Large, veteran offensive line to pave way for Mt. Lebanon

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Thursday, August 15, 2019 | 1:51 PM


If there’s a difference between Class 5A and 6A football, maybe it’s the size of the linemen.

At least, that’s what Bob Palko has seen since taking over Mt. Lebanon’s program in February. Palko coached West Allegheny for 24 seasons and won eight WPIAL titles, but this Blue Devils’ offensive line is bigger than any group he’s coached.

“Way, way bigger,” he said. “The biggest team I ever had the ’97 team. We’ve got 6-6, 6-5, 6-3. We’ve got some pretty good kids, really good players.”

That oversized offensive line, Palko said, should help Mt. Lebanon compete this season with anybody in WPIAL Class 6A. It starts with tackle Tom Peters (6-5, 245) and guard J.B. Nelson (6-5, 290), who are paired together on the left side.

Might the Blue Devils run left often?

“Not necessarily,” Palko said. “Max Baker is our right guard and he’s 6-2, 280. And our right tackle is 6-3, 265.”

Peters, Nelson, Baker and center Ethan Taback (6-1, 235) are all seniors. The right tackle spot is undecided but two sophomores and a junior are candidates.

“I don’t know what more I could ask for in a line,” said Peters, a second-year starter. “Everybody is communicating well. We’re working more as a unit than we have in the past. It’s awesome to see.”

The Blue Devils also have a new line coach. Former NFL lineman Reggie Wells Jr., a South Park graduate, joined Palko’s staff this season. Wells played 120 games in his 10-year NFL career.

“We’ve got a new playbook and a new line coach who really knows what he’s doing,” Peters said. “We’re getting some great coaching.”

Mt. Lebanon went 6-6 overall last season, 5-3 in the conference, under coach Mike Melnyk. Melnyk resigned in December after seven seasons with a 44-31 record.

The team earned the No. 3 seed in the six-team WPIAL playoffs last season, defeated Canon-McMillan in the first round and lost to Pine-Richland in the semifinals.

The Blue Devils graduated quarterback Seth Morgan, a 2,100-yard passer last season. Palko said they have three candidates to replace him: senior Evan Jones and sophomores Joey Daniels and Jack Smith.

Combined, the three attempted only five passes last year. Jones was 2 for 2 with two touchdowns.

“We’ve got three pretty good options,” Palko said. “I think they’re all very good, and I think they all have different skill sets. We’ll see.”

Morgan also was the team’s leading rusher with 536 yards.

Senior Mason Ventrone will shift from receiver to tailback this season to bolster the running game, but Palko said he’ll continue to share carries among multiple backs. Sam Rolfsen, a senior linebacker and running back, is among the others who’ll see carries.

Rolfsen and Eddie Kubit anchor Mt. Lebanon’s defense as inside linebackers. Ventrone and Jones will be the outside linebackers, completing an athletic foursome.

Palko has worked with his new team for about six months and sees potential.

“I like them, I really do,” Palko said. “We have size. We have some big boys. I think you’re going to see a couple of kids, as you see us play, you’re going to say ‘whoa.’”

Schedule

Coach: Bob Palko

2018 record: 6-6, 5-3

All-time record: 588-276-30

Date, Opponent, Time

8.23, at Gateway, 7

8.30, at Canon-McMillan*, 7

9.6, Butler*, 7:30

9.13, Seneca Valley*, 7:30

9.20, at North Allegheny*, 7:30

9.27, Hempfield*, 7:30

10.4, at Upper St. Clair, 7:30

10.11, Pine-Richland*, 7:30

10.18, at Norwin*, 7

10.25, Central Catholic*, 7:30

*Class 6A Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Seth Morgan*

160-322, 2,188 yards, 15 TDs

Receiving: Lucas Decaro*

57-723 yards, 4 TDs

Rushing: Morgan*

144-536, 7 TDs

*Graduated

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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