New Ambridge coach Phillips wants to boost interest, rebuild program
Saturday, August 17, 2019 | 11:10 AM
Don Phillips knew he was in for a challenge when he accepted the head coaching job at Ambridge. But that is what excites him.
Ambridge has struggled mightily over the last three seasons, with a 1-28 record. That led to Terry George stepping down and Phillips, a well-known coaching figure in Beaver County, taking over.
The 68-year-old coached Ellwood City from 2008-16, with stops at West Allegheny, Center, Monaca and Rochester in his career, as well. He was also a quarterbacks coach at Geneva College, where he played college ball. As a coach, his record sits at 162-133-3.
“There’s quite a bit of experience on our coaching staff,” Phillips said. “These guys have coached around at different schools. They know what it takes to get this thing turned around. I’ve really been impressed with their work ethic with these kids.”
Ambridge, which utilized a spread, passing offense under George, will move more traditional, with an emphasis on the ground game.
“The terminology is new, the system is new,” Phillips said. “So there’s going to be a learning curve with the kids to try to catch up and get everything understood. We’ve got to do the best we can in the short time we have.”
Helping with that transition is a returning starter at quarterback, senior Mason Osborn.
“Mason has been working very hard to understand the steps and techniques we’re trying to teach in our running game,” Phillips said. “He’s done very well with that.”
That run game will center around another returning starter in Deyvon Gill-Martin, who led the Bridgers in rushing as a sophomore last year.
“He comes, consistently, to our workouts,” Phillips said. “We’re trying to get these kids to understand what’s going on and to mesh together into hopefully a solid running attack.”
Mario Moreland, who did not play football last season, has joined the squad for 2019 and could get touches, as could Ben Cokrlic and Auston Ludovici. Sedrick Seymour and Floyd Sims also will factor in at skill positions.
The offensive line is anchored by junior David Polachek, a three-year starter at center. Seniors Jacob Traupman and Makai Pringle figure into the line after starting last season.
“We just don’t seem to have a lot of numbers on the offensive line,” Phillips said. “Right now, that’s the issue. I’m hoping that we’re going to have 10 offensive linemen. I don’t know that we’re going to have 10.”
Defensively, Pringle lends a lot of stability to the linebacker corps. Gill-Martin is expected to hold down the secondary, and Traupman and Polachek will each turn around to play on the defensive line.
Ambridge, which did end a 22-game losing streak last season, is in need of repairs on both sides of the ball. It allowed 41.5 points per game in 2018 and scored only 4.4 points per, each second-worst in Class 4A.
But Phillips has not let that deter him from trying to follow a mold that one of his friends, Blackhawk coach Zack Hayward, was able to implement in turning around the Cougars’ program last season.
“There’s a great opportunity here,” Phillips said. “The kids we’ve encountered so far have been great. They want to win, they want to get the program going back on the right track. I’m excited for them.”
The issue right now, according to Phillips, is participation. He predicts less than 40 players will be on the roster when the Bridgers take on Belle Vernon in Week Zero. The test continues when Ambridge enters into a brutal Northwest 8 Conference schedule.
“I understand the circumstances with why there’s kids that don’t participate,” said Phillips, who added that he has been in Ambridge’s building every day since being hired in January, trying to convince students to come out.
“The program has been so far down, and they just don’t want to be a part of it. We’re trying to convince them of the idea that they can be a part of the turnaround. They can be the reason this thing got back to where it should be.
“The thing that’s going to make it work is that we need to win some football games.”
Coach: Don Phillips
2018 record: 1-9, 0-7
All-time record: 435-468-40
Date, Opponent, Time
8.23, McGuffey, 7
8.30, Belle Vernon, 7
9.6, at Waynesburg, 7
9.13, Blackhawk*, 7
9.20, Knoch*, 7
9.27, at Highlands*, 7
10.5, at Beaver*, 7:30
10.11, Montour*, 7
10.18, at South Fayette*, 7
10.25, at New Castle*, 7
*Class 4A Northwest 8 Conference game
Passing: Mason Osborn
36-109, 438 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Omarri Flannigan*
10-207 yards, 1 TD
Rushing: Deyvon Gill-Martin
123-476 yards, 2 TDs
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