Added depth, drop to Class 5A fuel optimism at Hempfield

Thursday, August 11, 2022 | 12:01 AM

Dropping to Class 5A means little to Hempfield, at least on paper.

To second-year coach Mike Brown, the move — and accompanying chatter that things might ease up for the Spartans — are about as useful as a broken elevator.

Going up or down doesn’t matter.

“It’s all outside noise,” Brown said. “It doesn’t matter who we play — the Steelers, Latrobe or a Class A team — our kids have to be ready to go. We have to do our part.”

Baldwin and Norwin also dropped from 6A, leaving the class with just five teams.

Still, the change of scenery, coupled with added depth, has Hempfield feeling like it can compete for a WPIAL playoff spot.

After eliminating the freshman team — Hempfield will field two junior varsity squads instead —Brown had nearly 80 players for summer workouts. Interest in the program is growing.

“One of things I have learned about Hempfield kids is that they are extraordinary,” Brown said. “We were undermanned quite a bit at times, but our guys never quit. They want to take Hempfield to the next level. They want to win.”

With more backups available on a roster that could nearly double its size from a year ago, more players won’t have to line up on both sides of the ball.

A number of former opponents, Central Catholic and North Allegheny among them, ran three or four deep at just about every position.

“That killed us (in 6A),” Brown said. “You get late in the third and into the fourth (quarters) and you could start to see it in our kids. They were worn out. We’re going to play our best 11 on both sides, but some of our top seniors, hopefully, can focus on one side of the ball.”

Hempfield finished 2-8, posting wins over Greensburg Salem (29-14) and Franklin Regional (30-28), but lost its last seven games.

A number of seniors return, including quarterback Jake Phillips, who will lead the offense after throwing for 1,145 yards.

“We’re hoping for a big year from Jake,” Brown said. “He is settling into his own. He has one of the biggest arms I’ve seen at this level.”

The Spartans return their top passer, rusher and receiver.

Workhorse running back Gino Caesar also is a senior leader and will get the football — a lot. Against Franklin Regional, he ran for 215 yards on 39 carries.

“It’s nice to have Gino back,” Brown said. “He will be a key for us, but we’ll have some other guys running the ball, too.”

Among them are senior Eli Binakonsky and sophomore Ethan Zontek, who is back after tearing his ACL last year.

Phillips’ pass-catching threats are senior Ian Tuffs (6-3, 185), senior Dan Katonka, junior Keiran Lippmann, the backup QB, and senior Tyson Gregory. Tuffs had a team-high 39 catches for 474 yards.

“Katonka has been a pleasant surprise,” Brown said. “Lippmann is a kid who needs to be involved for us.”

Just one starter is gone from the offensive line in Dan Sierk (Bucknell), but the Spartans return senior Ethan Shaw (6-4, 250), senior left guard Jackson Barton, senior center Logan Eisaman, junior right guard Joe Dolinski (6-4, 275) and senior right tackle Willie Nelson.

“We have experience up front, and our guys have been in the weight room so now we look like a 5A offensive line,” Brown said.

The front seven on defense piques Brown’s attention, too.

“They can be really good,” Brown said. “All 11 on defense have started or lettered.”

Shaw is a key at defensive end, with Barton at nose guard. Junior Brennan Knight is the mike linebacker with Zontek, Binakonsky and senior Anthony Vallano also joining the unit.

“The nice thing is, going into camp it’s all good on good,” Brown said. “There is a lot of competition.”

Tuffs, Katonka, Lippmann and Gregory form a solid secondary although, as Brown said, positions, and the names attached to them, could change with so many backups.

“There might be a lot of new names you haven’t heard about,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes. We’re excited.”


Coach: Mike Brown

2021 record: 2-8, 0-7 in Class 6A

All-time record: 297-329-13


Date, Opponent, Time

8.26 at Greensburg Salem, 7

9.2 Connellsville, 7

9.9 at Latrobe, 7

9.16 at Shaler, 7

9.23 Penn-Trafford*, 7

9.30 Gateway*, 7

10.7 Seneca Valley, 7

10.14 at Franklin Regional*, 7

10.21 at Plum*, 7

10.28 Norwin*, 7

*Conference game


Passing : Jake Phillips

96-192, 1,145 yards, 9 TDs

Rushing: Gino Caesar

166-716, 4 TDs

Receiving: Ian Tuffs

39-474, 4 TDs


• Now a 5A team, Hempfield will be in a conference with Franklin Regional, Gateway, Norwin, Penn-Trafford, Plum, and Woodland Hills.

• A father-son duo will be part of the coaching staff. Former Jeannette and Latrobe head coach Ray Reitz is the new defensive coordinator, while his son, Ryan, is the Spartans’ offensive coordinator.

• Hempfield’s nonconference opponents are Greensburg Salem, Connellsville, Latrobe, Seneca Valley and Shaler.

• Former wrestling standout Steve Santia, a Spartans alum, has also joined the coaching staff (defensive line).


No., Name, Pos., Ht./Wt., Cl.

1, Mitchell Bitar, QB/DB, 5-7/128, So.

2, Gino Caesar, RB/LB, 5-10/200, Sr.

3, Ben Blahovec, TE/LB, 6-1/190, Sr.

4, Elijah Binakonsky, TE/LB, 6-1/210, Sr.

5, Anthony Vallano, TE/LB, 6-3/230, Sr.

6, Anthony Puskar, WR/DB, 6-0/143, Jr.

7, Tyson Gregory, WR/DB, 5-10/160, Sr.

8, Daniel Katonka, WR/DB, 5-9/164, Sr.

9, Tommy Bozzuto, RB/DB, 5-7/171, Sr.

10, Dominic Detruf, QB/DB, 5-11/182, Fr.

11, Jake Phillips, QB/DB, 6-2/188, Sr.

12, Keiran Lippman, QB/DB, 6-1/175, Jr.

13, Owen Buchholz, WR/DB, 6-0/143, So.

14, Ronald Katchur, WR/DB, 6-0/144, Jr.

15, Ian Tuffs, WR/DB, 6-4/185, Sr.

16, Brady Ewing, WR/DB, 5-10/197, Jr.

17, Dom LoPinto, WR/DB, 5-10/166, Jr.

18, Francisco Lopez Diaz, WR/DB, 5-9/140, Jr.

19, Andrew Jones, QB/DB, 5-6/146, Fr.

20, Ryan Steffey, RB/DB, 5-9/173, Sr.

21, Dylan Firmstone, WR/DB, 6-1/140, So.

22, Lucas Moore, WR/DB, 5-10/178, Jr.

23, Nicholas Marquis, WR/DB, 5-7/158, Fr.

24, Reddik Katchur, WR/DB, 5-10/140, So.

25, Aidan Stinebiser, RB/DB, 5-4/126, Fr.

26, Ethan Zontek, RB/LB, 5-10/189, So.

27, Jack Humes, HB/LB, 5-10/183, So.

28, Troy Anderson, OL/DL, 5-9/189, Jr.

29, John Wynert, WR/DB, 6-0/150, Fr.

30, Brayden Gerst, RB/LB, 5-7/162, Fr.

31, Nico Brunazzi, WR/DB, 5-6/123, Fr.

32, Marcus Romasco, WR/DB, 5-5/135, Fr.

33, Brock Heisler, HB/LB, 6-1/173, Fr.

34, John-Michael Landa, RB/LB, 5-7/169, Fr.

35, Brandon Stanislaw, HB/LB, 5-10/169, So.

36, Liam Davies, HB/LB, 5-11/148, Fr.

37, Joshua Reilly, K, 6-0/140, Jr.

38, Hunter Zemba, WR/DB, 5-7/140, Fr.

40, Caleb Stepinsky, HB/LB, 5-7/170, Fr.

41, Aidan White, WR/DB, 5-5/109, So.

42, Deondre Richards, RB/LB, 5-6/174, Jr.

43, Jacob Morgan, HB/LB, 5-9/148, Fr.

44, Rogan Katchur, RB/DB, 5-10/166, So.

45, Brennan Knight, TE/LB, 5-8/222, Jr.

46, Ashton Kanter, WR/DB, 6-0/125, So.

50, Rafael Batista, OL/DL, 6-1/193, Jr.

51, Will Nelson, OL/DL, 6-0/250, Sr.

51, Jonathon Vince, OL/DL, 5-6/171, So.

52, Logan Eisaman, OL/DL, 5-11/279, Sr.

52, Isaac Gockel, OL/DL, 5-6/170, Fr.

53, Marcus Smith, OL/DL, 5-6/223, Jr.

54, Jaden Hamilton, OL/DL, 5-8/179, Fr.

55, JP Gera, OL/DL, 6-0/199, Sr.

56, Ethan Shaw, OL/DL, 6-3/243, Sr.

57, Landon Burnett, OL/DL, 6-0/300, So.

58, Declan Pillatzki, OL/DL, 5-10/175, So.

59, Jacob Hornyak, OL/DL, 5-9/257, So.

60, Travis Shondelmyer, OL/DL, 5-8/219, So.

62, Anthony Miele, OL/DL, 5-8/180, So.

63, Stephen Siko, OL/DL, 5-6/170, Fr.

64, Elijah Blackburn, OL/DL, 6-1/183, Sr.

64, Parker Cernuska, OL/DL, 5-5/180, Fr.

65, Gavin Keller, OL/DL, 5-11/250, So.

66, Noah Humberger, OL/DL, 5-9/254, So.

67, Lucas Herrod, OL/DL, 6-1/220, So.

68, Jackson Barton, OL/DL, 5-11/248, Sr.

68, Austin Butler, OL/DL, 5-9/258, Fr.

70, Will Mueller, OL/DL, 5-10/236, Sr.

70, Kyle Mulford, OL/DL, 5-10/197, Fr.

71, Owen Linsenbigler, OL/DL, 6-0/171, So.

73, Lane Palm, OL/DL, 5-11/266, So.

74, Joe Dolinski, OL/DL, 6-4/294, Jr.

75, Nico LoPinto, OL/DL, 5-10/242, Sr.

76, Thomas Peterson, OL/DL, 5-8/191, Sr.

77, Kaden Ficco, OL/DL, 5-10/193, Fr.

77, Zachary Persinger, OL/DL, 6-3/324, Sr.

78, Logan McCauley, OL/DL, 5-11/206, So.

79, Sean Aston, OL/DL, 5-9/190, Fr.

81, Jack Kopas, WR/DB, 5-9/136, Fr.

82, Aidan DeGuffroy, WR/DB, 5-9/132, So.

83, Brady Buehner, WR/DB, 5-7/121, Fr.

84, Henry Mutschler, WR/DB, 5-6/128, Fr.

85, Keegan Hrutkay, WR/DB, 5-6/132, Fr.

86, Brice Kenwick, WR/DB, 5-4/105, Fr.

87, Cenzo Perrilli, WR/DB, 5-2/106, Fr.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at

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