Jeannette football program soldiers on as transfers, defections decimate roster

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Friday, July 9, 2021 | 8:38 PM


Tyler Horn said his motivation to play football at Jeannette this season is simple.

“We know what football means to this town and this community,” the rising senior said. “We’re here to play and can’t let distractions get in the way.”

There is no way to sugarcoat it. A WPIAL championship team that finished second in the state last season has been dismantled, and graduation has nothing to do with it. The Jayhawks are unrecognizable, with dwindling roster numbers raising serious concerns about the upcoming season.

Only one starter comes back: senior lineman Justin Shank.

Just 25 players showed up for a voluntary workout Friday, the most the team has seen so far this summer. An improvement from the “eight to 10” one coach said were showing up previously but potentially the high-water mark for a group of mostly raw newcomers who are new to the sport.

Mandatory workouts, more grueling in scope, could trim that number. It’s the reality of the sport.

Jeannette decided not play in the Westmoreland County Coaches Association 7-on-7 Passing Tournament next week as those newcomers continue to adapt.

“It’s baby steps. We just want to make it through the season without anyone getting hurt,” said coach Roy Hall, 58, who announced this season will be his last with the Jayhawks. “Our plan is to play every game, compete in every game and add to our total.”

By total, Hall is referring to wins. The Jayhawks have the most victories in WPIAL football history, with 766. They also would like to add to their player total. That is the more pressing issue with heat week (Aug. 9) and training camp (Aug. 16) fast approaching.

New faces dot the roster. Most Class A schools aren’t football factories, so Jeannette had to scour the student body to find participants, most of which never imagined they would play football, let alone have a chance to start for a program that has won 10 WPIAL titles.

“You could be someone who just walked on, and you could still be good,” Shank said. “You can be anything you want.”

Jeannette has a player named Horn, and others who can play horns. Six newcomers also play in the band, including Nathan Moore, a senior who made drum major. Of the six, only one has played football before.

“We’re trying a partnership with the band,” Hall said. “We’re working together.

“I never thought I would see Jeannette football players leave the Jeannette program. It’s still like a bad dream every day. But we’ll make it. It’s a big question mark right now, but I love the kids’ effort and determination.”

A wave of transfers that included just about every Jeannette player with a familiar name in 2020 has shaken the program.

But while red flags seem to be waving in the wind at McKee Stadium, white flags are nowhere to be found.

“You’re not going to see any quit in us,” Horn said. “We’re going to battle through it.”

Horn is competing for the starting quarterback job, a spot riddled with inexperience now that rising sophomore Brad Birch transferred to Gateway.

His brother, Brett Birch, a senior receiver and defensive back, joined him.

A slew of two-way starters followed. Junior Ryan Kimmel, senior Taishaun Jamison and junior Jaydin Canady transferred to Greensburg Central Catholic.

Junior Eli Binakonsky transferred to Hempfield, junior Basil Wilson moved to Texas, and junior Louis Callaway transferred to Woodland Hills.

More players have indicated they do not intend to play this season, Hall said.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Hall, who is in his 37th year of coaching, 13th as a head coach. Hall also has worked at Omnova Solutions in Jeannette for 36 years.

Four coaches also have left. Ryan Reitz and Trevor Petrillo are now at Hempfield, Jeremy Binakonsky resigned, and Doug Phillips stepped down to watch his grandson, Jake, play quarterback at Hempfield.

While Hall has heard various reasons for the transfers, ranging from academics, to college exposure, to concerns over the future of the program, he is trying to focus on those who answer when he takes roll, not the departed.

A team motto in recent years seems to have lost some steam — “4-5-6, don’t quit” — but not for everyone.

“We believe we can go back for another ring,” Shank said. “It doesn’t matter how big the team is, how small the team is. You can still go, as long as you have heart. Just keeping pushing.”

Hall considered leaving last year, a decision rooted more in his family than a crumbling football program.

“I have done this for 36 years,” Hall said. “It’s time. I haven’t taken a vacation in seven years. We coaches put in a lot of time, and people don’t always see that. I need to spend more time with my wife, with my family.”

In the meantime, the coach will do everything in his power to salvage the season and keep the Jayhawks respectable for the next coach.

Watching the new players lift weights and get acclimated has proven inspiring to Hall, who is 115-27 in a dozen years leading the team.

“These kids are here for the program,” Hall said. “They want to keep the tradition going on. I give them all the credit in the world. They are here working out and being dedicated. They deserve a chance.”

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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