Armed with championship lessons, Pine-Richland ready for another run

Thursday, August 10, 2023 | 11:14 PM

It was a storybook ending for Pine-Richland football in Jon LeDonne’s first year at the helm.

The Rams rebounded from a 1-3 start to rattle off a dozen wins in a row en route to the Class 5A state championship.

There will be some key spots to fill this season, but the culture is in place as they embark on defending their title.

“It was good because several of the guys on the team were involved in that run and saw several of the changes that we made,” LeDonne said. “Now they know what the expectations are. These seniors are now two years removed from when they were sophomores and things didn’t go so well for them. They’ve been through a lot and have learned how to finish and not let the start impact how we are. This year, we’re hoping they learn to start faster as well.”

One of the key departures is do-it-all quarterback Ryan Palmieri, who’s now at Sacred Heart. Palmieri took over at quarterback midseason and rushed for 1,633 yards, passed for 632 yards and accounted for 31 touchdowns.

Not only was Palmieri productive on the field, but he was one of the undisputed leaders in the huddle.

“Some of the off-the-field stuff that Ryan did for us has rubbed off on some other people,” LeDonne said. “Those are the things that propel you and help you get over that hump. He was as important to us off the field as he was on it. He brought everyone together and showed them the right way. We have a couple seniors that have taken that role upon themselves and are doing those things.”

Seniors Vasilous Balouris and Alex Cerminara are two players LeDonne said have taken on the leadership role as well as junior Sam Heckert.

Kanan Huffman, a senior, is back at quarterback. He started the season at quarterback last year before Palmieri moved from running back to under center.

“He’s healthy, mature and more developed,” LeDonne said. “Hopefully he can stay healthy.”

Ethan Pillar returns at running back.

He’ll run behind an offensive line that features Wisconsin recruit Ryan Cory, but will have some new faces after the graduation of Jake Beam, Isaiah Kerns and Brady Carrigan, who are all now playing in college.

“Isaiah was our center and is a significant loss, because he made all our checks and got everyone aligned,” LeDonne said. “We have a senior Connor Dripps stepping into that role right now and a junior Jackson Bojanic-Hubbell competing for time up front. We’re excited with where we are right now.”

The Rams also graduated all of their starting defensive linemen outside of Cory. LeDonne said junior Dustin Edwards has had a good spring and summer and has been getting reps at defensive end.

The Rams do have experience in the secondary and linebacking corps, returning six players with starting time last year.

“We’re hopeful that we can get off to a better start defensively than we did last year to help our offense out,” LeDonne said.

Grant Pillar, a sophomore and Ethan’s younger brother, figures to be in the mix at linebacker and running back as well as fellow sophomore Mac Miller, who LeDonne said has shown a lot of potential. Miller had a strong freshman season on the Rams’ wrestling team, going 37-8.

The Rams are in the Class 5A Northeast Conference with Fox Chapel, Shaler, Penn Hills, North Hills and Woodland Hills. They’ll also play former 6A rivals North Allegheny, Seneca Valley and Central Catholic prior to the meat of conference play.

“We’ll be challenged early on, but that’s not a bad thing,” LeDonne said. “We found out a lot about ourselves early last year, and we’re looking to do the same this year and form an identity.”


Coach: Jon LeDonne

2022 record: 13-3, 4-1 in Class 5A Northeast Conference

All-time record: 397-287-13


Date, Opponent, Time

8.25 at Pickerington North (Ohio) 7

9.1 Kiski Area, 7

9.8 Penn Hills*, 7

9.15 at Seneca Valley, 7

9.22 Fox Chapel*, 7

9.29 at North Allegheny, 7

10.6 Central Catholic, 7

10.13 Shaler*, 7

10.20 at Woodland Hills, 7

10.27 at North Hills*, 7

*Conference game


Passing: Ryan Palmieri*

56-81, 632 yards, 4 TDs

Rushing: Ryan Palmieri*

245-1,633 yards, 27 TDs

Receiving: Andrew Mellis*

23-286 yards, TD


• Pine-Richland will travel to Ohio for a Week Zero matchup with Pickerington North. The Rams hosted the Ohio school last year.

• Coach Jon LeDonne has won state titles at two schools: Penn Hills (2018) and Pine-Richland (2022).

• LeDonne will face his former team, Penn Hills, for the second time Sept. 8. The Indians beat the Rams, 33-28, last year.

• Pine-Richland has won WPIAL football titles in Class 6A, 5A, 4A, 3A and 2A. It is the only school to win across five classifications.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


More High School Football

Unheralded QB runs his family’s business — Aliquippa’s offense — with championship efficiency
Trib 10: WPIAL champs chasing state gold occupy top 6 spots in power rankings
Belle Vernon faces Hickory with a trip to the PIAA Class 3A championship game on the line
Unlike The Birdie, Belle Vernon football keeps going up
Trib HSSN Pennsylvania high school football rankings for Nov. 28, 2023