Mark Lamendola, A-K Valley Hall of Famer from Leechburg’s past, admires current Blue Devils

Saturday, May 13, 2023 | 11:01 AM

After a more than a three-decade absence, the Leechburg Blue Devils qualified for the WPIAL football playoffs during the 2021 and 2022 seasons. The star of those teams, Braylan Lovelace, accepted a scholarship to Pitt, becoming Leechburg’s first Division I football recruit since his father, David, in 1993.

Keeping close tabs on the Leechburg gridiron renaissance has been former Blue Devils standout Mark Lamendola.

“Leechburg had some down years, but the community has always been supportive,” said Lamendola, who played quarterback and defensive back for the Blue Devils in the early 1980s. “There’s certainly a sense of pride in seeing them return to the playoffs and being competitive. I just wish they had a turf field back when I was playing.”

A Mt. Lebanon resident, Lamendola said he attends as many Leechburg games as possible. His nephew, Owen McDermott, is a four-sport athlete for the Blue Devils. He was a senior wide receiver on the football squad last fall.

“The current Blue Devils are a lot more fun to watch than we were. They really air it out,” Lamendola said with a laugh. “I look at my stats (from high school) and think Braylan Lovelace gets that many yards in two games. But we controlled the ball for eight minutes with 3 yards and a cloud of dust. That’s just the way we played.”

During his Blue Devil days, Lamendola earned nine letters: three each in football, basketball and baseball. He went on to become a four-year letterman in football at Allegheny. For his efforts, Lamendola will be among those welcomed into the Alle-Kiski Sports Hall of Fame on May 20 at the Pittsburgh Shrine Center in Harmar.

“It’s very exciting and humbling. It was sort of a surprise that came out of the blue,” he said of the A-K Hall selection.

On the Leechburg football field, Lamendola earned Allegheny Interscholastic Conference honors on offense and defense as both a junior and senior. With Lamendola quarterbacking the wishbone option offense, the Blue Devils posted an 8-2-1 record and a playoff appearance during the 1981 season and a 7-3 mark in 1981.

“When you went to Leechburg, you learned to run the wishbone offense from an early age,” he said. “I must have spent 1,000 hours practicing it. You get the footwork down and read the (defensive) tackle.”

In his final two high school seasons, Lamendola combined for 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. As a senior, he was a first-team Valley News Dispatch all-star selection at defensive back.

Lamendola played guard on the basketball team, helping the Blue Devils to section titles in 1980 and 1982. He led the team in assists and steals as a junior and senior.

In baseball, Lamendola switched from infielder to catcher during his senior year. He said the move coincided with the arrival of future major leaguer Mickey Morandini in the Blue Devils lineup.

“Having Mickey playing (shortstop) and batting third was worth all of the dusty games behind the plate,” said Lamendola, who earned all-section honors at catcher.

Morandini went on to play 11 seasons in the majors with the Phillies, Cubs and Blue Jays. He was a 2005 A-K Hall inductee.

After graduating from Leechburg in 1982, Lamendola followed his older brothers, Randy and Ron, to Allegheny in Meadville.

“I spent a lot of time going up there to watch my brothers play, so it was a pretty easy transition,” he said.

With brother Randy playing quarterback, Lamendola started out as a defensive back before transitioning to wide receiver. In 1984, he also ranked fifth in NCAA Division III in punt return yardage.

Halfway through his senior season, the Gators starting quarterback went down with an injury. At the time, Allegheny was running the wishbone, and Lamendola saw an opportunity to help the team while returning to his Leechburg roots.

“I told the coach that I know how to play quarterback in the wishbone,” he said. “I haven’t done it for a few years, but let me see what it’s like to get back under center.”

Lamendola took over at quarterback, running the offense well enough to earn first-team North Coast Athletic Conference honors at the conclusion of the season.

“It was like riding a bike,” he said. “It was a fun experience coming full circle to run the wishbone in college and have success.”

A 1986 Allegheny graduate, Lamendola has worked on the corporate side of the insurance business for close to 40 years. He and his wife, Aimee, have four children: Michael, 25, Mark, 24, Charlie, 20, and Kate, 18.

“All of our kids have played sports at Mt. Lebanon – so they’re still Blue Devils,” he said with a chuckle.

Lamendola acknowledged the influential role that growing up in Leechburg has had on his life journey to the A-K hall.

“The things that stick out to me today aren’t any particular games or plays,” he said. “It’s the bonds and friendships that still last 40 years later. The friends that I had then, a couple of them are my very best friends today. We’re godparents to each other’s kids. We’ve seen each other through tougher times than playing against Freeport, like illnesses and the death of parents. That’s what I remember — the bonds that I’ve made.”


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