Despite playoff win, Shenango wants to shake off disappointing 2021

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Thursday, August 25, 2022 | 12:01 PM


Coming off a 7-2 season in 2020, Shenango had high hopes this time last year. But reality failed to meet expectations and, despite a second straight season with a playoff victory, the Wildcats were left wanting more.

“We thought we would have a much more successful season based on our returning players,” said fifth-year coach Jimmy Graham. “Unfortunately, a couple of injuries here and there really derailed that. We didn’t quite meet our expectations of what we could’ve done last year.”

Shenango lost four to begin the year, failing to get its offense on track. It played catchup in the back half of the season and scored a Class A first-round win over Carmichaels before bowing out to eventual champion Bishop Canevin in the quarterfinals.

“You always want to try to improve through the season, even if you come out of the gates slow,” Graham said. “I thought we got better throughout the season.”

Now the page turns to a new year, and Shenango will try to get back to its winning ways.

“Last year, we were pretty big and strong up front, with some veterans who played those positions for a few years,” Graham added. “This year, we’re in a situation where we don’t have the size of years past. But the younger guys are really stepping up and looking to fill those holes.”

One area that might need to be sorted out is the quarterback position. Sophomore Sam Patton — who missed significant time with a hand injury in 2021 — and junior Sam Myers split time last fall, and are both competing for the starting job in camp.

“They’ll probably both see some time this year,” Graham said. “They’re in a good battle for the position. We expect them to lead the offense after having that experience last year.”

Senior CJ Miller will get the bulk of the carries after rushing for 1,013 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior.

“He’s a veteran player who has been playing since ninth grade,” Graham said. “He’s seen a lot of action and we’re expecting big things from him.”

Hunter Lively is a hard-nosed runner who will spell Miller again this year. Colton Fedrizzi and Brayden George will man the starting receiver roles.

A pair of senior offensive linemen return, including James Madison recruit Kyle Lenhart, who Graham describes as the “anchor” of the group. Austin Bintrim is also back.

Despite allowing just 23 points per game last year, Shenango’s defense was the second-worst in Class A’s Big 7 Conference and will try to improve on that when the season begins Friday.

Lenhart will lead the defensive group on the line. Fedrizzi and Myers will be linebackers. Miller, Lively, George and sophomore Blaise Dando will factor into the defense, as well.

“One of our strengths is the quickness that we have this year,” Graham said. “We’re probably a little bit quicker this year than previous years.”

Shenanngo faces a nonconference schedule that features OLSH, Western Beaver, Riverside and Leechburg.

“Those are good games that’ll prepare us for the conference schedule that we have,” Graham said. “We have good teams in our conference, especially Rochester, South Side and Laurel. Union will be a battle for us with a new head coach.

“We’re always up for a little bit of a test. We game plan every week like it’s the last game or the first game.”

Graham has used the offseason to get as many reps for his young players as possible, admitting that a lack of experience is a major weakness of this squad.

He has also put an emphasis in bolstering the youth camp scene in the community, which seems to be paying off. Of the 29 players on Shenango’s roster, 11 are freshmen.

But, ultimately, the best way to draw more and more interest is to win.

“Every year is different,” Graham said. “You just never know. Like most schools, we have high ambitions. We want to win the first game and hopefully compete for a conference title, make the playoffs and travel as deep as we can in the playoffs.”

Shenango

Coach: Jimmy Graham

2021 record: 4-7, 3-4 in Class A Big Seven Conference

All-time record: 425-369-38

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

9.2 Western Beaver, 7

9.9 at Riverside, 7

9.16 Union*, 7

9.23 at Rochester*, 7

9.30 Northgate*, 7

10.7 at South Side*, 7

10.14 Summit Academy*, 7

10.21 at Leechburg, 7

10.28 at Laurel*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Sam Patton

33-70, 638 yards, 7 TDs

Rushing: CJ Miller

190-1,013, 10 TDs

Receiving: Dalton Peters*

22-375, 8 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• Graham, a Shenango grad, is the second-leading passer in Westminster history.

• In his first season, Graham went 1-9 as Shenango’s head coach. He is 17-13 since then with a pair of playoff victories.

• After an 0-4 start in 2021, the Wildcats rattled off three straight wins, allowing just 19 combined points. Included was a 14-7 victory over eventual Class A runner-up OLSH.

• Shenango has never won a WPIAL football title.

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