Matt Humbert builds Belle Vernon football into regular contender

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Thursday, August 9, 2018 | 7:54 PM


Matt Humbert built Ringgold football into a regular winner, something the Rams hadn’t been the decade before he became coach in 2010 after a two-game interim stint the season before.

So when Belle Vernon hired the young coach, who was a stat sheet-stuffing quarterback at Laurel Highlands before playing on highly successful teams at Cal (Pa.), it was an eye-raising hire.

Why would Humbert, still in his 20s at the time, go from a successful program to a struggling one, which happened to be Ringgold’s big rival? A teaching job was one reason, but something about the student-athletes at Belle Vernon made it an easier decision.

“Belle Vernon kids are calm, resilient and confident without being overly confident,” Humbert said. “The kids don’t question. They just do it.”

Win with alarming regularity is what Belle Vernon has done since Humbert became coach in 2014 after he compiled a 30-13 record at Ringgold, which finished above .500 only twice in the previous 10 seasons before he became coach.

The Leopards hadn’t finished with a winning record in the 11 years prior to Humbert’s arrival. In his first year, Belle Vernon went 5-4 during the regular season — BVA won three consecutive games for the first time since 2007 — and lost a first-round playoff game to Franklin Regional.

It was just the beginning.

Since the 2014 season, Belle Vernon has become a consistent winner and a WPIAL championship contender, something the Leopards hadn’t been since Nick Kalcevic averaged 10-plus yards per carry in the late 1990s.

Last season, Belle Vernon went 10-1, won the Big Eight Conference with an 8-0 record, defeated Thomas Jefferson for the second time in three seasons and reached the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals. It was the Leopards’ second 10-win season in three years, and they are 27-5 the past three years under the direction of the 33-year-old Humbert, who is rapidly earning mention among the WPIAL’s top coaches. His career record is 62-23.

“Every coach wants to build a program up how he envisions it,” Humbert said. “We’ve got it to the point where it hasn’t been better at Belle Vernon since the 1990s, but we still don’t have a WPIAL title. That’s what we want, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. Our approach and attitude has changed, and we have the type of kids we want to have. You need tough kids. We have a lot of tough kids.”

Belle Vernon’s toughness and the approach of Humbert and his coaching staff, which includes Scott Knee, his high school coach at Laurel Highlands, is a winning combination.

With seven starters back on offense, six returning from a defense that allowed 10.5 points per game in 2017, and one of the nation’s top kickers in Cameron Guess, Belle Vernon appears in line for another successful season.

Just don’t expect a change in approach.

“Coach Humbert is very intense and really competitive,” junior quarterback Jared Hartman said. “He does a lot of yelling, but he really knows so much about football. And he makes it fun, a lot of fun. Every drill we do is competitive. He knows how to keep things loose, how to make it fun, but he makes sure we know what we’re doing.”

It’s a philosophy Humbert developed from his playing days, his coaching “baptism by fire” at Ringgold and being at Belle Vernon the past four years.

“I think the one key thing is you have to be true to yourself. At Ringgold, I wanted to emulate the coaches that I played for,” Humbert said. “About three years ago, I was able to embrace who I am as a coach. I like to have a good time with the kids. I like to joke around, but if you don’t have discipline and if the kids aren’t bought in, you’re in for an uphill battle. Discipline it the utmost priority. In my years at Cal, that’s what made the biggest impression on me. And that’s what I want my teams to be: disciplined.”

Mike Kovak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mike at mkovak@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MKovak_Trib.

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