Jeannette hopes to utilize speed on new turf at McKee Stadium

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019 | 9:51 AM


To the surprise of some, the landmark decision to replace the grass at Jeannette’s McKee Stadium with artificial turf was met with little resistance.

Even at a place where change is minimal, more tolerated than accepted — a program where “the old way” still works — a new playing surface was approved and the district vaulted into the 21st century.

Modernization of a place the Jayhawks have called home for more than seven decades is a bold move, but it does not change the philosophy of the program with the most wins in WPIAL history (747).

A town known for its football exploits still wants wins — whether they come at home or away.

“I didn’t think I would see (the turf) in my lifetime,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “It makes you think about when (former) coach (Ray) Reitz said we had the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ (in 2007). Hopefully, this will let us utilize our speed to the outside. We want to keep winning. We expect to make the playoffs around here.”

McKee is considered more of a multi-purpose facility now, with other sports teams and the marching band also using the carpet.

The district trumpeted the fact the field is not all about football — until Friday nights, of course.

“We’re excited about the turf, but even more than that, we’re excited about the guys we have back,” said senior receiver and defensive back Jackson Pruitt. “We still want to win the championship. We lost some guys, but that doesn’t change our expectation. We have some small guys, but Jeannette teams play with heart. You don’t always have to have the best player in the nation to win.”

Jeannette, which is 58-8 with a WPIAL title, a PIAA title and two district runners-up since the last time it missed the playoffs (2013), went 11-1 last year and lost 27-0 to Rochester in the WPIAL Class A semifinals.

Pruitt (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) is a key two-way returnee, along with senior linemen Justin Cramer (6-0, 220) and Zach Crutchman (6-2, 235). That trio will be the pillar that holds up an otherwise young group.

“In all the years I have been here, this will be one of our more talented freshman groups,” Hall said. “There are some kids who could end up seeing some playing time.”

It appears junior James Sanders is the front-runner to replace dual-threat quarterback Seth Howard. The 5-7 Sanders saw mop-up time as a backup, but he was effective in that role.

Hall said six starters are back on offense, and the same number return on defense.

Pruitt is a go-to receiver with sneaky athleticism, particularly as a defensive back.

“Offense, defense, special teams, we need him to do it all,” Hall said of Pruitt.

Standout Marcus Barnes also will be missed on both sides of the ball. Barnes, now at William & Mary, caught 39 passes and covered a lot of ground on defense. Junior Kaelan Piscar (6-0, 200) also returns as a starter at receiver and linebacker.

Among the freshmen to watch are Ryan Kimmel, Noah Sanders and Elijah Binakonsky. Kimmel (6-0, 200) wears a size 14 shoe.

Senior Cam Falbaum, a strong pass-rusher and an all-conference lineman, opted not to play football this year, leaving a measurable void. He was the center.

“We may have to move some guys around to replace him,” Hall said. “We were hoping he’d change his mind and come out.”

Drake Petrillo, another graduate, is another important loss to the Jayhawks up front.

While Hall expects to gain clarity on his offensive line as training camp progresses, he expects his top returnees to lead by example. Those include Cramer and Crutchman.

Cramer is a rare, four-year starter and a fierce run-stuffer, while Crutchman returns after playing one season with the Jayhawks, following his transfer from Hempfield. Cramer has 332 tackles and 22 sacks in his career.

Junior Christian Blasco and senior Nate Rugh could be key contributors up front.

Running back never seems to need refueling at Jeannette, but the team does not appear to be as stacked at the position as in past years.

While Howard will be tough to replace, Hall said senior Imani Sanders, sophomore Basil Wilson and sophomore Taishaun Jamison could be viable ball carriers.

Sanders, a 5-6 scatback, is the team’s top returning rusher with 648 yards and 10 touchdowns.

At receiver, Pruitt will have company with sophomore Brett Birch showing promise in seven-on-seven workouts.

Junior Toby Kline could have a more prominent role as he adds to his punting duties.

Hall expects Clairton to be the early favorite in what looks like a more open-ended field in Class A, with his Jayhawks not far behind.

Schedule

Coach: Roy Hall

2018 record: 11-1, 6-0

All-time record: 747-316-48

Date, Opponent, Time

8.23, at East Allegheny, 7

8.30, Leechburg*, 7

9.6, Imani Christian*, 7

9.13, Avella, 7

9.20, at Springdale*, 7

9.27, Brownsville, 7

10.4, at OLSH, 7

10.11, at Greensburg C.C.*, 7

10.18, Riverview*, 7

10.25, at Clairton*, 7

*Class A Eastern Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Seth Howard*

81-160, 1,543 yards, 16 TDs

Receiving: Marcus Barnes*

39-603 yards, 9 TDs

Rushing: Imani Sanders

109-648 yards, 10 TDs

*Graduated

Jeannette roster

Name, Ht./Wt., Cl.

Xauion Adams, 6-0/157, Sr.

Elijah Binakonsky, 5-11/155, Fr.

Brett Birch, 5-8/160, So.

Christian Blasco, 5-9/225, Jr.

Tavon Briston, 6-0/220, Jr.

Jaydin Canady, 5-8/155, Fr.

Antonio Clark, 5-8/168, Fr.

Toby Cline, 5-8/160, Jr.

Jayson Cox, 6-0/196, Sr.

Sean Critchow, 6-0/190, Jr.

Justin Cramer, 6-0/190, Sr.

Sam Crosby, 5-3/125, So.

Zach Crutchman, 6-2/235, Sr.

Xayvier Dodds, 5-7/108, Jr.

Kael Fisher, 6-0/165, Jr.

Savion Harper, 5-8/260, So.

Jake Havrilesko, 5-11/130, Fr.

Christopher Heminger, 6-0/150, So.

Tyler Horn, 5-10/140, So.

Emilio Huerta, 5-8/190, Jr.

Taishaun Jamison, 5-8/166, So.

Spencer John, 6-0/240, Sr.

Ajay Kern, 6-1/170, Jr.

Alex Kimmel, 5-10/190, Sr.

Ryan Kimmel, 6-0/200, Fr.

Amari Mack, 5-10/160, Fr.

Tyshaun Moore, 5-11/200, Fr.

Bayley Molter, 6-4/205, Sr.

Kaelan Piscar, 6-0/200, Jr.

Jackson Pruitt, 6-1/185, Sr.

Andrew Ross, 5-6/120, Fr.

Nathan Rugh, 5-7/170, Sr.

Imani Sanders, 5-6/170, Sr.

James Sanders, 5-7/140, Jr.

Noah Sanders, 5-4/126, Fr.

Hunter Schmidt, 6-7/236, Jr.

Demetri Sensenich, 5-9/164, Jr.

Justin Shank, 6-1/260, So.

Roberto Smith Jr., 6-1/188, Jr.

Justin Stover, 5-7/145, Sr.

Nasheed Thompson, 5-10/145, So.

Stephan Twichell, 6-1/165, Sr.

Christian Williams, 6-4/185, Jr.

Basil Wilson, 5-10/190, So.

Elijah Wright, 5-5/204, So.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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