Following coach’s surprising resignation, Blackhawk hopes to keep building

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Friday, August 11, 2023 | 11:09 PM


Pat Feeley was thrown into an uncomfortable position just days before training camps opened throughout the WPIAL. But he’s used something comfortable in order to cope: history.

“I’m a history teacher,” said Feeley, who took over as Blackhawk’s football coach when Zack Hayward surprisingly stepped down to take the Chartiers Valley athletic director job Aug. 7.

Specifically, Feeley dove into how former U.S. President Harry Truman handled becoming President in 1945 following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“I looked into what he did, even though it’s apples and oranges,” said Feeley. “He didn’t have any context on how to be president, and then took over as president during World War II. He had a quote that the ‘Moon, the stars and all planets had fallen on me.’ He had to make some quick decisions, and effective decisions. He didn’t hide from it. He did what he thought was best. He knew he’d make some mistakes, but went through with it.

“And now I kind of know how Harry Truman felt. I found out during the weekend, and there’s not a handbook on how to take over a program with an hour’s notice.”

Feeley has served in an assistant role at Blackhawk since 1999, so his experience and familiarity with the program is there, without question. That said, he’s enjoyed being behind the scenes, assisting the head coach in any way that the two coaches he worked under, Joe Hamilton and Hayward, have needed.

“Those two, they made being a head coach look easy,” Feeley joked.

Nevertheless, he has begun to settle in, as has his team.

“Everything has been a blur, but the kids have been great,” he said. “I don’t want to say it was a gut punch, but they’ve gotten some shocks. Their coach said he’s leaving. … They were shocked, but then they were like, ‘Let’s go back to practice.’”

Feeley inherits a team that has trended in a positive direction of late. In 2020 and 2021, the Cougars won a total of four games. But last season, the team went 4-7 and 3-4 in the massively competitive Class 4A Parkway Conference. They reached the postseason and fell to Armstrong, 39-7, in the first round.

“We took our lumps last year,” he said. “We had a freshman on the offensive line. We had a sophomore at quarterback. We took those lumps from Aliquippa and Central Valley, and the kids were like, ‘This is brutal.’ But we’re like, ‘Down the road, this will pay off,’ and hopefully this is the year that it pays off.

“Having four wins shouldn’t be a goal. Doubling that, making the playoffs and ultimately making it to Acrisure (Stadium) should be the goal.”

The quarterback from last year returns in Stephen Knally, who passed for 685 yard and five touchdowns.

“He’s had a lot of growth in the offseason,” Feeley said. “He made his mistakes, but sometimes you do your best learning from making mistakes. … He’s watched game film this offseason, got in the weight room and balanced other sports with football.”

Blackhawk also has some special skill position players, including senior running back Maurice Watson-Trent, who ran for 472 yards last season. His older brother, Marcus, starred at Blackhawk and now plays at Georgia Southern, where he was second-team All-Sun Belt last season.

Another senior, Dante Campagna, will play receiver and has started since his freshman season. Juniors Sam Stewart and Connor McGraw will see time in the backfield and could split out wide as well.

The Cougars’ offensive line has some size but is young. Sophomore EJ Barron is 6-foot-4, 280 pounds. Classmate Maddox Javens is 6-foot-1, 270 pounds, and started as a freshman last season. They and junior Ryan Buckles will factor into the line, and the team hopes to get back senior Talan Woodward from offseason surgery.

On defense, there’s no doubt about who will lead the group.

“Thomas Price,” said Feeley of the senior defensive back with pass rushing capabilities. “He’s a monster. He’s so explosive, and I think has defensive player of the year potential. He just has relentlessness. … He’s like a Terminator type guy. He just keeps coming and coming.”

A team with a fair bit of youth and a sudden preseason coaching change is already experiencing plenty of challenges. But nothing may compare to what they’ll face in the Parkway Conference.

“We have a great conference, and there’s no slouches” Feeley said. “I have all these conference coaches I’m trying to emulate. There’s something about (Central Valley’s) Mark Lyons, (Aliquippa’s) Mike Warfield or (Montour’s) Lou Cerro that I see and I want to try to incorporate into my coaching… You see what they’re doing and you try to take a piece of it for your program.”

To say that Blackhawk has been through a unique preseason is an understatement. But now the team will try to rally around the situation, even though they understand Hayward’s decision to leave and still “love him,” according to Feeley. He hopes that this trial will make his players better, not only this year, but into the future.

“Honestly, I had a little apprehension about taking this job,” he said. “But I can’t let 65 kids down. And, some day, they’re going to look back and say, ‘I’m in a troubling spot, but we went through that adversity, our coach went through that adversity.’ Any adversity they face down the road, that’s going to be easier.”

Blackhawk

Coach: Pat Feeley

2022 record: 4-7, 3-4 in Class 4A Parkway Conference

All-time record: 330-199-8

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.25 at Beaver Falls, 7

9.1 Highlands, 7

9.8 at Mars, 7

9.15 at Ambridge*, 7

9.22 Chartiers Valley*, 7

9.29 Central Valley*, 7

10.6 at Aliquippa, 7

10.13 West Allegheny*, 7

10.20 Montour*, 7

10.27 at New Castle*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Stephen Knally

61-131, 685 yards, 5 TDs

Rushing: Maurice Watson-Trent

94-472 yards, 2 TDs

Receving: Anthony Malagise*

13-275 yards, 2 TDs

FAST FACTS

• Blackhawk’s board voted to name Feeley the head coach following Hayward’s resignation. He views it as an interim role, however, and feels the job could be opened following the season. He is understanding of that decision, if it happens.

• The Cougars have a difficult nonconference slate, opening with rival Beaver Falls. They will also face strong programs in Highlands and Mars before their conference opener against Ambridge.

• Blackhawk last won a playoff game in 2019, when it defeated Greensburg Salem.

• Hayward, an all-state quarterback at Blackhawk, will be the sitting athletic director at Chartiers Valley when they face Blackhawk on Sept. 22 in a Parkway Conference matchup.

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