Monessen players invested in finding success

Saturday, August 20, 2022 | 3:57 PM

When the clock struck zeroes in the fourth quarter of his team’s WPIAL Class A playoff loss to Cornell, Monessen coach Wade Brown noticed something surprising: Several of his players were crying.

An outpouring of emotion isn’t unusual in the wake of a crucial loss. Brown, however, wasn’t sure his players were that emotionally invested.

In 2020, the Greyhounds program was shrouded in apathy. The team went 0-7, and the final three losses were the result of forfeits brought on by a lack of players. Some were ineligible. Others quit.

So the players’ reaction after the 33-0 first-round loss to second-seeded Cornell was encouraging.

“That means that they cared, and they really wanted to win,” Brown, now in his second season at the helm, said. “We’re hoping they bring that same attitude back this year.”

In preseason workouts, Brown’s roster still wasn’t bursting at the seams, and a pair of two-way starters had transferred. But there is a noticeable difference in the attitude around the team.

“We have players this year who are willing to put in all the work,” senior lineman Jai’Sean Blackman said. “They know that we are a contender in our conference, our section and single-A, period. I’m really excited this year.”

Blackman credited Brown for Monessen’s quick turnaround. He said Brown brought a gritty, old-school mentality to the program. His back-to-basics approach caught on with the players, and Brown expects Year 2 to produce more fruit.

“They definitely feel like they’ve got a chance to build on what we did last year,” Brown said. “I definitely sense the kids … not saying that they didn’t want it last year, but I think they understand the process more this year.”

Having a few more players come out for the team — and stick around for the entire season — could pay huge dividends. Brown said the biggest challenge the Hounds faced was having to conduct much of their practices “on air.”

In other words, with roster size rendering 11-on-11 work almost impossible, the Greyhounds were forced to practice in small groups or against “phantom” opponents to get in their reps. Good for conditioning and developing skill, not so good for facing live game speed.

“You can’t really see what you’re going to go up against,” junior quarterback/receiver Lorenzo Gardner said.

Added Brown: “For us to actually make the playoffs when our practices were run like that, you’ve got to think, ‘What if we would have had enough guys? If these guys could have reps against live competition?’ It would have made us that much better.

“That’s what we’re looking to get this year. If you’re not getting those live reps at least one day a week, it hurts you.”

So keeping enough players on the roster will be paramount as the Greyhounds proceed through the season. That’s what Gardner had in mind when asked what area the team needed to improve most.

“In the classroom,” he said. “I feel like if we have all our players throughout the whole season without anyone getting ineligible, we should be all right.

“I feel like if we just do what we have to do, we should have a good season.”

To be sure, a lot has to go right for the Greyhounds. They have to keep roster numbers and interest up while navigating a tough Tri-County South.

Blackman is hoping the stars align for him and his teammates, and perhaps those tears of disappointment shed at the end of 2021 will be tears of joy this fall.

“We had a tough season my sophomore year,” Blackman said, “and to have a complete turnaround like that, it shows with the right guidance what kind of team we do have.”

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