New Laurel Highlands football coach Kolesar has steep hill to climb

Saturday, August 17, 2019 | 11:10 AM

The goal is simple for new Laurel Highlands coach Rick Kolesar.

Get to the playoffs and win a game.

It’s something many schools take for granted, but the school has never won a WPIAL playoff game in 10 outings, dating to 1989. Laurel Highlands began operations in 1966 after a merger of North Union and South Union high schools.

Last year, the Mustangs were 1-6 in Class 4A Big 8 Conference play, 3-7 overall.

Kolesar, a Laurel Highlands graduate, was an assistant at the school and at Albert Gallatin earlier. His view on how to get the football program to rise in the standings is also simple: get more athletes out for the team.

“Our numbers had been down,” Kolesar said. “But from the first spring workouts, we’ve had quite a few new players. The big thing is to get the kids to play multiple sports.”

A teacher at the school, Kolesar was hired in February, replacing Jake Just.

There are 57 players on the roster, and Kolesar would like that number boosted sooner rather than later.

“This district needs more multi-sport athletes,” he said. “I want to get the roster size to 60, and I think we can get to that.”

One example is freshman Rodney Gallagher, better known for basketball, where he received scholarship offers from Rhode Island and Illinois before he suited up for a varsity game. The 5-foot-10 Gallagher will be a wide receiver.

Kolesar knows what it takes to be a success on the football field. He was a two-time NCCAA All-American defensive back at Geneva.

One of the first orders of business is to change the offensive philosophy. After six years running the triple option, Kolesar will opt for a more traditional attack.

The battle for the starting quarterback job is underway, with senior favorite Tyler Christopher competing against junior Trent Livingston.

“There’s open competition,” Kolesar said. “Tyler’s the front-runner, but Trent is getting better every day.”

The offense will be buoyed by last season’s top receiver, Dan Izzi, Christian Burcheck and Keandre Cook, another basketball player looking to help bolster his school’s football fortunes.

Anchoring the Laurel Highlands line will be Joey Conley at 6-3, 235 pounds, along with Garrey Gardner and J.W. Price.

Kolesar’s coaching debut will be against one of the WPIAL’s elite programs, Washington, in a Week Zero game at home.

In the Big 8, Kolesar hopes the Mustangs can upset the perennial contenders: Thomas Jefferson, Belle Vernon and West Mifflin. But all three will be road games.

“Getting into the big four (playoff qualifiers) is where we want to go,” Kolesar said. “But Greensburg Salem’s always competitive, Indiana’s young and Trinity and Ringgold are going to get better.”

Kolesar’s staff includes defensive coordinator Randy Rankin, offensive coordinator Tyler Naulty and special teams coach Carl Shusko, along with assistants Jerry Pegg, Paul Eckert, Rusty Richards and Will Kusniar.


Coach: Rick Kolesar

2018 record: 3-7, 1-6

All-time record: 184-337-7

Date, Opponent, Time

8.23, Washington, 7

8.30, University Prep, 7

9.6, at Montour, 7

9.13, at Belle Vernon*, 7

9.20, Greensburg Salem*, 7

9.27, at West Mifflin*, 7:30

10.4, Ringgold*, 7

10.11, at Thomas Jefferson*, 7:30

10.18, at Indiana*, 7

10.25, Trinity*, 7

*Class 4A Big 8 Conference game


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