3/18/2005

GNA grad seeks out next level
Todd Bargella looks to parlay two-way college experience into a slot with the Pioneers.

By jpetrucci@leader.net

For the past 14 months, Todd Bargella has done little but work out, travel to tryouts and wait for phone calls, most of which did not bear good news.

When Bargella woke up early Thursday morning, he was full of anticipation because finally, he had a real opportunity to be a pro football player.

“With all that waiting around, today was like opening presents on Christmas Day,” the lineman said.

The biggest gift for Bargella, a former star at Greater Nanticoke Area High School, would be earning a spot on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers 21-man, opening-day roster. Bargella, along with 33 other hopefuls, took part in full-contact practice on Thursday as the Pioneers’ 11-day training camp got underway at the Riverfront Sports Complex.

Bargella is worth watching for more than his 6-foot-6, 285-pound build or the fact that he’s a local product. Of the 12 linemen on the Pioneers roster, only two have arena football experience, and the competition for a roster spot figures to be intense and crucial to the team’s fortunes this season.

“Everybody’s competing for a starting job,” said Bargella, who played at Lackawanna College for two years before earning all-Southern Conference honors as a tight end at Western Carolina, an NCAA Division I-AA program, in 2002 and 2003.

“We have just one guy (Chris Ekweueme) back and he’s a highly motivated guy. I’m trying to do my best to feed off him. Everybody’s fighting out there.”

Although he’s new to the arena game, Bargella is plenty prepared. He also played regularly as a defensive tackle at Western Carolina, so he’s used to the two-way aspect unique to the eight-on-eight, indoor game. Also, Bargella received highly specialized training for two months in Atlanta in early 2004. He worked with the same trainer who works with NFL players Terrell Owens, Ron Dayne and Dorsey Levens in preparation for the NFL combine.

Being around such a big-time and competitive atmosphere opened Bargella’s eyes.

“That’s the reason I’m still doing this,” said the 23-year-old, who added this would likely be his final effort to jumpstart a pro career. “When they rolled in, they had five cell phones and their Cadillac Escalades … I’m human, too.”

Bargella looked sharp in Thursday’s workout, catching a screen pass and racing down the sidelines and also getting to the quarterback from his defensive line spot. He was primarily a blocking tight end in college – he had just five catches in 2003 – but there is still a learning curve as he’ll be a true lineman in af2. Bargella said he’s focusing on staying low coming out of his stance.

“He played both ways in college and hopefully that transitions into something pretty good here,” said Pioneers coach Les Moss.

In the past year, Bargella has returned to Lackawanna College to complete his graduation requirements in sports management. He assisted the school’s football program and head coach Mark Duda last season. In between, he earned money working as a bouncer at The Woodlands Inn & Resort.

Bargella is happy to be home. It’s where he seems to feel most comfortable and after straying as far as Colorado for two-day tryouts with Arena Football League teams, he’s looking forward to playing in front of his family and friends.

His biggest fan, grandfather John Bargella, died in May, and that has fueled his desire to keep pursuing the pros.

“He wanted me to take it to the next level,” said Bargella. “It’s like playing high school ball all over again. It’s exciting.”

Trojan Sports