New coach, young Imani Christian roster ready for ‘interesting season’

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Saturday, September 5, 2020 | 11:03 PM


One thing is for sure about the Imani Christian Academy football program: They’re in good hands with veteran coach Cliff Simon taking over.

The school’s athletic director took over March 13 after previous coach Ron Heard became an assistant principal at Woodland Hills.

Simon’s job won’t be easy. He’s inheriting a team that went 0-10 in 2019.

But Imani is only three years removed from playing for the WPIAL Class A title in 2017. The Saints dropped a heartbreaker to Jeannette, 35-34.

The Saints were 7-4 in 2018 and lost a first-round playoff game, 60-6, to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, a team they defeated in 2016 and 2017 in the playoffs.

Simon coached at Wilkinsburg for more than 20 years and was on the staff at Central Catholic for a couple years.

“It’s going to be an interesting season,” Simon said. “We have a nice freshman class and some good sophomores. We were winless last season, and we’re adopting the team concept. We need to work together to be successful.”

Simon said there are 11 holdovers from the 2019 squad, including nine who saw a considerable amount of playing time.

He’s leaning on senior tight end/strong safety Demetrious Epps, junior lineman Darrell Strong, senior center Jason Gamble and junior wide receiver Malik Shannon to be the leaders of the team.

“They’re great kids in the classroom and on the field,” Simon said. “They’re good players and hard workers.”

Shannon will start at wide receiver but could see playing time at quarterback. He’s battling a freshman for that spot.

Implementing coronavirus safety measures, Simon has concentrated on doing things right and following Gov. Tom Wolf’s recommendations.

“Safety for my players is No. 1,” Simon said. “I want them to be safe to play a sport they love.”

On the field, Simon knows the Eastern Conference is loaded.

“It’s one of the most successful conferences in the state,” Simon said. “Clairton, Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic are tough. I believe in the saying, ‘Steel sharpens steel.’ Playing in the conference will make us better.”

Because of coronavirus-related schedule changes, Imani’s preseason scrimmage was against Eastern Conference opponent Springdale.

Simon said he and Springdale coach Seth Napierkowski needed a game, so they decided to play. Their regular-season game is Oct 16.

Imani will play its home games at the newly renovated Graham Field in Wilkinsburg.

Schedule

Coach: Cliff Simon

2019 record: 0-10, 0-6 in Class A Eastern Conference

All-time record: 29-35-0

Date, Opponent, Time

9.12, at Bishop Canevin*, 7

9.18, Greensburg Central Catholic*, 7

9.25, at Jeannette*, 7

10.2, Riverview*, 7

10.9, at Clairton*, 7

10.16, at Springdale*, 7

10.23, Leechburg*, 7

*Class A Eastern Conference game

Fast facts

• Imani played in the WPIAL Class A championship game in 2017 and dropped a 35-34 decision to Jeannette. The Saints were 3-1 in the playoffs and avenged a regular-season loss to California in the semifinals.

• The Saints shared the WPIAL Class A Eastern Conference title with Jeannette and Clairton in 2017. They fell to Jeannette but defeated Clairton during the regular season.

• Imani has made the WPIAL Class A playoffs three times since 2016. Its record is 4-3.

• Imani has played in the WPIAL for six seasons beginning in 2012. It did not play in 2014 and 2015. Its all-time record is 29-35 which includes winless season (0-9) in 2013 and (0-10) in 2019.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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