Armstrong looks to gain experience early on with young roster

Friday, August 16, 2019 | 11:06 AM

It took only two weeks for Frank Fabian to realize he made a mistake after resigning as Armstrong’s coach.

Fabian, the only football coach in the River Hawks’ four-year history, will be back in his spot in the coach’s booth this fall for a fifth season, guiding a team he said is the least experience he has had since the Kittanning/Ford City merger in 2015.

The River Hawks made the playoffs last season for the third time but will have to replace the majority of their offensive and defensive lines with seven of the top eight lineman from last year graduating.

“We’ve had an experienced group for three years, and we’ve been fortunate there. But now we have a young group,” Fabian said. “The hardest part is patience. You have to remember that these guys don’t have the reps of the guys from years past. We just have to keep coaching them up and realize that they are going to make mistakes. You’re just hoping they learn from mistakes and learn quickly.

“This is a coachable group. We haven’t had any pushback or anything like that.”

Fabian said he and his staff have moved players from other positions such as linebacker, tight end and fullback to help beef up the line.

If they can find the right combination up front, Fabian is confident his group of skill players will produce.

That starts with senior running back Isaac Ridinger, who rushed for more than 900 yards last year, and fellow senior Isaiah Price.

Armstrong has had some excellent athletes since the merger, including current Yale running back Zane Dudek and Dawson Porter, who is on the Westminster baseball team, and will look to carry on the tradition of racking up yards with a strong offense.

“We’ve had some really good athletes in the past, and we’ve kind of tailored our offense around them,” Fabian said. “It’ll be no different with Isaac and Isaiah. They’re both guys that we want to get the ball in their hands. They’ve had really good weight-room sessions and have put on a good amount of weight. We’re actually working with them now to take a little bit off.”

Price missed part of last season with an ankle injury. His presence on the field was missed, and Fabian is looking forward to having him back on both sides of the ball this fall.

“Isaiah is our leader,” Fabian said. “He will be a four-year starter, and he’s the vocal guy in practice that gets everyone going. He’s probably our best defensive player, and he will contribute on offense.”

Cole Brown, a junior, is “the leader in the clubhouse” to take over at quarterback for the graduated Jalen Price. Brown also is a starting outside linebacker.

Armstrong lost a game after Albert Gallatin left the WPIAL to play an open football schedule. A suitable replacement was not found, so there will be a bye week in the schedule Sept. 13. The River Hawks still have nine games. They will host Indiana on Aug. 23 in a Week Zero game.

The River Hawks will be in the Class 5A Northern Conference for the second consecutive season with defending state champion Penn Hills, Fox Chapel, Hampton, Mars, Kiski Area, North Hills, and Shaler.

Being in the same conference for two straight years is something new. Armstrong has moved around because of realignment and the switch to six classes a few years ago.

“It’s nice for us to be in the same conference for two years,” Fabian said. “We really haven’t had that. Our first year we were in Triple-A, and that was the last year of four classes. We’ve kind of bounced around since that point. It’s been a constant transition for us. We’re looking forward to being able to watch last year’s tape when we scout an opponent. The downside is that they get familiar with us, too, but it’s nice to have a home.”


Coach: Frank Fabian

2018 record: 5-6, 3-4

All-time record: 26-16

Date, Opponent, Time

8.23, Indiana, 7

8.30, Hampton*, 7

9.6, at Chartiers Valley, 7

9.13, IDLE

9.20, Mars*, 7

9.27, Penn Hills*, 7

10.4, at Shaler*, 7

10.11, North Hills*, 7

10.18, at Fox Chapel*, 7

10.25, at Kiski Area*, 7

*Class 5A Northern Conference game

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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