Penn Hills looks to repeat with new cast

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Friday, August 16, 2019 | 11:06 AM


Last year, Penn Hills had a magical undefeated season, which ended with the program’s first state title since 1995.

The Indians are looking to repeat, but they will need to do it with a new cast.

The Indians capped their 16-0 season when they defeated Manheim Central, 36-31, in the PIAA Class 5A championship. The team was headlined by wide receiver/cornerback Daequan Hardy (Penn State), quarterback Hollis Mathis (William & Mary) and running back Terry Tank Smith (St. Francis, Pa.)

In their absence, the Indians will be led by senior wide receivers Tony Grimes and Aakem Snell and senior quarterback Eddie McKissick. Junior running back Derrick Topeck will look to replace Smith’s production.

“The expectations haven’t changed,” coach Jon LeDonne said. “We’re still shooting for that. We’re pretty young and inexperienced on the varsity football field right now.

“We’re making sure that the players realize they need to make every rep count and learn from our mistakes early on so we don’t make them later down the road.”

McKissick has some big shoes to fill. Mathis threw for 2,800 yards and 40 touchdowns last season.

“He matured a lot over the offseason both physically and mentally,” LeDonne said. “Some of things we’re asking him to do, he’s starting to pick up faster.

“We won’t know how he will perform until he gets those varsity reps. It’s a different speed than practice. We’re looking to get him as many game reps as we can in the coming months.”

LeDonne will lean on the leadership of Grimes and Snell, as well as a pair of returning lineman — Luke Pugliese and Claude Vangelius — to provide the much-needed leadership for a team returns only four starters on offense and three on defense.

Aside from making explosive plays with Snell, Grimes wants to use his vocal and energetic personality to pass down the lessons he learned from the players who came before him.

“Practice makes perfect,” Grimes said. “If we keep working then we will get where we need to be.

“We’re focused on the task at hand. We know what the goal is. We don’t have a dropoff this year. If anything, we feel like we will get better.”

Grimes and Snell have received NCAA Division I offers, but they continue to weigh their options and wait on other potential offers. They hope another long, successful season for the Indians will lead to more offers.

The Indians will kick off their season with a Week Zero matchup at Pine-Richland, the two-time defending WPIAL Class 6A champion, at 7 p.m. Friday.

Penn Hills will look to defeat the Rams without LeDonne, who will serve a one-game suspension for his part in two of his players ignoring a WPIAL directive and igniting a smoke device before the WPIAL Class 5A championship Nov. 23 at Norwin.

“It didn’t work out with playing a team from out of state in Ohio or West Virginia,” LeDonne said. “The next best thing is playing two-time WPIAL champ and state champion from the previous year without me being on the sidelines.

“We will see how the coach and the kids handle that. I’m looking forward to seeing how we respond to that.”

Schedule

Coach: Jon LeDonne

2018 record: 16-0, 7-0

All-time record: 505-306-22

Date, Opponent, Time

8.23, at Pine-Richland, 7

8.30, at Latrobe, 7

9.6, Fox Chapel*, 7

9.13, Mars*, 7

9.20, at Kiski Area*, 7

9.27, at Armstrong*, 7

10.4, Hampton*, 7

10.11, at Shaler*, 7

10.18, Baldwin, 7

10.25, North Hills*, 7

*Class 5A Northern Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Hollis Mathis*

149-255 2,800 yards, 40 TDs

Receiving: Daequan Hardy*

37-817 yards, 22 TDs

Rushing: Terry Tank Smith*

213-1,757 yards, 23 TDs

*Graduated

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