New coach begins program overhaul at Hempfield

Friday, August 13, 2021 | 6:01 AM

Editor’s note: Starting today, Trib HSSN will preview at least one WPIAL conference per day until the start of high school football season Aug. 27.

New Hempfield coach Mike Brown talks about his football team like he is holding a ball of clay.

Into what shape will he mold these Spartans?

Don’t expect anything too flashy.

“We’re going to stick to the basics,” Brown said. “Hang our hat on basic fundamentals on offense and defense.

“Our guys have been so quick to learn things, which has been nice. You might see us play four tight ends. The next (series) we might have four down (linemen), then three down, then five down. We’re going to run the football, I can tell you that.”

Brown, who took over for Rich Bowen, the Spartans coach for nine seasons before resigning in February, said his transition from an assistant at Class A Greensburg Central Catholic to head coach at 6A Hempfield has been a “day-by-day” process, one that has seen him earn trust in his players and them in him.

“The kids want to turn this program around as much as we coaches do,” Brown said.

Since the WPIAL went to six classifications in 2017, Hempfield has made the playoffs just once.

“Change always ruffles some feathers,” Brown said. “But we’re out to change everything. We’re starting over. We want to be a different Hempfield football team. And I think people are going to notice how different we are.”

A team heavy on juniors hopes to adapt quickly to a new offense and defense, the latter of which will be run by Brown.

Ryan Reitz, who drew up plays at Jeannette as an assistant for seven years, takes over as they Spartans offensive coordinator.

Senior Dan Sierk (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) will move from tight end and be a key offensive tackle and also play defensive end for the Spartans, who finished 1-4 last season after their season was cut short by two games because of covid cancelations.

The team allowed 37.2 points a game.

Sierk had 36 tackles and led the team with 5.5 sacks.

Other top returnees include junior Gino Caesar (RB/OLB), junior Tyson Greg (RB/DB), senior Ken Miller (WR/DB) and junior Ian Tuffs (WR/DB).

Tuffs was the third-leading pass receiver with 13 catches for 242 yards. He also had the team’s lone interception.

Junior Jake Phillips, who saw varsity time last year behind Christian Zilli, is competing for the starting quarterback job with sophomore Keiran Lippman.

Phillips completed 23 of 42 throws for 180 yards and two scores. He is the team’s top returning rusher with 10 yards on seven carries.

Jeannette transfer Eli Binakonsky, a junior linebacker who shined in last year’s PIAA Class A championship, is expected to make an impact.

“We have a lot of kids trying to prove themselves,” Brown said. “We had a lot of starting spots still open.”

Junior Ryan Steffey, a transfer from Latrobe, could also figure in as a ball carrier.

Hempfield is chasing its first winning season since 2013. The team has not won a playoff game in 23 years.


Coach: Mike Brown

2020 record: 1-4, 1-4 in Class 6A

All-time record: 295-321-13


Date, Opponent, Time

8.27 Greensburg-Salem, 7

9.3 at Penn-Trafford, 7:30

9.10 Franklin Regional, 7

9.17 at Seneca Valley*, 7:30

9.24 Mt. Lebanon*, 7

10.1 at Canon-McMillan*, 7

10.8 Baldwin*, 7

10.15 Central Catholic*, 7

10.22 at North Allegheny*, 7:30

10.29 Norwin*, 7

*Conference game


Passing: Christian Zilli*

50 of 98, 877 yards, 8 TDs

Rushing: Mario Perkins*

58-217, 4 TDs

Receiving: Roman Pellis*

18-309, 5 TDs



• Brown, a Penn-Trafford graduate, takes over the Spartans after stints as an assistant at Robert Morris and Greensburg Central Catholic.

• After finishing third in the 6A conference in ‘17, the Spartans have gone 4-23 against 6A teams and their best finish is two spots from last place.

• Hempfield averaged just 90.6 rushing yards a game over five games last season and returns nobody with more than seven carries.

• OT/DE Dan Sierk has an offer to play at Penn.


No., Name, Pos., Ht./Wt., Cl.

1, Carson Santangelo, WR/DB, 5-10/135, Jr.

2, Gino Caesar, RB/LB, 5-10/200 , Jr.

3, Ben Blahovec, TE/LB, 6-1/185 , Jr.

4, Elijah Binakonsky, TE/LB, 6-1/200, Jr.

5, Anthony Vallano, TE/LB, 6-3/200, Jr.

6, Bryce Fabian, WR/DB, 5-7/145, Sr.

7, Tyson Gregory, WR/DB, 5-10/165, Jr.

8, Daniel Katonka, WR/DB, 5-9/160, Jr.

9, Tommy Bozzuto, RB/DB, 5-7/160, Jr.

10, Jayden Talbert, WR/DB, 5-8/150, Sr.

11, Jake Phillips, QB/DB, 6-3/180, Jr.

12, Keiran Lippman, QB/DB, 6-0/170, So.

13, Lucas Moore, WR/DB, 5-9/160, So.

14, Riley Naugle, WR/DB, 5-9/135, So.

15, Ian Tuffs, WR/DB, 6-3/180, Jr.

16, Brady Ewing, WR/DB, 5-10/170, So.

17, Dom LoPinto, WR/DB, 5-9/140, So.

18, Francisco Lopez Diaz, WR/DB, 5-10/125, So.

19, Ryan Dunn, WR/DB, 5-7/135 , So.

20, Ryan Steffey, RB/DB, 5-9/170, Jr.

21, Kenneth Miller, WR/DB, 5-10/155, Sr.

23, Alex Kuenzig, WR/DB, 5-9/140, So.

24, Ahdre Richards, WR/DB, 5-5/125, Sr.

25, Jayson Watkins, WR/DB, 6-1/180, So.

26, Ethan Zontek, RB/LB, 5-10/190, Fr.

27, Trent Ferree, TE/LB, 5-8/170 , Sr.

28, Troy Ander, So.n, TE/LB, 5-10/190, So.

29, Logan Wolfe, RB/LB/K, 5-11/185, Jr.

31, Eddie Collier, RB/LB, 5-10/170, Jr.

33, Cullen Shearer, WR/DB, 5-11/165, Sr.

34, Anthony Puskar, WR/DB, 6-0/145, So.

42, Deondre Richards, RB/LB, 5-6/165, So.

44, Justin Novotney, K, 6-0/145, Sr.

45, Brennan Knight, TE/LB, 5-8/210, So.

50, Daniel Sierk, OL/DL, 6-5/260 , Sr.

51, Will Nelson, OL/DL, 6-1/235, Jr.

52, Logan Eisaman, OL/DL, 5-11/235, Jr.

53, Marcus Smith, OL/DL, 5-7/190, So.

54, Donovan Mowry, OL/DL, 5-10/215, Sr.

55, JP Gera, OL/DL, 6-0/190, Jr.

58, Alex Riffer, OL/DL, 6-2/250, Jr.

60, Kolbe Roscov, OL/DL, 5-11/280, Sr.

64, Elijah Blackburn, OL/DL, 6-2/190, Jr.

66, Cody Young, OL/DL, 5-7/265 , Sr.

68, Jackson Barton, OL/DL, 5-11/215, Jr.

74, Joe Dolinski, OL/DL, 6-4/280 , So.

75, Nico LoPinto, OL/DL, 5-10/260, Jr.

77, Zachary Persinger, OL/DL, 6-3/355, Jr.

78, Michael Steffey, OL/DL, 6-1/240, Jr.

81, Andrew Brack, WR/DB, 5-10/140, Sr.

84, Jacob Riffer, WR/DB, 5-11/175, Sr.

87, Ethan Shaw, TE/LB, 6-3/210, Jr.

Joshua Reilly, WR/DB, 5-7/165, So.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .


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