Class 6A Butler faces debilitating lack of numbers
Thursday, August 15, 2019 | 12:01 AM
After going 0-10 in his first full season as coach at his alma mater, Butler’s Eric Christy knows the real challenge is about to begin.
Hampered by a debilitating lack of juniors and seniors in the football program, the Golden Tornado will face another trying season in Class 6A with an undermanned, inexperienced roster.
“We knew this was coming,” Christy said, “and it’s just here now.”
Butler fielded 61 players last year — bolstered by Christy’s recruiting efforts in his first season — but has dropped to only 43 this season. At one helmet-and-shoulder pads heat workout in early August, Butler dressed fewer than 35 players.
The junior and senior classes didn’t have enough players to field freshman teams when they were ninth-graders.
The current Butler roster includes 15 seniors and nine juniors, and zero junior lineman.
“Last year, we did a good job getting guys out and trying to find what we can,” said Christy, a Butler quarterback in the late 1990s. “This year, we’ve actually lost more than we gained. Guys who played last year want to work jobs. They don’t want to go to college. They want to do other stuff. It is what it is.”
Low numbers are nothing new at Butler, the WPIAL’s third-largest school district by enrollment with 728 boys in grades nine through 11. Burdened by an annual lack of participation, the Golden Tornado have made the playoffs only once since Christy’s 1998 team (2012) and haven’t enjoyed a winning season since 1997.
Christy understands the Catch-22 for the program. Winning likely would boost interest in the program but low-participation teams have a tough time succeeding at any level, particularly Class 6A.
“That’s exactly what it is,” Christy said. “One of them has to break. You either have to find a crew that dedicates and find a small group that just wants to make it happen and grab a win, two or three and fix it that way. Or we’ve got to get a group of kids interested at the junior-high level.”
The feeder system is showing progress. The Golden Tornado have 19 sophomores on the roster, including some of the school’s top athletes, and Christy said the Butler midget teams “are winning championships at the youth level.”
In the meantime, the upperclassmen are trying to turn around a skid that has seen the Golden Tornado drop 46 of 55 games since 2012. It reached a low point last season when they allowed 46 points per game and, in one three-game stretch, lost to Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley and Norwin by a combined score of 142-0.
The year before that, in 2017, Butler failed to record a touchdown pass, used six quarterbacks and a threw for 202 yards as a team.
Senior Nate Cornibe, a second-team all-conference guard last season, is one of the bright spots. Carrying a 4.2 GPA, the 6-foot-4, 280-pounder has offers from Air Force and Toledo, and is considering Ivy League schools. He is smart enough to realize Butler isn’t going to contend for a WPIAL title — or likely even a playoff spot — in his final season. But he also knows a win or two could be all it takes to spur the program toward a better future.
“If we get some wins this year and get the energy up for some of these guys, we can get some of these young kids interested and get Butler football rolling again the direction it was, however many years ago,” he said.
One of those young kids challenged with uprighting the program is sophomore Cooper Baxter. The 6-1, 180-pound Baxter is contending with senior Dylan Fediackzo for the starting quarterback job.
Baxter started at shortstop for the baseball team as a freshman and is related to the Saul brothers, Ron, Rich and Bill, former NFL players from Butler. Baxter is part of a talented sophomore class that gives Christy hope for the future.
“If you win, you are going to get numbers,” Baxter said. “If we put up a couple solid seasons in a row, we are going to get our numbers back to where we were before this long playoff drought.”
The backfield will feature junior tailback Justin Kabay and junior fullback Evan Orloski, each of whom also starts at linebacker. Senior Anthony Daviduk, whose junior season was shortened because of a broken finger, returns at wide receiver.
Other interesting prospects heading into the season opener against visiting Class 5A North Hills include sophomore Kaleb Proudfoot, a 6-8, 275-pound lineman, and sophomore wide receiver Charlie Kreinbucher, a 6-5, 205-pound basketball player who never has played organized football.
While Christy said there is a temptation to turn the fate of the program over to the talented sophomore class, he will let performance determine who plays this year.
“We’ll see how the season goes,” he said. “If the seniors make it happen, they will keep playing. If they don’t, we’ll go young.”
Coach: Eric Christy
2018 record: 0-10, 0-8
All-time record: 515-446-47
Date, Opponent, Time
8.23, North Hills, 7:30
8.30, Baldwin, 7:30
9.6, at Mt. Lebanon*, 7:30
9.13, Pine-Richland*, 7:30
9.20, at Seneca Valley*, 7:30
9.27, at Norwin*, 7
10.4, North Allegheny*, 7:30
10.11, Central Catholic*, 7:30
10.18, Hempfield*, 7:30
10.25, at Canon-McMillan*, 7
*Class 6A Conference game
Passing: Kyler Callihan*
23-56, 404 yards, 3 TDs
201-618 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Chris Mertz*
9-164 yards, 2 TDs