Led by talented sophomore, junior classes, East Allegheny set to take next step

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Tuesday, September 8, 2020 | 10:27 PM


During his seven years as the football coach at East Allegheny, Dom Pecora has been trying to create a winning tradition. Over the past four years, he’s done just that.

The Wildcats have reached the playoffs the last four years and earned a first-round playoff victory over Mohawk in 2017. As they prepare to try to make their fifth straight playoff appearance, Pecora believes he has one of his most talented groups ever.

“I hope there is a standard set here that in a regular year, 7-3, that is the standard,” Pecora said. “But this is the group that I hope and have kind of waited for. This two- to three-year cycle here, my sophomore and junior classes are the two best classes I’ve ever had, and I’m hoping this group can take us to the next step.”

It all starts with sophomore quarterback Johnny DiNapoli, who threw for 1,728 yards and 18 touchdowns last season as a freshman. He helped the Wildcats average 26.6 points while playing both sides of the ball. Pecora said while he still has room to improve, he’s a player who has all the intangibles.

“He’s fast. He’s strong. He can read a defense and has a great arm,” Pecora said. “But his most important quality by far is I think he’s mentally and physically the toughest player I’ve coached. He’s not a kid that makes a mistake and goes in the tank. He’ll come back out, and that’s very admirable.”

Although DiNapoli lost top target Tyler Padezan, who racked up 721 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season, to graduation, the Wildcats have plenty of options returning for the skillful quarterback.

Receivers Mikey Smith (30-408 yards, 5 TDs), Praishaun Grainer (14-242 yards, 5 TDs) and Kiyon Delts (15-234 yards, 4 TDs) all return after logging a significant amount of snaps. Junior running back Alan Freeman also returns in the backfield after carrying the ball 40 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns.

While the Wildcats may lack the size and numbers compared to most teams in Class 3A, which they reclassified to this season, Pecora said he’d take his skill guys over any other team.

“I don’t look at our schedule and think we’re going to get out-skilled by anybody,” Pecora said. “We just hope that our size and our line holds up, but I have a ton of faith in them.”

Pecora said he has two returning starters on his offensive line — Robert Booker-Washington and Jaivion Hampton-Ford — and three new linemen who are freshman and sophomores to round out the starters.

As they go through camp, Pecora said his line has talent but lacks size. In order to counteract that, he is putting an offense into place that could benefit his smaller linemen.

The seventh-year coach called it a mix between an option and pass offense, but nothing like Army or Navy run.

“We are running it a very unique way, and it scares me because no one else really does it,” Pecora said. “We’re trying to run the option and throw the football. So, it keeps you awake at night because most teams usually do one or the other, and we are trying to do two complicated things, but I think it’s what we have to do to help our linemen.”

Schedule

Coach: Dom Pecora

2019 record: 7-4, 4-2 in Class 2A Allegheny

All-time record: 311-247-23

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, at Brownsville, 7

9.18, Burrell*, 7

9.25, North Catholic*, 7

10.2, at Deer Lakes*, 7

10.9, Freeport*, 7

10.16, at Derry*, 7

10.23, Valley*, 7

*Class 3A Allegheny Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Johnny DiNapoli

106-166, 1,728 yards, 18 TDs

Receiving: Tyler Padezan*

33-721 yards, 11 TDs

Rushing: Allen Freeman

40-230 yards, 2 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• DiNapoli’s 1,728 passing yards last season is thought to be a WPIAL freshman single-season passing yards record. He also only threw five interceptions.

• Three straight playoff appearances was a record when Dom Pecora took over at East Allegheny. The Wildcats have now made four straight trips and are hoping to extend that record this season.

• The Wildcats allowed 17.5 points per game last season, which was the second lowest in the WPIAL Class 2A Allegheny Conference.

• East Allegheny will look to earn its first Class 3A playoff appearance after moving up a class this 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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