Former Highlands QB hired to coach Golden Rams football team

Monday, May 16, 2022 | 9:56 PM

Matt Bonislawski is a Golden Ram once again.

The former football standout at Highlands who returned to the school as athletic director from 2007-2013 was hired Monday evening as the school district’s new head football coach.

Bonislawski was recommended to the Highlands school board of directors by the athletic department, and the board voted unanimously, 8-0, to bring him aboard.

“I am excited to get started,” said Bonislawski, 38, who hopes to meet with the returning and new players as early as Tuesday afternoon.

“Highlands is a place where I’ve always wanted to be and coach at. The timing just wasn’t right until now. It’s such a special place for me. I know a lot of alumni are excited. I’ve had a lot of people reach out.”

Bonislawski, who played quarterback at UConn, takes over for Dom Girardi, who resigned in late March after five seasons with Highlands football.

Girardi went 21-26 with the Golden Rams and led the team last fall to a 7-4 overall record, a 4-3 third-place mark in the Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference and a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Girardi cited changes at home and at work that would take more of his time away from his coaching responsibilities.

Several key starters return including Valley News Dispatch all-stars in junior quarterback Chandler Thimons, sophomore leading rusher Luke Bombalski and junior lineman Tyler Bender.

“There is a lot of talent in the program that plays the game hard. They had some really solid games last year,” Bonislawski said. “There are some good kids coming back, but everyone will have an opportunity, whether it’s upperclassmen or underclassmen. I am really not familiar with any particular kid, so it will be good to see some of that competition for playing time with fresh eyes and see how it all plays out.”

Bonislawski’s first and only other head coach position in the WPIAL was at Riverview during the 2016-2017 seasons.

In two years in Oakmont, the man known as “Bones” led the Raiders to a 5-14 record and a wild-card berth to the WPIAL Class A playoffs in 2016.

It was Riverview’s first playoff appearance in nine years.

In 2017, the Raiders finished 2-7 and faced a challenging Eastern Conference schedule that included state champion Jeannette, WPIAL runner-up Imani Christian and WPIAL semifinalist Clairton.

He was let go after the 2017 season. It was a move by Riverview which, Bonislawski said at the time, surprised him.

Before Bonislawski came to Riverview, he served six years as an assistant under former Golden Rams head coach Sam Albert.

“Matt’s track record speaks for itself, both as a player and a coach,” Highlands athletic director Drew Karpen said. “His football knowledge is off the charts. With him being a Highlands grad, he’s going to be able to relate to a lot of his kids. I think that is a huge thing in getting them on the right track. I know they will be itching to get started.

“When we saw him apply, we were pretty excited that he was interested. We had a couple of really good candidates throughout the interview process, but it all came back to him at the end. He is huge on discipline, and that is also something we were looking for. We feel he is going to do a really good job.”

Tasks now in front of Bonislawski, who works for student transportation company ALC Schools based in the South Side, include the finalization of a coaching staff and a game plan for summer work in the weight room and on the field in advance of the 2022 season.

Highlands is scheduled to open the season with a Week Zero home game against University Prep. The Golden Rams shut out Prep, 27-0, in Week Zero last year.

“I know it will be a pretty busy summer,” Bonislawski said. “I was hired in early June at Riverview, and I didn’t get the first workout in until June 23. So, we’re actually a month ahead of that. We’re just looking forward to meeting and getting to know the kids and getting out there with them.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .


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