Baldwin moves into Class 5A looking to regain confidence

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Wednesday, August 10, 2022 | 8:01 AM


Although Baldwin has taken a step down from Class 6A to 5A this season, its 2022 schedule still can be considered a grind.

Along with conference games against Bethel Park, Moon, Peters Township, South Fayette and Upper St. Clair, Baldwin will have early season matchups with Brashear, Thomas Jefferson, North Allegheny, Canon-McMillan and Mt. Lebanon.

“We expect to see some of the best players in the state on our schedule,” said Tim Sweeney, Baldwin’s third-year coach, “and we need to be ready to play our best football against so many well-coached teams with outstanding players. We played 5A schools last year and got it handed to us. We didn’t have a good showing. I don’t think 5A is any easier than 6A. The coaching and talent are just as good.

“The first five weeks of our schedule is a Murderers’ Row. It comes down to how we play. It will be interesting to see how we respond. We have to start fast in our games. It’s more of a priority (this year) to start games well.”

Sweeney, who formerly coached at his alma mater Derry, is looking to reverse the recent trends of the Baldwin football program. The Fighting Highlanders have advanced to the WPIAL playoffs just three times in 16 years and have logged 18 consecutive losing seasons.

“It’s been over 20 years since Baldwin has had a confident football team,” Sweeney said. “All of our players are working hard to meet the challenges of playing football at Baldwin. I think we have kids that want to do something about it.

“We have to work on every facet of the game. It’s a work in progress. We have to be a tougher football team. We don’t have any goals set; we just focus on the things that will help us be successful on Friday nights. We have some good things going on, but there’s still so much work to be done.”

Baldwin ended up 2-5 in the conference play and 2-8 overall last year.

After losing their first five games, the Fighting Highlanders won conference tests against Norwin and Hempfield, then ended with three consecutive losses.

Baldwin’s coaching staff welcomed 14 returning lettermen to preseason camp, led by five senior linemen — Victor Iaquinta, Bobby Benton, Brady Hartman, Logan Murphy and Aidan Malloy, a starting linebacker on defense.

Iaquinta, at 6-foot, 285 pounds, will anchor both lines. He has been a lineman since he started playing football in middle school.

“I have always played on both the offensive and defensive lines,” Iaquinta said. “I do prefer DL because I am a very aggressive player.”

Iaquinta believes competing together as a unit is important for the Fighting Highlanders this season.

“I hope we work strong as a team this year and can improve our record,” he said. “We have some tough players that are multi-sport athletes, and I think this will help us to not only work stronger but smarter.

“Baldwin football is in 5A this year. It will be a little tough, but I think we can handle it. We want to go to the playoffs. We have a great coaching staff and a lot of returning players along with some very strong new players, and I think we can make a lot happen on the field this season.”

The solidly built Iaquinta is a three-year letterman in three sports — football, wrestling and track and field — and hopes to continue his football career at the next level.

Other returning lettermen at Baldwin this season include juniors John Kozar (QB/DB), Amara Sheriff (RB/LB), Keith Mincin (RB/LB), Andrew Sharp (RB/LB), Davonte Jones (WR/DB) and Tyler Carter (OL/DL) and sophomores Jaden Duttine (QB/DB), Vincent Pacella (OL/DL) and Aidan Murphy (OL/DL).

There are only seven seniors on the 2022 squad, consisting of the five linemen plus Will Rice (WR/DB) and Jeremiah Simplice (WR/DB).

“We’re not small, but we’re not going to tower over other teams,” Sweeney said. “Size-wise, we’re an average high school football team.”

Look for Sharp to make some significant noise on both offense and defense again this season. He accounted for a team-high 1,097 all-purpose yards last year including 627 rushing and 457 on kickoff returns.

Mincin, Kozar, Sharp, Jones and Iaquinta ranked among the team’s leading tacklers in 2021. Mincin has been a stalwart on defense the past two years.

Others to watch this fall include juniors Evan Gude (WR/DB), Marcus Toto (WR/DB), Jacob Pyle (RB/LB) and Mwango Kasuba (WR/LB).

Two top freshmen are Will Martin (TE/DE) and Nico Macurak (QB/DB), who is recovering from a basketball-related injury.

“Will Martin’s going to be special,” Sweeney said. “He is a tough kid; he’s very mature for his age.”

Baldwin

Coach: Tim Sweeney

2021 record: 2-8, 2-5 in Class 6A

All-time record: 338-403-26

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.26 Brashear, 7

9.2 Thomas Jefferson, 7

9.9 at Upper St. Clair*, 7

9.16 at North Allegheny, 7:30

9.23 Bethel Park*, 7

9.30 at Peters Township*, 7

10.7 Canon-McMillan, 7

10.13 South Fayette*, 7

10.21 at Mt. Lebanon, 7

10.28 Moon*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: John Kozar

47-89, 457 yards, 6 TDs

Receiving: Davonte Jones

7-131, 2 TDs

Rushing: Andrew Sharp

117-627, 4 TD

FAST FACTS

• Assistant coach Doug Altavilla is the all-time leading passer at Baldwin and Mercyhurst. A four-year starter, Altavilla graduated from Baldwin in 2015 with 4,946 career passing yards and 52 touchdowns. He threw for 8,287 yards and 63 scores in four years of playing time at Mercyhurst.

• One of Altavilla’s favorite targets at Baldwin and Mercyhurst was younger brother Nick, who graduated from Baldwin in 2016. And the Altavilla’s sister, Morgan, carried on the athletic tradition established by her brothers at Baldwin. A 5-foot-6 guard and four-year varsity player, Morgan Altavilla averaged 20 points per game as a senior on the Baldwin girls basketball team in 2021-22. She earned nine varsity letters in high school with four in basketball and track and one in cross country.

• Mincin was one of the few players to compete in all 10 games last season. Along with being a team leader on defense, he ranked among the leaders in rushing, receiving, scoring and total offense.

• Mincin, Iaquinta and Sharp are integral members of the wrestling program at Baldwin. Mincin posted a 25-8 regular-season record that included 17 falls and two technical falls last winter, and was a WPIAL qualifier. Iaquinta and Mincin were credited with touchdowns on fumble recoveries a year ago.

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