Coach: ‘This is not the same Mapletown football team’

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019 | 4:45 PM


In his 39 years as a high school football coach — most of them spent as the head man at Mapletown — George Messich has seen plenty of the good, the bad and the ugly. Last season was too much of the latter.

The Maples, just two seasons removed from a playoff berth, finished 0-10, with all but one of those losses being by at least 33 points. Mapletown also forfeited a nonconference game against Clairton.

And because of injuries and a handful of players being dismissed for disciplinary reasons, Mapletown finished the season with only 13 on the sideline.

“It was hard, but, like a family, we stuck together,” said senior fullback/linebacker Zach Greene. “We worked hard in practice and played hard in the games.”

Last season was an extreme case, but low numbers are not unusual for the Maples. The roster numbers 22 as the 2019 season dawns.

But as Messich watched practice over the first week, he had a different feeling, a feeling this wasn’t going to be the Mapletown opponents were used to seeing.

“We feel without question we are a much more competitive football team,” Messich said. “We are a much happier coaching staff right now than we were at this time last year.”

The Maples received an infusion of talented freshmen from an eighth-grade team that went undefeated last season. At least three of them will start: tailback Landan Stevenson, guard/defensive end Cohen Stout (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) and Levi Howard, who will be at linebacker or defensive end.

Greene said he expects the freshmen’s winning attitude to rub off on the rest of the team.

“Honestly, they are winners,” he said. “They won a lot of games last year, and they want to win a lot of games this year. And they want to make the older guys win.

“I think they are going to help us out a lot. They are very skilled athletes.”

Greene and receiver Chuckie Lash are four-year starters. Three offensive linemen with starting experience also return: James Thompson, Blake Halbert and Lucas Hall. Hall, who tips the scales at 300 pounds, never played organized football until last year, and Messich said he has improved tremendously.

The line will protect sophomore quarterback Max Vanata, who started last season. Vanata, Messich said, has grown a couple of inches and is “throwing the ball really nice.”

Receiver/defensive back Clay Menear returns, as does the athletic Lance Stevenson. Stevenson, a junior, was back playing organized football for the first time in four years in 2018. He suffered a broken hip playing baseball as a sixth-grader and was cleared to play just last season. With a year to get reacquainted with football, he should be improved.

The Maples might be a better team, but they are saddled with playing in the tough Tri-County South with the likes of West Greene, Monessen and California. And, the Class A playoff bracket includes just eight teams, meaning the conference will have no more than three teams qualify.

Messich said making the playoffs might be a tall order, but he is confident he will see a lot more good and a lot less ugly this season.

“I am going to be very disappointed if we don’t put some in the win column,” he said. “You can see a big difference, a year of maturity and experience.

“Their attitude is incredible, and their work ethic is incredible. I told them after practice (Monday), ‘This is not the same Mapletown football team.’ ”

Schedule

Coach: George Messich

2018 record: 0-10, 0-7

All-time record: 322-465-39

Date, Opponent, Time

8.23, Avella, 7

8.30, at Trinity Christian (W.Va.), 7

9.6, at Jefferson-Morgan*, 7

9.13, West Greene*, 7

9.20, Bentworth*, 7

9.27, at Chartiers-Houston*, 7

10.4, Greensburg Central Catholic, 7

10.11, at Monessen*, 7

10.18, at Avella*, 7

10.25, California*, 7

*Class A Tri-County South Conference game

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