New Penn Hills coach wants to ramp up aggressiveness
Friday, August 12, 2022 | 11:01 AM
Penn Hills coach Charles Morris isn’t so worried about X’s and O’s for his first season in charge. The foundation for the Indians’ success on the field has been shaped over the previous few years by the players and coaching staff.
Morris, a Penn Hills graduate, wants to know that everyone involved knows the program is a family. With a coaching staff featuring about 75% former Indians players, Morris is focused on building the environment.
“We want to build relationships and have an open mindset,” Morris said. “Explaining to kids about the growth mindset. We want to let them know we care. We’re not solely investing in the football player. We want them to be better students, better people and help them segue to whatever they choose to do in their post-secondary career.”
On the field, Penn Hills will have the ingredients for success when it opens the season with a nonconference battle at NexTier Stadium against Seneca Valley. Morris inherits a program that flourished under now-Pine-Richland coach Jon LeDonne.
In five seasons, LeDonne compiled a 46-13 record, helping the Indians to the Class 5A WPIAL and PIAA titles in 2018.
Last year, Penn Hills shared the Northeast Conference title with Pine-Richland and North Hills. Penn Hills beat Franklin Regional and Gateway to reach the WPIAL semifinals before bowing to Moon, 14-9.
Part of what will set the Indians up for success in 2022 is returning quarterback Julian Dugger. Dugger, who has numerous Division I offers, finished last season with 1,306 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. He also rushed for 651 yards.
What Morris is hoping to create is a faster-paced offense that can make opponents’ defenses weary.
“We want to have more structure, more discipline, communicate and be more aggressive,” Morris said. “That’s something we’ve been trying to instill. We are about focus and changing the kids’ mindsets to fire off the ball faster. We want to be aggressive. We want to be the hammer and not the nail.”
Penn Hills will have to replace Dugger’s top target from last season, Jaden Dugger, who is now a receiver at Georgetown. The Indians will have Raion Strader, a Miami (Ohio) commit, and Cameron Thomas to help step up at wide receiver.
Running back Amir Key returns from last season as well.
“We have a nice nucleus of running backs,” Morris said. “But it all starts up front. It starts with execution and discipline. We want to be more assertive, which is a goal of ours. We expect the running game to excel.”
After a slow start to last season, Penn Hills was able to figure things out and make a run at a championship. This year, Morris is hoping to avoid some of the pratfalls that can lead to a slow start.
“We’ve been doing more of trying to instill our philosophy, mindset and culture,” Morris said. “We’ve been focusing a lot on academics. Some of the mistakes last year could have been due to not having everyone available.”
Coach: Charles Morris
2021 record: 8-4, 4-1 in Class 5A Northeast Conference
All-time record: 527-316-22
Date, Opponent, Time
8.26 at Seneca Valley, 7
9.2 Norwin, 7
9.9 Pine-Richland*, 7
9.16 at Moon, 7
9.23 North Hills*, 7
9.30 at Bethel Park, 7
10.7 at Fox Chapel*, 7
10.14 Central Catholic, 7
10.21 Shaler*, 7
10.28 at Woodland Hills*, 7
Passing: Julian Dugger
73-131, 1,306 yards, 20 TDs
Rushing: Amir Key
Receiving: Jaden Dugger*
• Penn Hills coach Charles Morris played at Edinboro with current Montreal Alouettes quarterback Trevor Harris.
• The Indians have won five WPIAL championships in football, with the last coming in 2018. Penn Hills had another in 1979, but it was vacated for using an ineligible player.
• Penn Hills’ last 1,000-yard rusher was Germar Howard, who piled up 1,047 yards in 2019.
• The Indians play at Yuhas-McGinley Stadium.
More Football• Trib HSSN State High School Football Rankings for Sept. 27, 2022
• Trib HSSN Football Team of the Week for 2022 Week 4
• This week on Trib HSSN for week of Sept. 26, 2022
• Penn Hills heats up behind strong play from offensive, defensive lines
• High school roundup for Sept. 24, 2022: Xavier Nelson sets receiving records in Bishop Canevin win