Mt. Lebanon’s Eli Heidenreich follows family tradition, commits to Navy

Friday, August 6, 2021 | 3:57 PM

Eli Heidenreich’s college choice involved more than deciding where he’d spend the next four or five years of his life. The Mt. Lebanon senior, whose grandfather and uncle both served in the Navy, followed a similar path and committed this week to play football for the Naval Academy.

“Being able to be that next generation in the Navy was pretty important for me and my family,” said Heidenreich, a 6-foot, 185-pound wide receiver and safety.

He announced his decision Tuesday.

“Being a part of something bigger than myself was a big reason,” he said. “Getting to join that brotherhood and serve our country was an opportunity I can’t skip.”

Heidenreich chose Navy over an offer from Davidson. He’d also looked into some Ivy League schools. A player choosing a service academy needs a different mindset than for most other schools, Mt. Lebanon coach Bob Palko said.

“Do you fit that mold?” Palko said. “I would say to you, yes, he does. That’s a lifestyle you’re picking. That’s not a college.”

Palko capitalized on Heidenreich’s versatility last season, using him as a receiver and at times as a running back or quarterback. He scored eight touchdowns and totaled 661 all-purpose yards in a covid-shortened seven-game season.

Defensively, he had 45 tackles and two interceptions.

Navy intends to use him on offense as a slot back, a position Midshipmen coaches call an “A-back.”

“That’s the player that motions a lot and gets a lot of pitches,” Heidenreich said. “They actually have a saying there: ‘A’s make plays,’ which I always liked.”

He was recruited to the Naval Academy by wide receivers coach Mick Yokitis, a 2001 North Hills graduate. Yokitis, a former Navy receiver himself, has coached the Midshipmen for 11 seasons.

Heidenreich liked the idea of being a dual-threat college player who can catch or carry. He was a similar player for Mt. Lebanon, which went 4-3 and reached the WPIAL Class 6A playoffs last season.

“In both offenses, I’m moving around a lot,” he said, “so there’s a pretty close similarity between the two (roles).”

Navy went 3-7 overall last season and 3-4 in the AAC. That followed a 2019 season in which the Midshipmen capped an 11-2 season with a Liberty Bowl win.

Heidenreich and his family traveled to Annapolis, Md., last weekend for a campus visit that convinced him to commit.

“I absolutely love it,” he said. “Navy has been right at the top of my list for a really long time. The coaching staff is amazing. The campus and the facilities are absolutely amazing. It just felt right.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at


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