FITCH GRADUATE CLIMBS NEAR TOP Trgovac has been a factor in Carolina's turnaround
As defensive coordinator, Mike Trgovac has helped the Panthers regroup to make the Super Bowl.
By JOHN BASSETTI
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- Former Austintown Fitch High standout Mike Trgovac knows what it's like to win a championship.
He did it as a high school wrestler at the state level in 1977.
Now, he may get a taste of a world championship if the Carolina Panthers win the Super Bowl.
But it doesn't come easy; he'll tell you that.
"They're hard-working guys, good men," Trgovac said from his office this week as the team prepared for its biggest game in franchise history.
Trgovac, 44, is the Panthers' defensive coordinator, a position he got two years ago when head coach John Fox took over a bleak bunch.
"I've been busy, real busy and locked in my office since the playoffs started," Trgovac said of game-planning sessions while the team was still at its home base before going to Houston where the NFL's 38th title game will be played a week from today.
Actually, Trgovac got fresh air Monday and Tuesday when his defensive unit practiced.
The former All-Ohioan at Fitch and second-team All-American at Michigan is in charge of a load full of talented players, such as All-Pro linemen Mike Rucker and Kris Jenkins and safety Mike Minter.
Trgovac's previous coaching position was as defensive line coach with the Washington Redskins under Norv Turner and Marty Schottenheimer. His first stop in the NFL was with Philadelphia starting in 1995 and then Green Bay.
While his unit won't be going head-to-head against the defensive mind of New England head coach Bill Belichick, Trgovac is concerned with who engineers the Patriots' offense.
"The quarterback [Tom Brady] is really schooled on where to go with the ball and he understand the offense and does a nice job," Trgovac said. "They have a very talented corps of receivers. It'll be a big challenge for us."
In the end, the winner will have done what winners do.
"It'll all come down to which team executes better and plays basic, fundamental football," said Trgovac. "The coaches aren't going to be on the field."
In describing his defense, the coordinator put it this way:
"It's a good front seven and a secondary that plays its butt off and flies around with a nose for the ball. It's a team that just plays hard. That's basically what we do. We try not to be predictable. We try to change up. We're a group that plays hard and has a lot of energy."
Besides Rucker and Jenkins, the right end and right tackle, respectively, the Panthers' defense includes left end Julius Peppers and left tackle Brentson Buckner. The linebackers are Dan Morgan, Greg Favors and Will Witherspoon. Minter and Deon Grant are the safeties and Ricky Manning Jr. and Reggie Howard are the cornerbacks.
One of the linebackers, Mark Fields, was lost after he was diagnosed with cancer. He was replaced by Favors. Fields is listed as a reserve/non-roster injury.
Although Buckner is a veteran who used to play with the Steelers, the defense is, basically, young.
The Panthers were 1-15 before getting Peppers with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft. With Trgovac joining Fox to lay the groundwork, that record jumped to 7-9.
"He's done an excellent job of changing the mentality around this place," Trgovac said. "From 1-15 to 7-9 last year and now 14-5. The guys put in a lot of hard work and believe in what Fox teaches. They bought into his system that hard work pays off. He believes you win through the draft and teaching them to play football."
Mike said Fox sought him out because of their relationship when Fox was with the Giants.
"We knew each other from our days in the same division for six years. We a got chance to see each other work. I was fortunate enough to get hired by him."
Trgovac is grateful to Fox for giving him the chance to join Carolina, but his thankfulness doesn't end there.
"I also have a staff I lean on heavily and they do a nice job," the defensive coordinator said of his position coaches and others.
Sunseri with team
One of the coaches is former Pitt All-American Sal Sunseri, the Panthers' defensive line coach.
The Patriots, a seven-point favorite, have won a Super Bowl and the Panthers have come close once, losing their only NFC Championship game to Green Bay seven seasons ago.
Like Trgovac said, the execution factor should determine the outcome.
"They've been there before. We're a young team and on a roll, so we'll see how our players handle it. They've won 14 in a row, so we have our work cut out for us."