Coach Rod Steele makes West Mifflin roster battle for jobs in 1st season

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Monday, August 19, 2019 | 3:06 AM


A few days of heat acclimation and a week of camp wasn’t enough time for Rod Steele to pick starters.

As West Mifflin approaches its season opener, there are at least four running backs in his rotation for carries and a handful of wide receivers still vying to start.

That’s actually just the way Steele wanted.

Rather than award starting jobs quickly, the new coach has encouraged his roster compete for playing time — and that competition might not end for a few more weeks.

“Sooner or later we’ll have some kids separate themselves,” Steele said. “The cream always rises to the top. We’ve still got another week (of camp) before our Week Zero game, so we’ll let them battle it out.”

Steele was hired in January to replace longtime coach Ray Braszo. The school replaced Braszo after the team went 5-6 overall last season, 5-2 in the Class 4A Big Eight.

As the first-year coach of a team with only seven returning starters, Steele has taken time to evaluate his new roster.

“Competition brings the best out of everybody,” he said, “so we’re trying to let the guys battle it out and compete. We try to make practice intense.”

That roster depth is a luxury Steele didn’t always have during his years coaching at Steel Valley. The Ironmen won the WPIAL Class 2A title last season with fewer than 20 players in uniform.

He has around 50 at West Mifflin.

“I like the progression. I like where we’re at right now,” Steele said. “We’re not where we want to be (by mid-season), obviously, but I’m sure everybody in the league could probably say that. But I like where we stand right now.”

The Titans return few starters but did add junior Nahki Johnson, a talented Pitt recruit who transferred from Steel Valley. The WPIAL initially ruled him ineligible but the PIAA later overturned that decision on appeal.

Johnson, an all-conference pick, will start at guard and defensive end. He and senior guard Duronte Smedley will anchor the offensive line. Two-way tackle Dennis Goodwine (6-6, 310), a senior who transfer from Butler, gives the team some size.

Senior Tyler Tobias returns as a starting linebacker.

Another position that’s set is quarterback. Jay Dukes takes over behind center after serving as the team’s backup last season. The 5-foot-8, 180-pound senior also is a returning starter at safety.

“He’s a strong, tough kid who enjoys throwing,” Steele said. “He’s experienced. He’s been out there before. The lights won’t shock him on a Friday night. Some kids get a little tightened up but we have an experienced guy who’s been there before. That’s always a positive.”

His top receivers will be junior Nikeese Demery (6-2, 190), seniors Corey Goodman (6-2, 150) and Mondale King (5-8, 130), and sophomore Andre Spencer (5-8, 160). With a new offense to learn, the team attended multiple passing camps this summer.

“We went to five or six,” Steele said. “We tried to get the kids to hear the terminology and execute their assignments.”

The backfield will feature seniors Jacob Davis, Laronday Wilder and Dasani Green. Davis and Green are also sprinters on West Mifflin’s track team.

“We’re going to use them all,” Steele said. “They’re pretty good ball players. Davis and Green run sub-11 (seconds in the 100 meters). Those guys can take it to the house anywhere on the field.”

Steele led Steele Valley to the WPIAL Class 2A finals each of the past three seasons. The Ironmen won WPIAL titles in 2016 and ’18, and were state champions in 2016. Now he jumps up two classes to 4A with a team that was WPIAL runner-up in 2000, ‘04 and ‘12.

“There’s going to be someone that hoists a trophy at the end of the year,” Steele said. “Our coaching staff is pretty familiar with doing that. That’s always the goal. But the key to our success is making the kids comfortable with our system and teaching them each and every day.”

Schedule

Coach: Rod Steele

2018 record: 5-6, 5-2

All-time record: 290-282-12

Date, Opponent, Time

8.23, at Mars, 7

8.30, Indiana*, 7:30

9.6, at Trinity*, 7

9.13, Franklin Regional, 7:30

9.20, at New Castle, 7

9.27, Laurel Highlands*, 7:30

10.4, at Greensburg Salem*, 7

10.11, at Belle Vernon*, 7

10.18, Ringgold*, 7:30

10.25, at Thomas Jefferson*, 7:30

*Class 4A Big 8 Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Matt Schuster*

36-90, 703 yards, 5 TDs

Rushing: Parrish Parker *

208-1,570 yards, 25 TDs

Receiving: Bryant Johnson*

17-467 yards, 4 TDs

*Graduated

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

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