New coach Ryan Lehmeier hopes to make Central Catholic champions again

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Monday, August 7, 2023 | 7:44 PM


Editor’s note: Starting today, Trib HSSN will preview one WPIAL conference per day until the start of high school football season Aug. 25.

Do you remember the old children’s story about Old Mother Hubbard? When she went to give her old dog a bone, the cupboard was sadly bare.

Ryan Lehmeier is no Mother Hubbard.

The former North Hills quarterback and Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley assistant coach is preparing for his first game as a varsity head coach, and the cupboard at Central Catholic is filled with blue-chip, hungry football players.

“The transition has been tremendous,” Lehmeier said. “I felt like I was able to put together a phenomenal staff, a good bunch of guys I’ve worked with in past years, so we were able to hit the ground running as soon as possible. I think the players have adapted quite well to some of the things we’ve implemented that are totally new to them.”

One player who may benefit from the hiring of Lehmeier is Vikings senior quarterback Payton Wehner.

Wehner has thrown for 3,964 yards and 34 touchdowns the last two seasons in a more conservative offense under Terry Totten.

Lehmeier was the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator the last few years at Seneca Valley, helping Graham Hancox become one of the top quarterbacks in the district. Before that, he worked with current Pitt quarterback Phil Jukovec at Pine-Richland.

“The one thing I’m most excited about heading into camp is just the realization that it’s finally about to be real football,” Lehmeier said. “I know how that sounds, but it’s almost as if 7-on-7 is turning into its own sport. I’m looking forward to getting the players in their pads and practicing with 22 people on the field.”

There is plenty of talent on both sides of the ball for the Vikings, including:

• Senior Anthony Speca, a four-year starter at linebacker who has committed to Penn State.

• Senior Cole Sullivan, another outstanding linebacker who has committed to Michigan.

• Senior Ty Yuhas, a defensive lineman who has committed to Pitt.

• Senior Peter Gonzalez is a wide receiver who has committed to Penn State.

• Senior Vernon Settles is a three-year starter at wide receiver and defensive back who has offers from Akron, Duquesne and Monmouth.

• Junior Elijah Faulkner led the Vikings in rushing last season with 521 yards.

• Junior Bradley Gompers, a wide receiver and linebacker who has offers from Pitt, West Virginia and Boston College.

While Central Catholic has some studs and is always blessed with talent in the wings, testing that depth because of the physical nature of the game is always a worry spot for coaches.

“I think injuries are always any coach’s first concern,” Lehmeier said. “It’s just not a controllable aspect of the game, but in order to make a run down the stretch, it takes a lot of discipline and luck. The luck part is having your starters healthy well into the latter part of the season.”

After winning the first WPIAL Class 6A championship of this decade, Central Catholic has had to settle for silver the last two years, falling to Mt. Lebanon in the 2021 finals and losing to North Allegheny last fall.

Even with only five teams, Lehmeier knows it won’t be easy for any of the five to reach the district title game.

“(Class) 6A is competitive top to bottom as it’s ever been,” he said. “There are five really good football programs that are really well coached. You’ve got to bring your best each week and that’s what we plan on doing.”

Central Catholic

Coach: Ryan Lehmeier

2022 record: 7-5, 2-2 in Class 6A

All-time record: 574-329-44

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.25, at Woodland Hills, 7

9.1, at St. Ignatius (Ohio), 7

9.8, Bethel Park, 7^

9.15, at Mt. Lebanon*, 7

9.22, at North Allegheny*, 7:30

9.29, Canon-McMillan*, 7^

10.6, at Pine-Richland, 7

10.13, Penn Hills, 7#

10.20, Seneca Valley*, 7%

10.27, at Gateway, 7

*Conference game

^At Carnegie Mellon University

#At West Mifflin

%At Gateway

STAT LEADERS

Passing: Payton Wehner

176-285, 2,504 yards, 17 TDs

Rushing: Elijah Faulkner

138-521 yards, 5 TDs

Receiving: Vernon Settles

54-660 yards, 2 TDs

FAST FACTS

• Ryan Lehmeier becomes the fourth football coach at Central Catholic in the last 40 years, following John Fischetti (1983-97), Art Walker (1998-2004) and Terry Totten (2005-22).

• Thirty-five years ago, Central Catholic won the first PIAA Quad-A football championship, defeating Cedar Cliff, 14-7. The Vikings have won three more state championships since, routing Neshaminy in 2004, 49-14, and then shutting out Parkland three years later to win 2007 state gold, 21-0. Central Catholic’s most recent PIAA crown came in 2015, beating Parkland again, 21-18.

• Central Catholic has been on a title game run for more than a decade. Since 2012, the Vikings have played in the WPIAL football Quad-A or 6A championship game every year but one. Five years ago, Central Catholic finished off a 7-4 season with a loss to Seneca Valley in the 2018 6A quarterfinals, 15-14.

• This is the 96th season of Central Catholic football. The Vikings have a record of 574-329-44 all time.

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