Hempfield hires Nick Keefer as football coach

Monday, March 13, 2023 | 8:33 PM

From the time he was a pint-sized ball boy in baggy orange sweats helping his dad, Tim Keefer, a former coach at Oliver, Nick Keefer knew he wanted to be a football coach.

He used to carry water into huddles during games at Cupples Stadium in Pittsburgh. A few years later, he was keeping stats. The game was all around him, and his curious and impressionable nature allowed him to learn the game up close.

Football was the ultimate rush.

“It was my dream,” he said. “I feel like I was born to do this.”

Keefer’s dream came true.

He was voted in Monday night as football coach at Hempfield, where he has taught and coached since 2011. The vote was 7-0, with two members absent.

Keefer, 34, was on staff with former Spartans coaches Greg Meisner, Rich Bowen and Mike Brown, working with multiple positions before becoming offensive coordinator for three years.

The nine-year assistant helped implement the Spartans’ no-huddle spread the team still uses.

When Brown resigned in January after two seasons to become the coach at Norwin, Keefer kept the Spartans’ weight-training program going for eight consecutive weeks.

“I have been fortunate enough to work under a lot of good head coaches who delegated a lot of things to me,” said Keefer, the head freshman coach from 2019-21. “They knew I had aspirations to be a head coach. I will sort of take a little bit of everything from them and morph it into my own.”

A Belle Vernon grad who played quarterback and defensive back and went on to a college career at Lock Haven, the high-energy Keefer is a math teacher at Wendover Middle School and also is an assistant coach with the track and field team, so he knows the students.

He hopes to get back into a role as a physical education teacher.

“I am all in for the kids,” he said. “It’s about them. Our job is to teach them this game we have.

“We talk about having a winning culture. Hempfield already has that. Look at our track program, our softball program. The kids have won here. Hempfield kids know how to win. They want to win. The expectations shouldn’t be different for football.”

Keefer has been a coach on teams that have won 11 WPIAL championships and five PIAA titles.

Another influence of Keefer’s is former Spartans softball coach Bob Kalp.

Keefer and his wife, Jenna, were softball assistants on the team’s long bench from 2015-18. He was in a strength and conditioning role.

Jenna (Pennesi) was a standout at Latrobe and also played at Robert Morris.

“Coach Kalp was always about the little things,” Keefer said. “Win the day. How often did he talk about winning championships at practice? Hardly ever.”

Family is an important word in Keefer’s vocabulary. He and Jenna have three young daughters, including twins Mila and Ella, and Lena.

Keefer plans to add his father and brother, Zach, to his staff. Zach Keefer is the boys basketball coach at Frazier.

Tim Keefer is the men’s basketball coach at Carlow.

Nick Keefer said he would like to retain the defensive coaches from last year.

Hempfield had a 5-0 start last year, its best since 1971, but finished 6-4 after injuries led to a late-season slide.

The Spartans led the Class 5A Big East Conference with a 31.8-point average.

Despite the downturn, it was the team’s first winning season since 2013.

“The kids experienced winning and saw what we wanted from them to make it happen,” Keefer said. “It’s nice to go into a new season with some momentum after what we did last year.”

The first quarterback Keefer coached at Hempfield was Ty George, the new coach at Greensburg Salem.

“I was 23 and he was 18, so we weren’t that far apart age-wise,” Keefer said. “We talk all the time. We’re kind of both going into this together.”

And Greensburg Salem and Hempfield will remain the Week Zero opener, matching the first-year leaders.

“I wouldn’t want to open the season against anybody else,” Keefer 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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