McGuffey counting on experience, depth to advance to next level
Saturday, August 19, 2023 | 9:11 PM
Coach Ed Dalton was pleased with McGuffey’s 2022 season. His Highlanders went 8-4 and finished third in the Century Conference, but he felt his team could have accomplished more.
The Highlanders left two regular season victories on the table: a 6-0 loss to Sto-Rox, where McGuffey fumbled twice, once in the second quarter and once late in the fourth, and a 32-26 defeat at the hands of Keystone Oaks on a last-second touchdown pass.
“We keep getting to that semifinal or quarterfinal game and we can’t get beyond it,” said Dalton.
To get past the second round of the WPIAL playoffs, Dalton is counting on an experienced group supplemented with a wealth of depth to carry his team deep into the playoffs.
“We feel fortunate,” he said. “I don’t know how many 2A schools can say they have 32 kids in their junior and senior classes. We’re not as deep as we were last year, that’s for sure, but we have 13 lineman, four receivers and five or six backs that can play in a game.”
One of those 32 kids returning is senior Connor Crowe, who will be replacing Philip McCuen, who was the Highlanders’ leading passer and rusher in 2022.
“Connor is a really good, talented option at QB,” said Dalton. “The No. 2 QB also matters, and right now, the option is a running back, which I would not like it to be. But with our Flexbone style offense, a running back as backup is not a bad option.”
Senior running back Charles Wagers agrees with his coach that Crowe is truly capable of stepping up into the starting quarterback role.
“Connor is a little bit more physical, but not as fast as Philip was. He’ll run through somebody,” said Wagers. “But I don’t think we’re going to take a step back at all. We’re going to get the same level of play.”
Helping Crowe is a full complement of athletes at the skill positions with the necessary talent who have worked hard in offseason conditioning.
“We do a lot in the summer, including a speed camp,” said Dalton. “Our guys are in shape and appear faster this year when compared with last year. We will surprise some teams.”
With the ground game the main focus of the Flexbone offense, McGuffey will be replacing last year’s starting running backs, Ethan Dietrich and Kyle Brookman, as well as fullback Eric Donnelly, all of whom graduated.
“At running back, junior Malachi Ealy and senior Nate Romestan are pretty explosive players,” said Dalton. “Wagers had 50 carries in four games for 350 yards for us last year, was relentless, so he’ll be pretty good this year. Dylan Droboj looks much improved compared to last year.”
To balance their ground attack, the Highlanders will also be relying on a committee of receivers to replace last year’s standout, Tristan McAdoo.
Dalton was hoping returning junior wideout Logan Carlisle, who transferred back from Washington, would be ready at the start of the season, but Carlisle will miss the first three weeks of the season recovering from offseason surgery.
“We were really hoping we would get him back for the start,” he said. “But when we do get him back in September, he can be a difference maker as a receiver and be a hell of a defensive back.”
Carlisle (5-foot-9) will be just one of a stable of receivers that Dalton has to utilize, each one taller than the next. Junior Lincoln Johnson and senior Brendan Mullins are each 6-foot tall and Ryan Keith stands 6-2.
McGuffey has a chance to be explosive with the talent on offense, but talent can only carry a team so far. The Highlanders have amassed a large contingent up front to open holes in the run game and protect the quarterback.
“Our offensive line could be our strength,” Dalton said before camp opened. “We have four pretty good-sized tackles. Junior Memphis Haydrich is only 5-10, but he weighs 240. Junior Cam McDonough is 5-11, 185, sophomore Marko Reyes is 6-2, 275, and junior Reno Presto is 6-2, 250. Even our guards are pretty tough and athletic.”
Those guards are junior Josh Plants, who comes in at 5-10, 220 pounds, and senior Evan Brookman, who is 6-foot, 220.
“Last year’s seniors were awesome, but I think we’ll be pretty good,” said Brookman. “Troy Falosk was a big impact on the D-Line as was Tyler Wright on the O-line and both will be hard to replace, but I’m ready to be a senior leader at the position for the team this year.”
Defensively, the Highlanders look to have a solid defensive line with players like senior Nick Madosky, Brookman, senior Chris Ealy and junior Reno Presto causing havoc up front.
“We could be very physical,” said Dalton. “Reno could be unblockable. He was almost unblockable as a freshman. He’s the one kid, maybe in my tenure here, that isn’t happy with just blocking. He wants to go and do damage. He’s such a nightmare.”
Behind his front seven, Dalton is looking for “explosive” junior Aiden O’Dell to shine at the linebacker position and a healthy Carlise to lead a secondary and help a defense “play better in key situations.”
Those key situations are what cost McGuffey two conference wins last year and are what can propel a team to a deep playoff run. Dalton believes his team can make such a run, but knows that it’s never easy, especially when having to go through the Century Conference.
“I think Keystone Oaks is going to be pretty good,” he said. “Washington as well, because it’s such a rival and the game means a lot. Waynesburg and Charleroi should be better, healthier. Brentwood has a new coach, but has a lot of talented skill guys. Sto-Rox is the only question mark.”
As another season begins, Dalton is confident in his team’s depth and experience and believes both are crucial to continued success this season.
“I think we’re blessed,” he said. “We’ve got guys that can step up, and we think we’re going to be pretty good again, that we can play with anybody.”
Coach: Ed Dalton
2022 record: 8-4, 4-2 in Class 2A Century Conference
All-time record: 300-428-25
Date, Opponent, Time
8.25 at Southmoreland, 7
9.1 at Ringgold, 7
9.8 Mt. Pleasant, 7
9.15 at Brentwood*, 7
9.22 Waynesburg*, 7
9.29 at Sto-Rox*, 7
10.6 Charleroi*, 7
10.13 at Keystone Oaks*, 7
10.20 at South Park, 7
10.27 Washington*, 7
Passing: Philip McCuen*
43-70, 949 yards, 11 TDs
Rushing: Philip McCuen*
135-700, 12 TDs
Receiving: Tristan McAdoo*
16-488, 6 TDs
• Dalton is in his 35th year of coaching, his 12th with McGuffey. His overall record stands at 216-140-1.
• McGuffey is looking for its 12th consecutive season with a winning conference record.
• The Highlanders return 18 players who started at least one game last year.
• McGuffey blocked three field goals and three punts in 2022.
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