Hempfield football maintains message, builds for future

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Tuesday, November 9, 2021 | 10:09 AM


Mike Brown isn’t budging. Doesn’t matter what day it is, what month or who’s listening. His message isn’t changing.

Not one bit.

“I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t think we could win here,” he said. “We’ve just got to really develop physically and mentally. The kids understand that.”

In Brown’s first season as high school football coach at Hempfield, the Spartans finished in last place and out of the playoffs — again — with an 0-7 record in the WPIAL Class 6A standings, 2-8 overall with victories over Class 5A Franklin Regional and Class 4A Greensburg Salem.

Brown, a Penn-Trafford product, is a former college assistant at Robert Morris and high school assistant at Greensburg Central Catholic. He got a late start to his first season at Hempfield, which chose to not fill the coaching vacancy left by the February resignation of former coach Rich Bowen, now a Norwin assistant, until June, or shortly before the start of training camp.

Brown did his best, he said, to complete a crash course in getting to know the Spartans.

“It wasn’t ideal getting such a late start,” he said, “but we’ve seen a lot already that shows us there’s real potential here to succeed.

“We’re getting a lot more kids out up and down the grades. That’s a start.”

This year’s woes represent the continuation of a losing pattern at Hempfield, where the Spartans have not qualified for the WPIAL playoffs since 2016, losing a first-round game to North Allegheny, 42-7.

They haven’t produced a winning record since 2013. They were 1-4 in 2020’s covid-shortened season. If that’s not enough, Hempfield hasn’t won a playoff game since 1997 — a span of 24 years, if you’re counting.

“The truth is, it needs to change in every aspect, our coaching staff included,” said Brown, who set the tone early for his message of “changing the culture.”

In July, Brown, who at 30 is the youngest WPIAL coach in Class 6A, said: “Hempfield football is looked down upon. I want to instill a chip on our shoulder, a little swagger. We need to quit being a doormat. We’re changing everything here. We’re starting from ground zero.”

That message will not change, he said, following Hempfield’s latest disappointing season.

But it’s not just a simple matter of flipping a switch, said Brandon Rapp, a former athletics director at Norwin and Derry who is in his second year as Hempfield’s AD.

“Sure, we want to do well and win games, but there’s a larger picture and plan in place,” he said. “We realize it’s going to be a multiyear approach to get everyone on the same page from our youth teams through high school and JV so that we can develop one program.

“We’ve seen some good steps, but we’ve got to keep working towards that goal.”

Since coming aboard, Brown has maintained some fundamental ideas in hopes of stemming the losing years at Hempfield, which has struggled to compete in the state’s highest classifications in football, previously at Class 4A before making the jump to 6A when the PIAA expanded to six groups in 2016.

“I can’t speak for what other schools go through,” Brown said. “At Hempfield, we have our own issues. (For example), we can’t have our guards be 205, 210 pounds and compete at the 6A level. There’s no magic formula. We’ve just got to really get into the weight room and develop.”

Brown said he is comfortable knowing he has the support of the school district’s administration as well as Rapp, his immediate boss. But he also is aware some favorable results will have to come in due time, something a string of coaches have been unable to accomplish.

“I know we have everybody pulling in the right direction,” Rapp said. “I know the traction is there and all the pieces are in place.

“We want to get the younger groups in football more involved with things such as coaching clinics, where they can benefit from some of the instruction that’s given at the higher levels. I’m excited to see this coach and his staff develop.”

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