McKeesport football team returns plenty for triple-option offense
Thursday, August 22, 2019 | 8:01 AM
Matt Miller isn’t one to predict conference title wins or WPIAL championship triumphs.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t hold his team to a high standard, though.
Like always, McKeesport’s fourth-year football coach expects success out of a team coming off a season in which it went 9-3 overall and 5-2 in Big East Conference play.
“We expect to be a good football team,” said Miller, who led his team to a WPIAL quarterfinal appearance last season. “You don’t talk championships or anything like that, but you wanna make sure you put a good product on the field year-in and year-out. We’ve got good kids and good assistant coaches, so I think we should be able to do that year-in and year-out.”
High expectations aren’t the only constant surrounding the program.
Like it has since Miller suited up on Friday nights in the 1990s, McKeesport will rely on its trademark triple-option offense.
“That’s our bread and butter,” Miller said. “Those are the type of kids we have, they really like this type of offense. I think it really provides difficulty for teams we don’t play year-in and year-out to prepare for us on a short week. Once you get into the playoffs, I think it’s a great offense.”
Miller once again has a few weapons needed to successfully utilize this offensive gameplan.
With the graduation of Konota Gaskins, Devari Robinson takes over under center after finishing second on the team with 72 carries last season. He compiled 448 yards and scored nine touchdowns out of the backfield.
In addition to playing fullback and wingback, the senior practiced at quarterback every day. He completed one of three passes for a 37-yard touchdown.
“We have a lot of faith in him,” Miller said. “He played a lot of big minutes for us both offensively and defensively. I know he will step into that spot seamlessly.
“I think it will be nice for him to get comfortable in one spot and then be able to really master the craft, so to speak.”
Behind senior Taiveon Baker, who is expected to start at fullback, Miller said it’s an open competition for playing time in a backfield that lost a number of contributors from last year’s squad.
In addition to having to replace Gaskins, who carried the ball 133 times for a team-high 643 yards last season, McKeesport also must fill voids left by running backs Devin Sims (574 yards last season), Quaran Sayles (509 yards) and Marcquis Butler (271 yards).
But the running game may not be the only way the Tigers can hurt opponents.
Robinson also has the tools to succeed through the air, just like Gaskins, who threw for 707 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
Having reliable targets such as seniors Vern Andrews, Dave LaRotonda and Deamontae Diggs helps, too.
Diggs, a 6-6, 220-pounder with seven Division I offers, led the Tigers in receiving last season with more than 30 yards per catch. He finished the year with 14 receptions for 424 yards and seven touchdowns.
“I think with our offense, it provides us with a lot of opportunities,” Miller said of the passing game. “A lot of people are going to be single-covering Diggs, and if they’re not, it opens up our run game. We’re kind of working it backwards this year to where we’re going to use the passing game to open up our running game.”
Robinson has the full support of his coaches and teammates, including his top target.
“He’s a leader and takes control of the team,” Diggs said. “I believe in him.”
McKeesport’s offensive line will consist of senior Andy Mellinger, a three-year starter who will play center, along with senior Kevonte Sampson and junior guards Colin Lyons and Catrell Leggett.
The fifth spot is up for grabs between a couple of candidates, Miller said.
Junior David Stephenson and sophomores Tyre Demry and Dale Moehring will battle for that final spot.
“Those three guys are big bodies and are physical,” Miller said. “Whoever comes out on top of that is going to be a pretty darn good football player.”
When it comes to defensive standouts, Miller will look no further than senior Tyron Wagner, who underwent shoulder surgery after being injured in a 45-14 win over Latrobe last season.
Despite only playing in six games, Wagner collected 11 tackles, a sack and an interception.
“He’s back and looks phenomenal,” Miller said.
Diggs also will have an impact on defense.
“We’re doing a lot of things with him. We’ve put him on the defensive line, linebacker and even at deep safety,” Miller said. “We just want to try to utilize his talents as much as we can.”
Baker, Mellinger and the large contingent of offensive contributors will play both ways for Miller and his staff.
“We’re really blessed with the players we have,” Miller said. “This is a football town, and a lot of these guys grow up wanting to be those guys everyone comes out to see on Friday nights. It’s their turn to see what they can do and prepare mentally for those big moments throughout the season.”
McKeesport will be joined in Class 5A’s Big East Conference by Connellsville, Franklin Regional, Gateway, Latrobe, Penn-Trafford and Plum.
It’s no cakewalk with the amount of talent there is among those teams. Miller refers to the conference as “second to none.”
But if the Tigers consistently play a stellar brand of defense while working to limit the mistakes on offense, they could be a force to be reckoned with.
“We have to improve on not beating ourselves,” Miller said. “Last year we had eight turnovers against Penn Hills and six against Gateway. I’m not taking away from the opponents we played, but we put them in some pretty good positions. We really have to make sure we’re playing smart football and taking care of the football ourselves.”
McKeesport will prepare for its tough conference slate when it faces Woodrow Wilson (Washington, D.C.) in the Western Pennsylvania vs. Everyone Showcase on Saturday at Woodland Hills’ Wolvarena in Turtle Creek.
The Tigers have another tough nonconference matchup scheduled for Sept. 6 against Cathedral Prep.
“Those are some big-time teams we’re going to be playing against,” Miller said. “It definitely can give you some confidence when you’re playing a team that’s recognized nationally or state-wide. Erie Prep won a state championship last year, so if you win that game, you’re feeling a little bit better about yourself.”
Coach: Matt Miller
2018 record: 9-3, 5-2
All-time record: 651-403-47
Date, Opponent, Time
8.24, Woodrow Wilson (Washington, D.C.)+, 5
8.30, at Connellsville*, 7
9.6, Cathedral Prep, 7
9.13, at Penn-Trafford*, 7:30
9.20, at Plum*, 7
9.27, Latrobe*, 7
10.5, Indiana, 1
10.11, at Kiski Area, 7
10.18, at Franklin Regional*, 7
10.25, Gateway*, 7
*Class 5A Big East Conference game
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