5 things to watch in Week 6: As NFL mourns, WPIAL remembers ‘coach’ Dick Butkus

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Friday, October 6, 2023 | 12:48 AM


Dick Butkus became legendary as one of the fiercest linebackers in NFL history, but folks around the WPIAL might remember him as “Coach” Butkus.

Long after his playing days with the Chicago Bears were over, Butkus spent one season as a made-for-TV coach at Montour in 2005. It was the early days of reality television, and ESPN had hired him for “Bound for Glory,” a weekly series chronicling the upstart Spartans.

Butkus, 80, died Thursday.

“He was a very, very intense person,” Montour coach Lou Cerro said. “He brought some intensity to our team. That was our first year, and at that point, our kids really didn’t know how to work hard.”

Cerro was just newly hired as Montour’s head coach in 2005 when the school agreed to host Butkus for the TV series. It was an awkward arrangement at times, with Cerro saying the two didn’t always see eye to eye.

But proceeds from the show helped Montour renovate its facilities, including the football locker room and scoreboard.

“Him coming in there jump started our program from day one,” said Cerro, whose teams reached the WPIAL finals in 2007, ’10, ’11 and ’17. “We got all of this stuff for our school, and it put us back on the map a little bit.”

This season, Montour has started 5-1 and has one of its biggest conference games Friday night. The fifth-ranked Spartans visit No. 4 Central Valley (5-1, 3-0).

There might not be any tributes from the current Montour players, since most weren’t born yet when Butkus walked Montour’s sideline. He retired from the NFL in 1973, so even the players in 2005 weren’t all too familiar with him.

“My staff and myself knew him because we were older guys, but the kids had no clue,” Cerro said. “So we had to show them a highlight video. There’s a video out there of him really crushing people. The kids couldn’t believe it.”

In a 2005 interview with TribLive, Butkus recognized the generational gap but said some elements of football never change.

“Maybe these kids don’t know who I am,” Butkus said, “but if they know anything about (football), they’ll probably find out from somebody that I’ve been where they are before, and maybe I’m telling them to do something right.”

Montour went 1-6 with Butkus on staff. He eventually left the team before the regular season was over.

A perfect 10

The WPIAL enters Week 6 with 10 teams still undefeated. Most names on the list are not surprising, but the most intriguing 6-0 start surely belongs to Cornell.

A year ago, Cornell finished 4-5 and missed the playoffs.

This year’s perfect record will be tested Friday night when Cornell hosts defending Black Hills conference champion Bishop Canevin (4-1, 2-1).

The Raiders remained undefeated with a 14-13 win over Burgettstown that needed a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns last week. The winning score was a 15-yard TD pass from C.J. Jackson to Khylil Johnson, followed by a go-ahead two-point conversion.

The win continued a bounce-back year for Cornell. The strong start included a 30-14 victory over defending WPIAL champion Union in Week 2.

Also undefeated are Central Catholic (6-0), Peters Township (6-0), Aliquippa (5-0), Thomas Jefferson (6-0), Elizabeth Forward (6-0), Avonworth (6-0), Washington (6-0), South Side (6-0) and Fort Cherry (6-0).

Quips just keep winning

Aliquippa might be the least surprising name among the undefeated teams.

Consider, the Quips have endured only one losing season in the past 51 years. By starting this fall with five consecutive wins, they’ve already guaranteed this won’t be a losing season either.

Aliquippa (5-0, 3-0) can add another victory Friday night when winless Blackhawk (0-6, 0-3) visits.

The Quips’ only losing season in more than a half-century came in 1994, when they finished 4-6. Before that, their last losing season was 1972.

They’ve also had only one .500 season during that span; they went 5-5 in 1977.

Freshman football

Penn-Trafford’s Ben Grabowski, Avonworth’s Dimitri Velisaris and Central Valley’s Jance Henry have something in common.

The three running backs ran wild last week, accounting for more than 600 combined yards, but that’s not their only connection. They’re also all freshmen.

Henry rushed for 234 yards last week on 21 carries, Grabowski had 16 carries for 205 yards and Velisaris 18 carries for 173 yards. All three contributed to winning efforts, hinting at more bright days ahead for all three.

Their teams all have important matchups on Friday, so might the ninth graders play a role in another win?

Penn-Trafford (3-3, 2-0) hosts Gateway (3-3, 3-0) in a battle for first place in the Big East. First-place Avonworth visits Beaver (5-1, 1-1) in the Western Hills.

Central Valley hosts Montour in a Parkway clash of ranked teams.

Staying at home?

The only game on the Class 6A schedule this week could decide home field advantage in the WPIAL playoffs. North Allegheny (5-1, 1-1) visits Mt. Lebanon (4-2, 1-1) at 7 p.m.

Central Catholic (3-0) already has clinched one of the top two spots in the four-team playoff bracket. The winner Friday would have an edge over Canon-McMillan (1-2) and Seneca Valley (0-2).

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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