Camp Preview: Alle-Kiski teams look to bounce back this season
By: Greg Macafee
Monday, August 12, 2019 | 1:16 PM
Last season was a substandard year for high school football teams throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley.
Only two teams, Kiski Area and Freeport, reached the playoffs but they both suffered early exits with losses to Gateway and Aliquippa, respectively.
The rest of the Alle-Kiski teams suffered problems of their own. Between the 13 teams, only three teams won more than four games and they collectively tallied a record of 38-91. It was a season that didn’t go well, but all of them are looking to bounce back this year.
Last season was the first time Fox Chapel won fewer than four games since 2015, which was coach Tom Loughran’s first season.
“We’ve worked as hard as we could this offseason with the guys that are here,” Loughran said. “But we also went through our school and tried to bring more players out because one of the reasons we struggled last year was because we were real thin numbers-wise in terms of upperclassmen.”
“We’re trying to build it from the ground up rather than the top down, and we’re trying to encourage more participation in what we’re doing here.”
While Fox Chapel went through a rebuilding year, Sam Albert and the Kiski Area Cavaliers dealt with injuries that derailed their season after an exciting start. Albert has hopes of ending Kiski Area’s playoff drought, but in order to do that, the longtime coach believed their needed to be a culture change.
So far this offseason, he has started to see that.
“This year, I really believe that all the kids are on board 100%,” Albert said. “And that’s what we were hoping for.”
At Burrell, coach Shawn Liotta was confident heading into his first year at the helm. But he didn’t have an experienced quarterback to match with his high-octane offense. They also struggled with numbers, at times playing with just 18 or 19 kids.
After one year, Liotta has found his quarterback in Central Catholic transfer Alex Arledge. Liotta said there has been an upswing of interest in football that will help the Bucs take that next step.
“We are pleased with the progress that we are making with the program right now. I see a lot of positive improvement,” Liotta said. “Our numbers are up, and we are getting a lot of interest and excitement into Burrell football, which is key. The biggest thing is we are getting a lot of these athletes out that haven’t played in a couple years. That definitely will help us.”
Deer Lakes is another team that can feel a turnaround coming because of an upswing in numbers. Second-year coach Tim Burk said the Lancers had between 30-40 kids last year but have had about 58 kids come out during heat acclimatization week.
He said the increase in roster size is rare at Deer Lakes, but he thinks it is a step in the right direction.
“If we want to compete, we’re going to have to have numbers,” Burk said. “Now, if I have a kid who’s like, ‘I don’t really want to do that,’ that’s fine because I have four other kids who will.”
From building up their programs to matching the talent to the system, each team in the Alle-Kiski Valley struggled in a different way last season. While some of them were going through the first-year struggles of a new staff and a new system, others were on the doorstep of the next level only to be knocked off by injuries.
New triple-option QB
Brandon Mowry has been around the Knoch program since he graduated from the school in 2002. He joined the coaching staff as a volunteer while he was in college and he also has held various assistant coaching positions over the past 15 years.
After being named coach in January, this season will be his first year at the helm, and Mowry’s No. 1 priority is to find a new quarterback to operate the triple-option offense Knoch has been known for.
“The biggest thing is can they make the proper reads on our key run plays,” Mowry said. “They have to read one, two or three guys. So the question is: Can they lead the offense, read the guys and then execute?”
Over the past few years, Knoch has had somewhat of a preparation system for their quarterbacks. Before taking over the offense last year, Chase Mullen played the A-back role as a junior. It’s a do-it-all position in their offense and prepares players how to operate inside of the offense.
Senior Kam Grassi stepped into that role last year and could replace Mullen as the quarterback this season. But Mowry also has his eyes on junior Keith Washington, who played A-back on junior varsity last season.
Eastern Conference challenge
Dating to 2009, Springdale is the only Alle-Kiski Valley team from the Class A Eastern Conference to crack the top four teams and punch a ticket to the playoffs. This year might be the season the Leechburg Blue Devils make a trip to the Class A playoffs.
The Blue Devils went 5-5 last year and ended their season on a two-game winning streak. They lost only a handful of seniors and return quarterback Dylan Cook and running back Jake Blumer. The season looks bright for the Blue Devils.
New QB, plenty of weapons
Valley coach Muzzy Colosimo is known for his I-formation, power-back offense. With a lack of linemen — the longtime coach said they have only about four or five on the roster at the moment — the Vikings could have a new offensive look this season.
New quarterback Cayden Quinn has displayed an arm that can stretch the field, and the junior will have plenty of weapons this season. Speedy senior Vaun Ross will be one of them. The 5-foot-9, 165-pound athlete will be all over the field. Justin Hooper also provides a solid option. He will move from the running back to wideout this year and has been a key piece of the offense during 7-on-7s this summer.
Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .