Jeannette players band together, show determination

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Thursday, September 16, 2021 | 10:01 AM


The most trying season in Jeannette football history, one fraught with the unthinkable at every turn, doesn’t seem to be dampening the spirit of the players.

In fact, the team might be getting closer with each challenging week. Hard to fathom, right?

You might call the Jayhawks a “band” of brothers.

Four members of the school’s marching band came out for the team this season, partially filling spots left vacant by a staggering nine-player pack that transferred or opted not to play this season — a year after the Jayhawks won their 10th WPIAL title and finished second in the state.

But the transfers story is like a broken record to these guys. This new team now marches to the beat of a different drum.

Seniors Nathan Moore, Tamarion “T.J.” Stevens-Blow and Nathanael Gantt are quite literally a drum line. They all play on the offensive and defensive lines, but beat the skins at halftime, along with senior Nathaniel Christoff, another lineman who occupies a spot in the horn section.

The team might be overmatched and struggling, but newcomers are trying to make sure things stay in rhythm, at least from an effort standpoint.

“I wasn’t here last year, but I think we’re coming together as a team,” Gantt said. “We haven’t had any problems.”

The ensemble comes to practice ready to work.

“There is no quit in them,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “Some of them haven’t played football before. Did I think they could make it though training camp? No. They have stuck it out, and I will be right here with them.”

Stevens-Blow and Moore are drum lieutenants.

Stevens-Blow plays the quad drums, Moore the snare drum, Gantt the bass drum and Christoff the trumpet.

“We came to the team to replace those people,” Stevens-Blow said. “It was very difficult going through training camp, band camp and working a job. I knew it would be tough. It’s tiring playing in the games and then playing at halftime, especially at home games because we play second.”

Jeannette (0-3) has been outscored 177-0 in three games and has only crossed midfield once. They have two first downs in three games. The Jayhawks are 0-3 for the first time since 1993.

But the band plays on.

“It’s strange to see four kids play in the band at halftime,” Hall said. “You don’t see that here.

“They’ve been upbeat, and they’re not quitting. I don’t know, maybe it’s that Jeannette mentality.”

Stevens-Blow said coming out for the team had as much to do with the band as it did the football team. He didn’t think athletes were allowed to play in the band, and vice versa.

“If there isn’t football, there isn’t a band to play at halftime,” he said. “If there are no games, we only have a couple of shows and parades, and that’s it.”

Stevens-Blow and Moore look more like football players than “band kids.” Both are imposing at 6-foot-2 and over 200 pounds.

Jeannette Superintendent Matt Jones refers to them as “dual-purpose guys.”

The band members also do well in the classroom and balance football and band practice.

Christoff has enlisted in the Navy, where he plans to earn a nursing degree and pursue medical school. Stevens-Blow plans to study music production, while Moore, who is in the robotics program at Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center, is looking at IUP or Pitt for engineering, and Gantt is considering accounting or architectural engineering at the college level.

While he isn’t in the band, but has a name that sounds like he is, senior Tyler Horn was singled out by Hall for his leadership. The coach said Horn “keeps everybody upbeat.”

“Our QBs, Payton Molter (and Horn) are taking a beating, but they keep getting back up,” Hall said. “They keep fighting. You have to give them credit for that.”

Hall said senior Mason Yates was a manager on the 2017 team but decided to come out for the team this season.

While Jeannette looked like a project to get warm bodies together, no matter their walks of life or talent level, the team could be forming a bond they’ll never forget.

“We signed up for it, so we gotta stick with it,” Stevens-Blow said. “We knew what we were getting into.”

Due to injuries, the Jayhawks are down to 19 players for Friday’s home game against Riverview (0-2) in the WPIAL Class A Eastern Conference opener. It will be the team’s hall of fame game as the district recognizes its 2021 Jayhawk Athletic Hall of Fame class.

Could this be the week the Jayhawks regain their balance and compete?

“We have a chance,” Stevens-Blow said. “We have a chance … to win.”

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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