Ambridge works to get up to speed before season-opener

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020 | 11:45 PM


Veteran football coach Don Phillips had a quick response when asked of his biggest concern entering the 2020 season, his second at the helm at Ambridge.

“Conditioning.”

Ambridge is a bit behind the 8-ball after the school district shut down offseason workouts Aug. 3 when three students tested positive for covid-19.

Though none of three were football players, the Bridgers were forced off campus until reporting back Aug. 25 to start heat acclimatization. School directors voted Aug. 24 to go forward with fall sports.

“We gave out helmets and shoulder pads Monday night and started (Tuesday),” Phillips said. “Prior to that, it was going well. The kids were excited, a lot of enthusiasm. We had some good conditioning days. But we lost a lot of that because we haven’t been there for a few weeks.”

Getting back into shape will be priority No. 1 for the Bridgers, who are coming off an 0-10 season and are riding a 17-game losing streak.

Phillips said several players were able to work out on their own during the shutdown, but there is a definite need to get back into football shape before the season-opener Sept. 11 against Keystone Oaks.

Then, they will turn their focus to the Xs and Os.

“Offensively, we’re trying to simplify everything,” Phillips said. “In July, the kids responded well. We did a little Xs and Os to introduce some things, and the kids were excited. They said, ‘Coach this is great. It’s so easy to follow.’ We were trying to make some strides.”

The Bridgers will be trying to get up to speed, in more ways than one, over the next couple weeks.

“The only good thing is we’re backed up (from the original schedule) and have two more weeks before we play a game,” Phillips said. “That will help us. So far, the kids have responded well. They understand they need to get in shape quickly.”

One player already in midseason form is senior running back/defensive back Deyvon Gill-Martin. He led the team in rushing a year ago and will be the primary weapon on offense.

“Being a senior, we’re expecting him to pick up where he left off last year,” Phillips said. “We lost him to a knee injury at the end of last year. He’s back. He’s stronger. He really looks good. With his senior leadership, senior experience, we expect him to pick up a lot of the work on both sides of the ball.”

Ambridge has three players working out at quarterback, including senior Rich Morrell, who saw time there last season. Sophomore Deaven Ivory showed promise last season, according to Phillips, and senior Vozzy Steals is a fast, elusive runner who could be a dynamic addition this season.

Junior D’Saun Harmon is a 6-foot-3 target at wide receiver, and senior Auston Ludovici is a talented runner and pass catcher.

The Bridgers also return a pair of offensive linemen in David Polachek (5-11, 260) and Brandan Hare (6-2, 285).

“David, this is his fourth year starting on the line. He’s doing a great job. He’s one of the hardest workers I have. Very coachable, wants to get better every day,” Phillips said. “Brandan, we’re hoping for big things from him with all the experience he gained last year.”

Phillips said though they are limited in numbers on the line, they are hoping to plug some holes left by graduation and get consistent play each week.

Defensively, Ambridge will have an all-new front and will rely on Polachek at linebacker and Gill-Martin in the secondary. Morrell and junior Floyd Sims also will help solidify the linebacker corps.

Ambridge will have a few different opponents this season, moving down from Class 4A to the Class 3A Northwestern Six Conference with Avonworth, Central Valley, Hopewell, Keystone Oaks and Quaker Valley.

“Obviously, we want to win some games,” Phillips said. “We need to win to generate some enthusiasm not only this year but to get more kids out. A lot of kids don’t play because they don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

“We think we have a chance to compete. The conference is a little more advantageous, and we can be in more competition during those games.”

Phillips also liked the geography of the new conference, especially by adding nonconference games against nearby Aliquippa and Blackhawk.

“I’m excited about the conference,” he said. “Our kids get excited no matter who we play. We’re playing a number of schools that are rivalries, more so than last year.

“This year, right across the river is Hopewell. Just down from there is Central Valley. Right beside us is Quaker Valley. The kids know them, and they’re really excited to get back into playing closer teams to us, kids they know. It’s brought a lot of enthusiasm to our program.”

Schedule

Coach: Don Phillips

2019 record: 0-10, 0-7 in Class 4A Tri-County West

All-time record: 435-478-40

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, Keystone Oaks*, 7

9.18, at Aliquippa, 7

9.25, at Blackhawk, 7

10.2, Hopewell*, 7

10.9, at Avonworth*, 7

10.16, Central Valley*, 7

10.23, at Quaker Valley*, 7

*Class 3A Northwestern Six Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Richard Morrell

Rushing: Deyvon Gill-Marin

Fast facts

• Ambridge has struggled to a 1-38 mark the past four seasons.

• Last year, the Bridgers averaged just 4.7 points per game while allowing 44.3.

• Phillips has also had coaching stints at Ellwood City, West Allegheny, Center, Monaca and Rochester.

• Gill-Martin, a third-year starter, scored three touchdowns last season.

Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at bhartlep@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TribHSInsider.

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