Football newcomer develops into one of WPIAL’s finest linemen at Belle Vernon

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Tuesday, November 22, 2022 | 4:49 PM


First, there was curiosity. Then came eagerness.

Before long, though, bewilderment set in.

Did this experiment backfire?

“There’s no way,” Belle Vernon football coach Matt Humbert said as he watched then-sophomore Steve Macheska pull up lame two years ago on the first day of training camp. “That’s just my luck. I tell this big kid to come out (for the team), and this happens.”

Macheska, whom Humbert chased down in the hallways in an effort to get him to play football, ran the Leopards’ 10-yard square drill when he injured his knee. The injury later was diagnosed as a torn medial collateral ligament, meniscus and posterior cruciate ligament.

His varsity football career was less than an hour old, and it all came crashing down.

“First rep,” said Macheska, now a 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior lineman who will help lead Belle Vernon (9-2) into Friday’s WPIAL Class 3A championship against Avonworth (11-1) at Acrisure Stadium. “I hadn’t played football before that. It was my first time. I was out six weeks but ended up coming back three weeks sooner than they expected.”

This story already has a happy ending because Macheska is an integral part of the Leopards’ playoff run. But it can have an even happier ending if the team wins Friday.

“That would be unreal,” Macheska said. “We’re back here to get it done. Let’s bring one home.”

Humbert is glad it all worked out for Macheska, the 3A finalist for the Bill Fralic Memorial Trophy, which goes to the WPIAL’s top senior two-way lineman.

“He’s just a good old boy,” Humbert said. “He worked his butt off to get back. I’m thinking, there’s no way this kid is coming back out. He started as a junior. He is solid in every aspect.”

A right tackle on offense and an interior lineman on defense, with occasional moves to defensive end, Macheska is tied for second on the team with 41 tackles. He has two quarterback sacks and two fumble recoveries.

“It was a setback, but I worked hard to come back. I wanted to play,” Macheska said of his injury. “My uncle died right before (camp two years ago) and that kind of motivated me more to play. My mom and dad were so supportive and helped me through it all.”

Macheska knew a little about Fralic before he made the cut for the final six. The Fralic Award winner will be announced Dec. 3.

The late Fralic was a massive standout — literally and figuratively — at Penn Hills, Pitt and in the NFL.

“My aunt Karen went to Penn Hills, so she told me all about him,” Macheska said. “I have been reading up on him. It’s an honor to be a finalist.”

Macheska, a captain, said the Leopards’ line could hold the key to the team’s first WPIAL title since 1995.

Belle Vernon was the 4A runner-up last year to Aliquippa. The Leopards left the North Shore with long faces and a goal: get back to the title game and change the result.

“It’s amazing to be back (in the finals),” he said. “I had one of my best games last year down at Heinz. At the beginning of the season, we had some controversy and had to get better. We struggled offensively against McKeesport. But we battled back. We have to grind. It’s my job to get everyone juiced up.”

The natural toughness already was engrained in Machesksa, a hockey player at Belle Vernon.

He is a defenseman.

“We need to be on point (Friday),” he said. “We need good movement and have to make the iso-blocks. We know about the atmosphere already because of last year. We could play this game on the street. I don’t care.”

Another Westmoreland County lineman also is a Fralic finalist in Penn-Trafford senior Joe Enick, a Central Michigan commit. He is the 5A pick.

“I have battled with him a couple times,” Macheska said.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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