Led by NyaSanu Greene, New Brighton eyes another deep playoff run

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Friday, August 28, 2020 | 11:16 PM


Since making a playoff appearance in 2015, the New Brighton Lions have been building toward a special season.

Although they missed the playoffs in both 2016 and ‘17, the Lions qualified the last two seasons and made a run to the WPIAL quarterfinals last year before losing to eventual WPIAL champion Avonworth.

With seniors such as Jackson Hall, Jacob Francona, Dylan Hupp and others, the team was a special one that scored 26.3 points per game while allowing 19.3. Despite graduating that core group of seniors, longtime coach Joe Greco is returning a large contingent of starters that gained a lot of experience.

“Other than those couple of guys, we played a lot of sophomores and juniors,” Greco said. “Of course, Jake Francona, Jackson Hall and Dylan Hupp are going to be tough to replace, but we have good football players going in in their places and plus we have a lot more around them.”

The Lions will look to take another step this season, and it will start on the ground. Greco said his team will field the best offensive and defensive lines they’ve had in years. They also have a top-tier running back in Division I recruit NyaSanu Greene, who received an offer from Montana during the offseason.

The Lions threw for more than 2,000 yards last season, but they still had four rushers with more than 100 yards and tallied a total of 1,768 rushing yards. After getting his feet wet last year, Greco is expecting Greene (6-3, 225) to take another step forward as a senior.

“Last year he kind of made his bones, but this year, it’s totally different because it’s not like he’s feeling it out anymore,” Greco said. “He was experiencing everything last year for the first time, but now he knows he’s a good receiver, a good blocker and a good runner and he can do things for us on defense. He competes at a high confidence level, so we are looking for him to up his level of play.”

Greene also is looking forward to running behind a talented line led by seniors Matt Jackson and Brad Rosen and junior Alex Mittner.

“We are big all-around on the line, and I told them with their size, they should be out there bullying people,” Greene said.

Although the Lions have a ton of experienced players returning, they still have holes to fill, but Greco believes they already have that figured out.

After playing two years of quarterback on the JV team, junior Gabe Haddox will take over under center. He’ll be surrounded by athletes like slot receiver Mandel Irving, all-conference kick returner JoJo Reynolds and fullback Kei’Ondre Abercrombie. Those players are looking to pull from that experience from last season.

“I think that will bring up the morale and will give us a little more energy for this year,” Abercrombie said. “We know that we were able to get far; it was just that we made a couple mistakes along the way.”

There are still a few areas where the Lions need to improve, especially building and holding a lead.

“When we got a lead last year, we didn’t go out and try to extend it. We let a lot of teams back in the ball game,” Greco said. “Whether we won or lost, sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t. But we have to have that instinct to keep our foot on the pedal offensively and defensively.”

Schedule

Coach: Joe Greco

2019 record: 8-4, 5-2 in Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference

All-time record: 553-476-59

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, at Freedom*, 7:30

9.18, Ellwood City*, 7

9.25, at Mohawk*, 7

10.2, at Beaver Falls*, 7

10.9, Laurel*, 7

10.16, at Neshannock*, 7

10.23, Riverside*, 7

*Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Jackson Hall*

130-235, 2,105 yards, 25 TDs

Receiving: Jacob Francona*

60-1,050 yards, 11 TDs

Rushing: NyaSanu Greene

125-850 yards, 11 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Last year’s run in the playoffs was New Brighton’s first trip to the WPIAL quarterfinals since 2001 when it reached the WPIAL Class AA semifinals. The Lions earned their first playoff win in 18 years.

• As the No. 10 seed last year, New Brighton upset No. 7 Apollo-Ridge, 35-21, to set up a matchup with Avonworth in the quarterfinals.

• The Lions have two linemen who are 300-plus pounds this season and a third who has weighed in at 295.

• Haddox completed 10 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns last season.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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