Bob Palko brings ‘tough love’ to Mt. Lebanon as football teams open camp

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Monday, August 12, 2019 | 10:26 PM


Bob Palko compared the first day of football camp to planning a beach vacation, even though the only deep blue in sight Monday was Mt. Lebanon’s helmets and his new Blue Devils shorts.

“You dream all year about getting to the beach,” he said. “What’s it going to look like?”

Early Monday morning, with the sun shining and few clouds in the sky, Palko got that glimpse when he opened his first camp at Mt. Lebanon after 24 seasons at West Allegheny.

“It’s the same feeling,” he said. “You’re anticipating, you’re a little bit nervous, a little bit giddy. You have all these emotions running through you because of all that work you put into it. It’s now. It’s here.”

High school football teams across the state officially opened preseason practices Monday. The teams completed heat acclimatization last week, but this was the first day that players were allowed to hit each other.

The first scrimmages are Saturday.

Palko bounced between drills during the two-a-day workouts, often encouraging his players to practice faster, a tempo that won his West Allegheny teams eight WPIAL titles. He also demanded an attention to detail, whether it was how to properly defend a punt or run a route.

This was no day at the beach.

“Just from last year to this year, there’s a huge difference in coaching styles,” senior lineman Tom Peters said. “Coach Palko has no problem getting up in your face. At the end of the day, he’s thinking about winning a championship.”

“It’s a different style than last year, but honestly it’s better for us,” said senior Sam Rolfsen, a linebacker and running back. “It’s like a tough love. He gets on us, but in the end he’s just trying to make us better. It makes us work harder.”

Palko, hired in February to replace Mike Melnyk, won a record eight WPIAL titles at West Allegheny, a fact not lost on his current roster of players. Mt. Lebanon owns seven WPIAL titles but only one since 1984.

After he was hired, Palko’s first words to his players were a question: Is anybody interested in winning a championship?

“It caught me by surprise when that’s the first thing he said, but it makes sense,” Rolfsen said. “He’s been there eight times. He knows what’s he’s talking about, and that gives us more confidence. If we follow what he says, we’ll get there too.”

West Allegheny won WPIAL titles in 1997, 1999-2001, ‘09, ‘12, ‘13 and ‘16, along with a state title in 2001.

“Obviously we’re familiar with Coach Palko’s record,” Peters said. “He came in here and right from the start it was very obvious what we were doing. We want to win a championship.”

Mt. Lebanon hasn’t won a WPIAL title since 2000, and Palko isn’t predicting one this November, but he’s always eager to remind them that it’s possible.

The start, Palko said, is building trust.

“They have to trust the process, trust the system, trust that we’re putting them in the right positions,” Palko said. “It’s getting hard right now. Do they believe us when we say we’re working to win a championship. The kids at West A trusted you. They trusted the process. They saw it and they lived it.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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