Gateway seeks return to championship form

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Friday, August 16, 2019 | 10:22 PM


The Gateway football team won a combined 26 of 29 games the past two seasons.

Two years ago, the Gators captured the WPIAL Class 5A title and finished as PIAA runner-up.

In an attempt to repeat that feat last fall, Gateway, as the No. 1 seed, was stunned by West Allegheny in the WPIAL semifinals.

After taking stock of the sudden end to the campaign, the Gators players and coaches got back to work. Now, on the cusp of a new season, the Gators again hope to be in the mix for gold.

“There were lessons to be learned from the tape, and it certainly didn’t end the way we wanted,” Gateway coach Don Holl said. “But the nature and the very being of high school football is you turn the page. You lose some great seniors and also see who you have coming back. There are a lot of guys who have been competing for spots who have been waiting for their opportunity.”

All eyes will be on versatile junior Derrick Davis. The running back and linebacker continues to garner Division I offers from the country’s elite college football programs such as Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State.

“(The playoff loss) really motivated us to work hard in the offseason to be ready to make another run,” Davis said. “We had everyone in the gym. There was no skipping lift day. We all have a lot of energy.”

Davis rushed for 1,229 yards and 20 touchdowns and added 409 yard and six scores in the passing game.

“He is an elite athlete with an elite work ethic,” Holl said. “It’s no secret he has to get the ball for us to be successful. He will be a difference maker, no doubt, in all three phases.”

Tui Faumuina-Brown earned Big East first-team honors last year at tight end. The senior, with college interest from Western Michigan, Navy, Air Force and Ohio, among others, also made an impact at outside linebacker as the Gateway defense averaged just 7.1 points allowed over 13 games.

Brown, Holl said, could also line up at H-back or wideout in certain situations.

“Tui keeps getting better as he gets bigger, stronger and faster,” Holl said. “He’s got exceptional hands and runs great routes. Defensively, he’s got suddenness and length, is a good block defeater and tackler.”

The linebacker position is shaping up to be the strength of the team with Davis, Brown and all-conference performers in seniors Jordan Stancovich and Jay Johnson on the inside.

Johnson, Holl said, could also play on the outside, and Davis could move to safety. Sophomore Aiden Smith also is in the linebacker mix.

Also returning after all-conference seasons in 2018 are juniors Kelvon Nelson (defensive tackle) and Jacques Taylor (nose tackle/defensive end).

Taylor also is one of two returning along the offensive line. He and senior Pete Zlokas are at the two tackle spots.

“We’ve had good competition for the other three spots,” Holl said. “They are working their tails off. They will be ready.”

The line, in addition to opening holes in the run game, will be charged with protecting a new starting quarterback after the graduation of Brendan Majocha (2,537 yards, 35 touchdowns).

Holl said senior Bryson Venanzio, with a year in the system after transferring from Kiski Area, had a leg up heading into camp, but sophomore Carson Engleka and junior newcomer Bonzi Parks also have battled in the offseason.

More than 1,700 receiving yards and 31 touchdowns were lost to graduation. Holl said several candidates have been vying for time at receiver. They include seniors Sonny Comunale, Jaquan Thomas and Zach Smith; juniors Shane Thrift (transfer from Seton LaSalle), Chamor Price, Jayden Hurt and Harden Gage; and sophomores Patrick Body, and Amir Harris.

Thomas and Price also combined for 702 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last year.

Holl said the defense also is bolstered with Zlokas (defensive line), Thrift (safety), Zach Smith (safety), Comunale (corner), Thomas (corner), Body (corner) and sophomore Hunter Dow (defensive line).

The kicking game is anchored by the return of all-conference place kicker Jayson Jenkins, a junior.

“Jayson works really hard at his craft and also has natural talent,” Holl said. “He’s ready to roll.”

Holl said the Foothills will be a battle again with the likes of Penn-Trafford, McKeesport and Franklin Regional challenging to knock the Gators out of the top spot. Gateway is gunning for a third-straight conference title.

“Basically, within the conference, you have those teams who are consistently good, and we have to do what we can to stay with them,” Holl said. “You have other teams who are improving and are ready to knock off those top teams. It should be a pretty interesting season.”

Albert Gallatin’s WPIAL departure after the last season left a void in Gateway’s schedule. An opponent search ended in February with a deal to play at Ohio power Massillon. The first-ever meeting between the schools is Oct. 11.

Gateway begins its 2019 campaign Aug. 23 at home against Mt. Lebanon. The 1969 WPIAL title team will be honored and celebrated that evening.

“We are focusing on ways to get better so we can make another run at a championship,” Holl said.

Schedule

Coach: Don Holl

2018 record: 12-1, 7-0

All-time record: 425-212-13

Date, Opponent, Time

8.23, Mt. Lebanon, 7

8.30, at Penn-Trafford*, 7:30

9.6, Plum*, 7

9.13, at Latrobe*, 7

9.20, Ringgold, 7

9.27, at North Hills, 7:30

10.4, Franklin Regional*, 7

10.11, at Massillon Washington (Ohio), 7:30

10.18, Connellsville*, 7

10.25, at McKeesport*, 7

*Class 5A Foothills Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Brendan Majocha*

145-218, 2,537 yards, 35 TDs

Rushing: Derrick Davis

141-1,229 yards, 20 TDs

Receiving: Courtney Jackson*

49-1,080 yards, 19 TDs.

*Graduated

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

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