A-K Valley football teams take it up a notch with start of preseason camps

Monday, August 12, 2019 | 7:02 PM

Brandon Mowry has experienced numerous opening days of preseason camp with the Knoch football team, but Monday morning’s start, he said, had a different feel.

Mowry, a longtime assistant with the Knights, oversaw his first two-a-day workout as head coach of one of 13 Alle-Kiski teams to don pads for the official start of the season.

“There’s a lot more preparation, more planning and other small things to concentrate on in the big picture with getting everyone on the same page,” Mowry said as his group of more than 40 prepared for warm-up drills on the dew-soaked practice field. “I’ve been learning on the fly each step of the way.”

Mowry is the only new head coach in the Alle-Kiski Valley this season.

“There was a lot of excitement this morning,” Mowry said. “The kids were champing at the bit to get started. We want to get this going as fast as we can and get ready for Saturday’s scrimmage (at Mars) and the start of the season.”

Mowry makes his debut, and the Knights begin what they hope is a run to the Class 4A playoffs with a Week Zero home game Aug. 23 against Hampton.

Knoch missed a playoff spot last year on a tiebreaker. Senior running back Matt Goodlin hopes his team can win the games that will lead to a clear-cut postseason spot.

“We put a lot of work in, and we’re ready to see it pay off,” Goodlin said. “Starting with (Monday morning’s) practice, it’s about taking care of the little things and taking full advantage of the time we have on the field.”

Last week’s mandatory heat acclimation workouts served as a lead-in to the start of official practices.

“The first day of camp separates itself from those workouts,” Deer Lakes coach Tim Burk said. “We use heat acclimation to work on fundamentals and things like that, but there’s nothing like two-a-days where you get to hit and really start putting in the game plan.”

Fox Chapel, under the direction of fifth-year coach Tom Loughran, was one of the first teams out of the locker room as the Foxes hit the field at 7:30 a.m.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said. “We have to get better in a lot of areas. We’re a little banged up starting camp, and we need to get those guys back. We’re working in a lot of younger guys, which is good because they’re getting reps.”

Kiski Area and Freeport were the only A-K Valley teams to qualify for the playoffs last year. Burrell’s Shawn Liotta, who again will tangle with the Yellowjackets and Deer Lakes in conference play, hopes to lead the Bucs to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

“To me, (the first day of camp) is the best time of the year,” said Liotta, who had 37 players in uniform. “It’s like Christmas morning. We are getting to see what we truly have as we continue to build. More excitement comes from how we build off today and get better as a team.”

Highlands coach Dom Girardi said Monday’s workouts were the start of valuable evaluation for open starting spots on both sides of the ball.

“You never know what you’re going to get at the start of camp,” Girardi said. “Are they going to come out fired up? Are they going to be nervous? Are they going to be ready to hit? But I was very happy with the way things started. We had a defensive practice (Monday morning), and I saw guys flying around and playing assignment football.”

Freeport coach John Gaillot owns the longest continuous tenure with an A-K Valley team. He said the start of his 12th camp at the helm of the Yellowjackets was a productive elevation of work from the offseason.

“With the returning players, we knew what to expect, and they delivered,” Gaillot said. “But with a few of our freshmen and others out for the first time, we were pleasantly surprised with their physicality and athleticism. It was pretty exciting.”

Four Week Zero matchups involve head-to-head battles between A-K Valley teams: Plum at Highlands, Burrell at Valley, Deer Lakes at Springdale and Apollo-Ridge at Leechburg.

Kiski Area welcomes Allderdice to Richard J. Dilts Field, and Fox Chapel travels to Peters Township.

Freeport and Riverview do not play Week Zero games.

No matter when seasons begin in the A-K Valley, players and coaches hope to look back at Monday as the start of something special.

“When you put the pads on, some kids rise, and some kids fall back a little bit,” Plum coach Matt Morgan said. “We saw some nervous first-day mistakes. But overall, the effort and enthusiasm was there. The kids are fighting for positions. Nothing is handed to anybody, so there is a lot more competition going on.”

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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