Hampton football players give boost to boys track and field team

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Saturday, April 17, 2021 | 11:01 AM


If the Hampton boys track and field team can reach the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs for only the second time in a decade, it will have another Hampton team to thank.

Roughly half of the athletes on the track squad also played for the Talbots football team, which last fall enjoyed the program’s best season in five years.

“We have about 20 football players on this team, and that’s the most we’ve ever had,” 18th-year track coach Derek Brinkley said. “That helps.”

The influx of football players has provided depth for the Talbots, from running backs turned into sprinters to offensive linemen converted into shot putters and discus and javelin throwers.

“It’s one of those groups where they are really close knit,” Brinkley said. “When you get half of them, the other half want to come with them. You know, because, it’s track and field. We all know it’s more of a social sport compared to everything else. When we can get 20 of them, it helps us out because it sparks that interest.”

The Talbots improved to 2-1 in Section 4-AAA with victories over Highlands and Knoch on April 12. They were scheduled to host Kiski Area on April 15, travel to Armstrong on April 20 and then head to the Butler Invitational on April 23 as one of the key warmups for the WPIAL individual finals May 20 at Slippery Rock.

Brinkley said dual meets with Kiski Area and Mars (April 26) will likely decide the Talbots’ playoff fate.

“I really think these guys have a chance,” he said.

The top athlete is senior Gage Galuska, a first-team all-conference Edinboro-bound linebacker who doubles as one of the fastest 400-meter runners in the WPIAL Class AAA.

Galuska finished fourth in the WPIAL 400 as a sophomore and, after losing his junior season to the covid shutdown, has added 30 pounds to his now 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame. He timed 50.47 seconds in the WPIAL finals and is eyeing one of the oldest marks in the school record books, former Talbots star Mike England’s 48.8 set in 1978.

Galuska is also competing in the 200 this season for the first time and is shooting for Ross Howat’s school record of 22.6 set in 2007.

“I think both of them are in reach, hopefully,” Galuska said at practice April 9 at Fridley Field, which had a new track installed prior to last season but sat idle during the pandemic shutdown.

Brinkley, a former NCAA Division II champion hurdler, believes Galuska can challenge the school’s 43-year-old mark in the 400.

“He came on so strong two years ago that we knew he was going to be good,” Brinkley said. “I’ve taken a look at the school record, 48.8, and there’s a reason why that’s been there for so long. (But) Gage is so much more physically better looking. He’s far more mature. He’s grown, and he’s stronger. It will be interesting.”

Junior Matt DeMatteo, the starting quarterback, is another athlete who swaps his helmet and shoulder pads for track spikes in the spring. DeMatteo and sophomore Joey Mayer, another football player, are the top hurdlers for the Talbots. DeMatteo also is gaining ground in the long jump and triple jump.

“After Gage, I think Matt has the next-best shot to go to states, in (300) intermediate (hurdles),” Brinkley said. “He and Joey are going to be WPIAL participants.”

Corey Letterle (400, 800) and Nick Schwartz (high jump) join Galuska as the only seniors on the roster.

Other dual-sport athletes include junior sprinters Jacob Premick and Christian Liberto, and junior throwers Michael Bagley (shot put, discus), Logan Rutledge (shot put, 100), Logan Schwartz (shot put, javelin) and John Morris (discus).

“We are very competitive,” said DeMatteo, whose father, Jacque, is the school’s football coach and encourages his players to participate in other sports. “We are all really athletic. We don’t have the biggest guys. Everyone is just competing in multiple sports and making the most of their high school career.”

Bagley said the success of the football team — they reached the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2015 — spurred many of the players to come out for track.

“Since we won (in football) this year, that’s why many of us wanted to do another activity together,” Bagley said. “I’m enjoying it a lot.”

Because track season was wiped out last year, many of them are newcomers to the sport. And with inexperience comes rapid advancement. Bagley said his shot put distance has already improved from 28 feet to 34 feet during the young season.

Another first-year track athlete, junior football lineman Osemerie Efetie, is also making dramatic strides, much to the delight of his dual-sport teammates.

“He’s been surprising,” Matt DeMatteo said. “We were down on the field one time and saw him throw the javelin, and it went completely sideways. Now he’s throwing straight.”

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