everything culminated though in his senior year when he accounted for nearly 3,000 yards of offense and 43 touchdowns.

“I never felt comfortable (at quarterback),” Talerico said. “I felt more comfortable with it in high school because I was an athlete and you can do some different things. You can run and make bad decisions. I felt like I was more of an athlete and I know I can catch the ball and I feel good with it in my hands. So I felt real comfortable at receiver.”

But Talerico never took the field at West Chester. Academically he fell behind and he knew he needed to make a change. He transferred to Lackawanna College, where he spent two years getting his grades back to a point to where he felt comfortable trying to balance the life of a college student and a college athlete.

He would spend his Saturdays traveling to watch his brother play on some of the best defensive teams in recent memory at Lycoming. He missed the game dearly, but knew he wasn’t quite ready to take on the challenge yet again.

“(Not playing football) was a feeling I can’t explain. It’s like losing a loved one, in a sense,” Talerico said. “When you’re around football your whole life and you’re not playing, knowing that you could be playing, it kind of hurts down deep. But I knew I had to focus on my grades first.”

After a couple seasons of saying “next semester I’m playing football again,” Talerico finally got to the point where he felt he could handle the rigors of a college athlete’s lifestyle. He had narrowed his choices to Lycoming and Wilkes, but fell in love with the atmosphere at Lycoming. He appreciated the coaches’ emphasis on academics.

And he found football to be fun again. It was a job-like atmosphere in his time at West Chester. He had stayed in shape even while he wasn’t playing football, knowing eventually he’d come back to the game he loved so much.

Clark, through West Chester head coach Bill Zwaan, was very aware of the situation Talerico as he left the Golden Rams and looked to improved academically. There were some hurdles preventing Talerico from transferring away from West Chester and playing football right away, which he took care of by spending some time at Lackawanna College.

“A lot of kids either give up or quit. It would have been simple to do that,” Clark said. “But his parents are really good people and education is very important to them. We stress that school is important and they need to be here and they need to go to class. His family knows that we’re going to do our best to not only make Corey a great football player, but to graduate, which is the ultimate goal.

“Of course, we won’t mind if he continues to score some touchdowns along the way.”

And Talerico is well on his way to scoring more touchdowns and catching more passes. He’s getting far more comfortable in the offense as he begins to understand it better and better. The Delaware Valley game just happened to be the coming-out party for Talerico.

Clark called the first few weeks of the season a period of knocking off the rust from not playing for a couple years. The fact that the coaching staff was willing to call plays in crucial situations against Delaware Valley shows their confidence in his abilities. In turn, Talerico’s confidence is growing exponentially, leading to one of the most dangerous corps of receivers in the MAC.

“When your coaches are behind you 100 percent, you really feel like you can do anything out there,” Talerico said. “It’s just a great feeling to have that support.”

“Kids need different motivations. While most of our guys aren’t going to be professional football players, if being on our team and being part of a winning program is important enough to make sure they’re going to class and earning their degree, then that’s awesome,” Clark said. “This isn’t for everybody. It’s hard, but we’ll take kids like (Talerico) all day.”