A-K Valley football teams eager to get to work as official practices open

Monday, August 15, 2022 | 9:13 PM

Ryan Tempalski experienced numerous first official football practice days as an assistant coach at schools throughout the region.

But Monday was a new experience for the first-year Springdale head coach who was hired in March to lead a young and relatively inexperienced Dynamos squad hit hard by graduation after reaching the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals.

While most of the young men on the 27-player roster might be short on varsity seasoning, Tempalski said Monday’s opening practice was not short on determination and hard work.

“We had an outstanding week of heat workouts, and it carried over,” said Tempalski, who welcomed close to two dozen players in pads Monday. “We really took advantage of the time last week and got pretty much everything installed that we wanted to.

“We still have a lot of work to do. I am sure that is a common theme at every camp in the area. Heat week and the mandatory practices were exactly what this team needed as practically the whole team graduated. There were 18 seniors. There are a few guys back, but mostly there are a lot of guys who will see varsity game action for the very first time.”

Hope springs eternal for all of the teams in the Alle-Kiski Valley. Fox Chapel, Highlands, Plum, Freeport, Burrell, and Leechburg opened preseason camps Monday with the goal of returning to the WPIAL postseason after qualifying last fall.

It is a clean slate for Kiski Area, Knoch, Deer Lakes, Valley, Apollo-Ridge and Riverview as they hope to get back in the WPIAL mix.

While teams were permitted to be in full pads for last week’s heat acclimation workouts, things were taken up a notch Monday with full contact allowed for the first time.

Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy” roared from a speaker under a goalpost at Lancers Stadium as Deer Lakes began its first practice with a traditional Oklahoma drill.

“We wanted to get the pads popping a little bit,” Deer Lakes coach Tim Burk said with a smile.

A running back tried to pick the right side while a linebacker hoped to deliver a hit. Two offensive and defensive linemen also attempted to rule the trenches.

“It’s like Christmas to us,” said Burk of the opening day of preseason camp. “Everyone was excited because now it’s real. It’s 100% go. The guys have been phenomenal. I told them to be here today at 2. I got here at 1, and there were multiple kids here before I got here. They are here and ready to put in the work.”

Burk is sounding the bell of optimism his team can secure its first WPIAL playoff trip since 2015.

The Lancers just missed out on a Class 3A berth in the Allegheny 7 Conference, now the Allegheny 6 with Freeport, Valley, Knoch, East Allegheny and Shady Side Academy.

Leechburg ended one of the longer droughts in the WPIAL last year as it qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 1988 and finished with a winning record (9-3) for the first time since 1991.

Close to 30 Blue Devils, including Pitt verbal commit Braylan Lovelace, were on hand to open practice Monday as Leechburg hopes to contend for the Eastern Conference title and unseat defending champion Clairton.

Freeport celebrates its 100th football anniversary this fall, and Yellowjackets coach John Gaillot returns as the dean of coaching consistency with a single Alle-Kiski Valley team. He opened his 15th consecutive Freeport preseason camp Monday.

For Gaillot, the first day of full practice always is special.

“Things went well,” said Gaillot, who welcomed 39 in pads, including several returnees who were featured on Class 3A all-star teams after the 2021 season.

Freeport earned a winning season last year at 6-5 overall and was 4-1 in Allegheny 7 play. Its lone loss in conference came against North Catholic, the WPIAL 3A runner-up that now is classified in 4A.

“There were some minor mistakes here and there, but the enthusiasm is there,” Gaillot said. “I am really happy with the effort. They picked up right where they left off at the end of last week’s (heat) workouts.”

Matt Bonislawski is back home and hopes to lead his alma mater, Highlands, to a second straight playoff spot in the Greater Allegheny Conference.

It was his first preseason camp opener as a head coach since 2017, his second and final season at Riverview.

He said the excitement level was high as 68 Golden Rams players put on the pads.

“The guys have been anxious to get the pads on and really use them with full contact,” said Bonislawski, who will help lead Highlands into a scrimmage Saturday at Shaler before the Week Zero season opener Aug. 26 against University Prep at Golden Rams Stadium.

“We’re starting to really jell as a team, which is encouraging for us. Installing everything and seeing it put to use in a positive way and also seeing people compete for starting jobs still up for grabs gets everyone pumped up. There’s still a ways to go, but (Monday) was a great first start.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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