Experience, new addition to bolster Blackhawk
Monday, August 23, 2021 | 6:01 AM
The 2020 season was a humbling reminder of how important health and preparation are for high school football teams.
There is likely no one who understands that more than Blackhawk coach Zack Hayward.
The Cougars, decimated by injuries and early shutdowns due to covid-19, limped to the finish line last year, finishing 2-6 with five lopsided defeats to close out the season.
“We had six season-ending injuries within the first four weeks, and four of them were starters,” said Hayward, entering his fourth season as the head coach of alma mater. “We were young to begin with, and we started 2-1, but then the injuries started to happen and that’s when everything kind of fell apart.”
Because of the pandemic, Blackhawk was unable to begin offseason workouts until July, and hopping into a gauntlet of a nonconference and Class 4A Parkway Conference schedule never let the Cougars build on the momentum they had earned in Hayward’s first two seasons, in which Blackhawk went a combined 17-7 and reached the semifinals each year.
“Our emphasis for this offseason has been how important offseason workouts are, to get your body in shape and get that muscle memory ready for a Friday night,” Hayward said.
Despite last season’s struggles, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in Chippewa Township.
Carson Davidson returns for a third year as the starting quarterback after passing for 1,200 yards as a junior.
“He’s a very, very good athlete,” Hayward said. “He has a grasp of the entire offense. Despite all of the injuries last year, I thought he had a pretty good year. We’re expecting big things from him.”
Davidson is getting a new weapon in his arsenal, as Division I talent Lorenzo Jenkins transferred from Fox Chapel in the winter. The 6-foot-4 wide receiver and safety caught 31 passes and hauled in seven touchdowns for the Foxes last season.
Jenkins, however, will not be eligible to play in the postseason, should Blackhawk qualify.
“We’re excited to have him for those 10 games,” Hayward said. “He’s a tremendous person, a tremendous leader for us. He fits right into our scheme on both sides of the ball.
“It’s going to hurt not having him in the playoffs, but hopefully something can change and we can get that overturned in some capacity.”
All-conference players Carson Heckathorn and Zach Ours will team up with Jenkins to catch passes, and three-year starter Hayden Davis will anchor the tight end position.
Tyler Dietterich returns at running back and will share carries with Grant Wissner.
They will run behind an offensive line with three returning starters in Joey Nichol, Clay Wolfe and Paul Morgan.
On defense, Hayden Davis, Tyler Jannuzi, Ahmed Alhabib and Stephen Baldwin will work in the trenches. Dietterich, Heckathorn, Morgan and Eric Davis are the projected linebackers, while Ours, Jenkins, Wissner, Dante Campagna and Kayden Job make up the secondary.
If Blackhawk is to return to its winning ways of 2018 and ‘19, it will have to do so against one of the WPIAL’s most difficult schedules.
The Cougars have nonconference clashes with Class 2A champion Beaver Falls, Class 3A winner Central Valley, and against perennial power North Catholic. A game at Ambridge and the renewal of a rivalry against Hopewell round out the nonconference slate.
“It will prepare us for our conference games,” Hayward said “It should be fun. All of those kids know each other. With the exception of North Catholic, they’re all Beaver County schools. They play each other in baseball and basketball and see each other at the mall. There’s some bragging rights for the county.”
Once Blackhawk hits Parkway Conference play, the challenge doesn’t relinquish. Aliquippa was the Class 4A runner-up, Chartiers Valley went 6-2 last year, and Montour, New Castle and Beaver have prosperous histories.
“I compare it to the old Parkway Conference,” Hayward added. “You know what you’re getting out of every team, every week. You can’t have a slip-up.
“We took our lumps last year, but we’re just trying to stay healthy and take it one game at a time against one powerhouse after another.”
Coach: Zack Hayward
2019 record: 2-6, 1-4 in Class 4A Parkway Conference
All-time record: 323-184-8
Date, Opponent, Time
8.27 at Beaver Falls, 7
9.3 Hopewell, 7
9.10 at North Catholic, 7
9.17 Central Valley, 7
9.24 at Ambridge, 7
10.1 Chartiers Valley*, 7
10.8 at Montour*, 7
10.15 New Castle*, 7
10.22 Aliquippa*, 7
10.29 at Beaver*, 7
Passing: Carson Davidson
90-160, 1,200 yards, 5 TDs
Receiving: Carson Heckathorn
30-470, 1 TD
Rushing: Josh Hathaway*
70-261, 1 TD
• This is the 25th anniversary of Blackhawk’s last WPIAL title (1996). The Cougars also won titles in 1992, ‘93 and ‘94.
• Cougars coach Zach Hayward was an all-state quarterback at Blackhawk (’09) and a two-time All-American quarterback at Geneva College.
• Several Blackhawk players were featured on the popular Esquire television series “Friday Night Tykes: Steel Country.”
• Before going 10-2 in 2018, the Cougars were 14-31 in the previous five seasons and failed to reach the postseason each year.