Hempfield looks to stay healthy in 2020

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Monday, August 31, 2020 | 12:05 AM


Ninth-year coach Rich Bowen wonders what might have been last year had his Hempfield Spartans not been ravaged by injuries early in the season.

An exciting offense, powered by star running back Nathan Roby, and a hold-it-together defense still allowed the Spartans to finish 4-6.

But a 2-6 mark in the teeth-gnashing Class 6A conference spelled a seventh-place finish and no playoffs.

“I have been doing this over 30 years, and that was one of the better teams I’ve coached,” Bowen said. “There was so much talent on that team.”

The problem is, most of that talent went off to college, opening the door for fresh faces to carry the program forward in what has been an unstable 2020.

“We’re going to be young,” Bowen said. “But we have really good numbers, and the kids are excited to play. We might take some lumps, but we’re going to battle you.”

Roby put up head-turning numbers and was phenomenal in the backfield, in the flat and on defense. He rushed for 1,449 yards — 908 in his last three games, including 408 against Plum — and caught 52 passes. He scored 25 touchdowns.

“Roby,” Bowen said. “They come along once in a while. He will be awfully hard to replace. He had a great senior season and a great three-year career.”

Senior Mario Perkins, whose junior season was stunted by injuries, will step into Roby’s offensive role. Senior Demetrius Murphy also will get carries.

“He will do a lot of what Roby did,” Bowen said of Perkins. “Losing him last year changed our team dynamic.”

Said Perkins, “I know I have a bigger role this year, and the coaches and I are preparing for this season.”

At quarterback, the quest to replace drop-back passer Blake Remaley (1,625 yards, 17 TDs) comes down to two candidates: Senior Christian Zilli, a talented baseball player, is out for football again, and sophomore Jake Phillips is a rising talent.

Zilli played as a freshman but focused on baseball and basketball the last two years.

Senor Sean Knight is the lone returning starter on the line.

He has played center, guard and tackle but likely will be the center this season.

Senior Roman Pellis returns as a go-to receiver. He had 32 catches for 456 yards last season.

Junior Daniel Sierk (6-4, 220) is the tight end. On defense, Knight anchors the line, with Perkins and Murphy at linebacker. Murphy moves over from cornerback.

Senior Taylor Dunn, junior Jayden Talbert and senior Josh Winkowski are others competing for spots in the secondary.

A good-looking group of sophomores will look to contribute. It includes Ian Tuffs, Andy Vallano, Ethan Manley, Gino Caesar and others.

Schedule

Coach: Rich Bowen

2019 record: 4-6, 2-6 in Class 6A

All-time record: 294-317-13

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, at Norwin*, 7

9.18, Seneca Valley*, 7

9.25, at Mt. Lebanon*, 7:30

10.2, Canon-McMillan*, 7

10.9, at Baldwin*, 7

10.17, at Central Catholic*#, 12

10.23, North Allegheny*, 7

*Class 6A game

#At Duquesne University

Statistical leaders

Passing: Blake Remaley*

131-224, 1,625 yards, 17 TDs

Receiving: Nathan Roby*

52-576 yards, 6 TDs

Rushing: Roby*

166-1,449 yards, 19 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• The record-breaking Roby had one of the best individual seasons in school history as he accounted for 2,469 yards and 25 touchdowns.

• Hempfield averaged 29.3 points but gave up 30.2.

• The Spartans have just two winning seasons in 23 years — 2013 (6-4) and 1997 (7-3).

• Football continues to bring out participation. Bowen said Hempfield had 58 players sign up for the varsity team, while there were 32 names on the freshman team and 50 at the seventh-eighth grade level.

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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