Defensive tune-up could get OLSH back in title mix

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Thursday, August 26, 2021 | 6:01 AM


Very few coaches in the WPIAL have turned around their program like Dan Bradley has at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

But now Bradley, the sixth-year coach of the Chargers, will look to bounce his team back from an up-and-down 2020.

It is not as if OLSH was bad. The Chargers finished with a respectable 5-3 record. But they did stumble defensively, allowing 45 or more points three times, including a 54-20 loss to Clairton in the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals.

So Bradley has plenty to work on entering the new season. And he knows where to start.

“We’ve got to get better at stopping the run,” he said. “Playing a lot of freshmen and guys out of position last year didn’t help us too much. They’re a year older and a year smarter. They do have a good year of experience under their belt. So we’re looking for better team defense.”

Bradley has amassed a 40-15 record in his five years with OLSH, winning the WPIAL Class A title in 2018. Before he arrived, the Chargers went 0-9 in 2015 and were outscored by 323 points that season.

Despite his recent success, Bradley does have some concerns about the size of the roster, estimating that he will have around 25 players to work with when the season kicks off.

“Honestly, after winning the WPIAL — when we had 36 (players) — I thought we’d stick around the 30 mark and be able to practice like a football team,” he said. “But we’ve kind of had to get creative these last couple of years.”

While OLSH may not have big numbers, it does have big talent. And that includes a returning starter at quarterback, junior Nehemiah Azeem, who tossed for 1,112 yards last year.

“He made great strides and has good command of the offense,” Bradley said. “We’re looking for him to be our leader in the huddle and on the offensive side.”

The Chargers lost their leading rusher in Jaymar Pearson, who transferred to Sto-Rox. Stephen Greer is a more than capable replacement, though, and hopes to rebound after an ankle sprain limited him a year ago. Greer’s brother, Dereon, will play receiver alongside returning starters Ziggy McIntosh and Dorrien Tate. Gunnar Kiefer and newcomer Ethan Smith will add depth on the outside.

OLSH welcomes back three offensive line starters in Dion McIntosh, Gavin Tonery and Al Magnelli, while former receiver Roman Frankovich takes over at center. Ryan Farrell will play left guard.

“Our offensive line is big, and they know what they’re doing,” Bradley said. “So we should be pretty good offensively.”

On defense, Dion McIntosh, Tonery, Magnelli and Cam Branch play on the line. BJ Vaughn, Frankovich, and twins Brady and Brandon Brazell make up the linebacking group. The secondary returns three starters in Kiefer, Tate and Dior Devers. McIntosh will join that group, as well.

In all, the projected starters include five sophomores who got playing time in their freshman seasons, and Bradley hopes that seasoning will help OLSH navigate a rugged Big Seven Conference schedule.

“They grew (last year) and hopefully they’ve grown more,” he said. “They’ve committed themselves to the weight room and offseason program. So we should be in a better spot this year.

“I think we can be a good team. If we stay healthy, we can make a good push for the title.”

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

Coach: Dan Bradley

2020 record: 5-3, 5-2 in Class A Big Seven Conference

All-time record: 53-56-0

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.27 at Apollo-Ridge, 7

9.3 at Riverside, 7

9.10 Beaver Falls, 7

9.17 at Burgettstown*, 7

9.24 Fort Cherry*, 7

10.2 Rochester*, 7

10.8 at Union*, 7

10.16 Shenango*, 7

10.22 at Northgate*, 7

10.29 Cornell*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Nehemiah Azeem

79-137, 1,112 yards, 6 TD

Receiving: Bobby Brazell*

36-398, 3 TD

Rushing: Jaymar Pearson#

76-605, 21 TD

*Graduated

#Transferred to Sto-Rox

FAST FACTS

• Dan Bradley’s son Tyler quarterbacked OLSH to the 2018 WPIAL A title and is now competing for the starting spot at Seton Hill.

• The 2018 title was the first in school history for OLSH, and the first title game appearance for the Chargers.

• According to Bradley, OLSH has five players who are also basketball players. The Chargers basketball program is coming off a 24-0 season and WPIAL and PIAA Class 2A titles.

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