Heartbreak to Opportunity: Sheffield Players get New Life in Co-Op

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WARREN, Pa. – Ten days doesn’t often seem like a long period of time. For Sheffield football players, however, their entire world changed in just 10 days.

(Photo courtesy Warren Athletics Fund. Sheffield, now Warren, football players Danah Campbell, Jake Davidson, Matt Lobdell, Cooper Traister, Wyatt Lindsay and Collin Brown don their Warren football jerseys.)

The Wolverines learned Sept. 17 that the 2020 Sheffield football season would not continue. The news was devastating, especially for senior players like Jake Davidson.

“I was heartbroken,” Davidson said. “As a player, you don’t want that to happen to your program. I was really upset because it was my senior year and I thought I’d never be playing again.”

Within a week of that announcement, the Warren County School District Board of Directors called a special meeting to vote on a proposed one year co-op between Sheffield and Warren for football only. The proposal passed and was sent to the PIAA for approval.

“Board members Jeff Labesky and Arthur Stewart stepped up and showed great support,” Sheffield coach Chris Korbar said. “The school board decided to do what was right for our town, community, and most importantly our kids from the Sheffield Area.”

The PIAA skirted its usual two-year requirement for co-ops and made a special exception in this case. The decision then went to District 10 and District 9 for final approval, and passed, clearing the way for Sheffield players to join the Warren team.

“When the one year plan became a go, nine kids jumped at it,” Korbar said.

“Jumped” may be a bit of an exaggeration. Some of the players were hesitant, at first, to make the move.

“At first, I was thinking, ‘No,'” Danah Campbell said. “If there’s any chance of getting our team back, let’s just wait.”

“I didn’t want to go at all, at first,” Davidson added.

That this was a one-year deal helped push Campbell to participate.

“A one-year co-op gives me a chance to learn,” he said. “Warren has a good program and maybe I could be better than what I was at Sheffield. I get to learn new things. It’s a great opportunity.”

For Davidson, it was more about the finality of his senior season ending after one game that pushed him to join the co-op.

“This is my last chance (to play),” he said. “I need to take advantage of it.”

Davidson said Warren senior James Swanson was also instrumental in bringing him on board.

“James was a big, big part of it,” Davidson said. “He said he was really excited about (the co-op) and wanted me to come out.”

After having a brush with the possibility of a lost season due to COVID-19, Swanson said he and the other captains wanted to make sure the Wolverines had a chance to finish their season.

“When we got shut down for COVID and we weren’t sure if we were gonna play at all, it was tough,” Swanson said. “I wouldn’t want my senior year, let alone any year, to get taken. I talked to the other captains and we realized we wouldn’t want this to happen to us, so I began to reach out and just tell the guys to give it a try. I’m glad they have this opportunity to continue playing.”

Other seniors realized the value in adding the Sheffield players as well.

“I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to provide depth at much needed positions such as our offensive and defensive lines,” senior Alex Borger said.

With the Youngsville co-op still fresh in many players’ minds, they knew how to provide a welcoming environment for their new teammates.

“Our team really stressed opening our arms and welcoming the new players to our team, as we have successfully done with Youngsville players in the past few years,” Borger said.

All told, six Sheffield players were in attendance on the first official day of the co-op Monday, seven showed for Tuesday’s practice where all players were in pads together for the first time.

“The boys seem to be liking it so far,” Korbar said.

Both Campbell and Davidson said already knowing a number of Warren players has helped ease the transition.

“It’s 10 times better than not knowing anybody,” Campbell said.

The Sheffield players are used to new faces, having been part of a co-op with Abraxas for more than 20 years.

“Every year, our first practice is meeting everyone from Abraxas,” Davidson said. “In some sense, it’s the same (now).”

Having just started practice this week, it’s likely most of the Sheffield players won’t see significant time during Friday’s home-opener against Oil City. However, Warren head coach Mark Morelli and his staff have been forthcoming with their expectations and how playing time will be determined going forward.

“They’ve been great,” Campbell said of the Warren staff. “They’re really into fairness. They don’t care if you’re from Warren, or Youngsville, or Sheffield, if you’re the best, you’ll play.”

“They seemed to fit in really well,” Borger said. “(They) were able to, again, provide much needed depth at certain positions and help to give us a good look in preparation for our game against Oil City Friday.”

Regardless of playing time, Friday’s contest figures to be an emotional one for the Wolverines-turned-Dragons.

“It’s definitely going to be different,” Campbell said. “It will be a little (emotional). This is a new family, and we have to get back into that family aspect.”

Though the past 10 days have been a roller-coaster, Davidson is just happy to have a chance to play out his senior season.

“It’s not what I intended (for my senior year), but I think it’s going to be cool,” he said. “I’m excited. Excited for Friday and getting a chance to play football as a senior.”