Just making playoffs ‘not going to be good enough’ for Western Beaver

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Saturday, August 21, 2021 | 6:01 AM


When a new player steps into the Western Beaver huddle for the first time, there’s a good chance coach Ron Busby has met him before.

Just not necessarily recently.

“Sometimes I don’t recognize them at first,” Busby said with a laugh. “They’re a lot bigger.”

Busby is an elementary school principal in the district. He’s in his first year as head coach of the Golden Beavers after two years as the team’s defensive coordinator.

“We’re a small community. I know the families,” Busby said. “It’s definitely an advantage in coaching them at the high school level. Most of them have come through this building. I’ve had a relationship with their parents or maybe a sibling.”

Busby is the fourth head coach in the last four seasons at Western Beaver, but that’s not quite as tumultuous as it sounds.

When Derek Moye was hired to replace Matt Gray in 2019, Busby joined his staff. When Moye stepped away from coaching last year, athletic director Ryan Matsook stepped in and Busby stayed on. They’re essentially different branches of the same coaching tree.

“It’s not your typical turnover situation where you have a new guy coming in and bringing in a whole new staff and changing the way things are done,” Busby said.

The Golden Beavers will have to change some things they’ve done, though, if only to offset some key personnel losses.

Dakari Bradford (Akron) was one of the WPIAL’s most dangerous playmakers last season. Daquan Bradford (Bluefield State) and Elias Bishop (Mercyhurst) were game-changing players as well. They’re playing college ball now.

“Great players. I don’t think you try to replace them,” Busby said. “Every kid brings a skill set and you try to put them in the best position for them to succeed, and that might be a little different for each kid. They were great players. Definitely going to have to work hard to replace what they brought to our program.”

Busby is confident the Golden Beavers can overcome the losses, in large part, because of a small but strong senior class led by Thad Gray, Zach Schwartz and Vincent DeDominicis.

“We have a group of six seniors, and those guys have been with me for the past two years,” Busby said. “We started moving this thing forward together as a group with Derek a couple years ago. A lot of those kids are multi-year starters. Those guys, they feel like they’ve got something to prove. They think they can take that next step.”

Xander LeFebvre could be a difference maker as well. He’s a three-year starter at quarterback, and he’s still a junior.

“Xander is a big kid, very competitive,” Busby said. “His development has been very good over the summer. Very strong arm. We feel this year he’s developed some touch on the football. He’s always had that strong arm. It’s the touch part he’s had to grow into.”

Lonnie Craft is a returning starter on both sides of the ball. Center Drew Mitchell is the most experienced player on an undersized but athletic line. Thad Gray, Schwartz, LeFebvre and junior Levi Gray should make the secondary a strength of the defense.

They’re tasked with a lofty goal: helping the Golden Beavers break into the ranks of the elite in Class 2A.

“We don’t want to be happy making the playoffs and playing one playoff game,” Busby said. “That’s not going to be good enough for this group.”

Western Beaver

Coach: Ron Busby

2020 record: 6-2, 4-1 in Class 2A Three Rivers Conference

All-time record: 301-252-6

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.28 New Brighton, noon

9.3 at Freedom, 7:30

9.11 Riverside, 12:30

9.18 Beaver, 12:30

9.24 at Summit Academy, 7

10.1 at Seton LaSalle*, 7

10.9 Brentwood*, 12:30

10.16 Sto-Rox*, 12:30

10.22 at Carlynton*, 7

10.30 South Side*, 12:30

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Xander LeFebvre

Receiving: Dakari Bradford*

Rushing: Thad Gray

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• Western Beaver’s only two losses last season were to the eventual WPIAL finalists in Class 2A — champion Beaver Falls in the playoffs and runner-up Sto-Rox in the regular season.

• The Golden Beavers only played three home games last season. They won them all by a combined score of 104-28.

• On the flip side, Western Beaver will play only four road games this season. They’ll play three of their first four and three of their last four games at home.

• Thanks to a co-op, Dakari Bradford was an all-conference football player for Western Beaver and an all-state basketball player for Lincoln Park last season. He’s got a chance to play as a true freshman at Akron.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review Assistant Sports Editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at jbombulie@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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