BROCKWAY — Tom Weaver’s unexpected decision to step away from the Brockway football program after two years following the season left the school district scrambling to find a new coach.
It didn’t take long to find their man, as the school has turned to a young, but familiar face, in Jake Heigel to take over the program. Heigel, a 2013 DuBois Central Catholic graduate who was a four-year starter on the offensive line for the Rovers through the school’s co-op, was officially hired as head coach at Thursday night’s school board meeting.
Heigel, who blocked for two of the best quarterbacks in program history in Derek Buganza (2009-10) and Alec Shaffer-Doan (2012), was a member of the 2010 District 9 Class AA championship squad coached by Frank Varischetti that went 12-1 and reached the state quarterfinals.
After high school, Heigel attended Clarion University where he was a three-year letterman who saw his share of starts up front for the Golden Eagles. He graduated from CUP in 2017 with a degree and moved to Harrisburg where he worked for Penn National Insurance in its home office as a commercial underwriter.
He moved back to the area this summer after taking a job as a Swift Kennedy & Co. as a Commercial Lines producer and immediately got involved with football again as the Rovers’ offensive line coach under Weaver this past season.
“Tom did a fantastic job for us,” said Brockway Athletic Director Peter Grecco. “Obviously, Tom resigning and going to be with his daughter and grand kids was definitely the right decision on Tom’s part.
“Jake offered a lot to the table last year after playing at Clarion University. He brought a lot of knowledge and dedication to the program and having played at the next level I think a lot of the kids respect him. For his young age, the dedication that Jake shows to the kids is unbelievable. He has had open gyms and open lifts (before getting the job) that he’s gotten a great turnout for. He’s been there and holding them accountable.
“The one thing that he said to me that stood out in interview was, ‘Those kids wouldn’t be there if I wasn’t there. So, I got to be there.’ That was one thing that stuck out to me that Jake impressed me with. So, I don’t think his age will be a factor at all. One thing I can say about Jake, he’s been there during our highs and also been a part of some of the lows in Brockway football. I think Jake playing at that next level will get the kids to buy into it. Kids can say, ‘Hey, Coach Heigel did it, so can I.’
“I’ve talked to him couple times this (past) week already, and he’s getting his staff together. I know he’s very excited and on behalf of the school district we’re very excited to have Jake. We think he’s going to show some longevity to the program and create a great program. I believe he will not only prepare our kids to win football games in District 9 but create a program where we’re developing kids to next level into Division II and III, and hopefully Division I. I think Jake will put Brockway football back to where we’re use to being.”
As for Heigel, he is excited for the opportunity to coach at the school were he played in high school even if it came a little earlier than he expected.
“It really just popped up,” said Weaver’s decision to resign. “When you have a disappointing season, everybody kind of self reflects. I think Tom was great coach and he really loved the kids and the game, When he left, it was definitely shocking.
“At the same time, it’s something I’ve always wanted do. So, when the opportunity presented itself, it was a no-brainer for me to put in. It definitely was a discussion I had with by fiancee before I did put in, but it was no-brainer.
“It’s always something I wanted to do, and with the athletes and coaches in my family, it really wasn’t if I was going to coach but when. I came on board last year after two years of being out of football, and I missed it so much. I kind of took to it right away, like riding a bike again. I took a couple years off, but Brockway is home to me. They excepted me (in high school) when I came from Central driving from DuBois every day. You could kind of see that bond was still there, and it was nice to pick up where it left off.
“I get that I’m young, but I’ve also been a part of losing programs and winning programs, and I’ve seen how to do it and get it done.”
Being a part of last year’s staff, Heigel understands the challenge he faces in trying to revive a program coming off a 3-7 season during which uncharacteristically low numbers hampered the team.
“It’s definitely a rebuilding process right now. That’s evident,” said Heigel. “We’re dropping down to the Small School League (next 2 years), and we should be down there right now, The numbers weren’t there last year, but it’s not like the numbers aren’t there in school. We just have to do a better job getting the athletes out.
“That was a concern, kids being frustrated with a season like that. I believe it was first time in 18 years or some crazy number like that, that Brockway didn’t make the playoffs. I had no idea if I was going to take over or not (after Weaver left), I was just concerned kids were going to leave immediately, so we opened the weight room and started that back in mid to late November.
“We’ve had open gyms where we just teaching new kids position and skills and the older kids can fine tune their talents. Those open gyms have been good in getting new faces there, and we hope to continue to do that.”
Being a DCC grad, Heigel also hopes that having a connection to the program from both sides of the co-op helps in rebuilding it.
“Central is definitely an untapped market,” said Heigel. “I look at the athletes they have over there, and being from there, I think it will be good that I’m familiar with the names at Central and hopefully get some of those guys out. I have a really great relationship with their athletic direct Phil Esposito. I played football with Phil from seventh grade through college.
“We were lucky to have the guys we did last year from Central and those guys were all contributors. But, there are athletes at Central that need to be playing football, and I’m going to bug them until they at least tell me to go away.”
While his hiring just took place, Heigel is already in the process of assembling his staff — one that will likely feature a lot of names familiar to fans of Brockway football.
“There are definitely some guys who were there this past year I’m gong to keep, and I told the board I really want a nice balance of teachers that know game and have played the game,” said Heigel. “The teachers just know the kids. There are experiences there that guys who aren’t in the school district just don’t have. For teachers to be there every day, I think it’s an important part of the staff.
“Luckily, at Brockway there is a bunch of those guys, and few of them I even played with, who are ready to jump on board. I haven’t really finalized anything yet because it’s kind of been a whirlwind of a week. But, I’m excited about guys that are on board, and when the names come out, they will be names most people recognize — especially in the Brockway area.”
Heigel also has his own personal experiences from the coaches he has played for to draw from.
“I started for four years in high school and was kind of lucky that Frank Varischetti saw something in me at a young age,” said Heigel. “He’s kind of been a mentor of mine, and I owe a lot to him to be honest.
“I can talk about the best coaches I’ve had, but the best coach I ever had is clearly my dad (George Heigel). He’s my dad, but I still call him coach. I mean, the things he’s done with the Central softball program. He really instilled in me what it takes to be a winner and what it takes to bring those life lessons from sports. I think football is one of the best life lesson sports there is.
“I can’t say enough about how much I like to emulate myself after him. Now, we’re very different people, don’t get me wrong, but the way he runs his team in an organized, efficient fashion is how I plan to run the Brockway football team.”