New Pine-Richland coach wants to play ‘Western Pa. football’

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Friday, August 12, 2022 | 11:01 AM


As the Jon LeDonne era begins at Pine-Richland, one element that he wants to add into the program is more physicality.

With an experienced offensive line and running back, the Rams will be looking to win the battle in the trenches this fall.

“They’ve had success the last eight to 10 years and have built a good, winning culture, so we’re going to continue to build off that,” LeDonne said. “We’re going to do things the right way. We’re going to be physical and have a more blue-collar mentality than they’ve had in the past. We’re just going to play Western Pa. football.”

LeDonne came to Pine-Richland after coaching the last five years at Penn Hills. He amassed a 46-13 record and guided the Indians to WPIAL and state titles in 2018.

At Pine-Richland, he inherits a line that features senior Jake Beam, a second team all-conference tackle last year, and rising prospect Ryan Cory, a junior, who has offers from multiple schools in each of the Power 5 conferences.

“The offensive line is going to be our heartbeat,” LeDonne said.

The line will be blocking for senior running back Ryan Palmieri. Last year, Palmieri took over at quarterback when Cole Boyd went down with an injury midseason. This season, Palmieri will not be a quarterback but a weapon in many other facets.

“Ryan is going to be our featured back, but he’s going to do a little bit of everything for us,” LeDonne said. “We do realize that people are going to focus on him with the success he’s had. We’re going to move him around from running back to wide receiver to everywhere in between. He’ll be a big part of what we do offensively.”

Another senior the Rams will be relying on heavily is Max Heckert.

Heckert was an honorable mention pick in the Big East Conference at outside linebacker last season and will play on both sides of the ball this fall. He has an offer from Marist, and other offers could be coming soon.

“Max has a lot of interest from MAC schools and everyone wants to see his first couple games as far as what he puts on film,” LeDonne said. “We have some good competition early, so we’ll be able to get some good stuff on film for him and coaches can see what he’s got.”

The Rams have a competition at quarterback with four players — Kanan Huffman, Vaughn Spencer, Ryan Beam and Heath Cwynar — getting reps. All are underclassmen.

“None of them have a lot of varsity experience or junior varsity experience for that matter, so it will probably be a competition right through Week Zero and then we’ll figure out who our starting quarterback is going forward,” LeDonne said. “It might end up being something where two or three quarterbacks play in a game and whoever has the hot hand that game is the quarterback that stays in.”

Andrew Melis returns at receiver and the Rams have a promising sophomore in Niko Andrews.

The Rams’ conference opponents are Fox Chapel, Penn Hills, North Hills, Shaler and Woodland Hills.

Pine-Richland

Coach: Jon LeDonne

2021 record: 7-5, 4-1 in Class 5A Northeast Conference

All-time record: 384-284-13

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.26 Pickerington North, 7

9.2 at Kiski Area, 7

9.9 at Penn Hills*, 7

9.16 Seneca Valley, 7

9.23 at Fox Chapel*, 7

9.30 North Allegheny, 7

10.7 at Central Catholic, 7

10.14 at Shaler*, 7

10.21 Woodland Hills*, 7

10.28 North Hills*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Cole Boyd*

95-180, 1,159 yards, 12 TDs, 5 INTs

Rushing: Brooks Eastburn*

153-829, 7 TDs

Receiving: Alexis Gochis*

48-740, 8 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• Three coaches on the Pine-Richland staff have spent time in the NFL. Former Steelers linebacker Vince Williams will be the linebackers coach. Mike McMahon, who played quarterback for the Detroit Lions, is the passing game coordinator. Bill Stull, who spent time at Kansas City Chiefs training camp in 2010 and played at Pitt, is the quarterbacks coach. In addition, Rams offensive coordinator Steve Buches played at Pitt.

• The Rams had to go out of state to find a Week Zero opponent. They’ll host Pickerington North from the Columbus, Ohio area. Ohio high school football starts a week earlier than the PIAA, so Pickerington North will have played a game before traveling to Pine-Richland.

• LeDonne will return to Penn Hills when the Indians host the Rams on Sept. 8. LeDonne said he expects the night to be extremely emotional.

• Pine-Richland has qualified for the postseason nine consecutive years and has had a winning record in eight straight.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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