Perfection in the past, Mt. Lebanon starts new season with lots of fresh faces

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Monday, August 8, 2022 | 11:55 PM


Editor’s note: Starting today, Trib HSSN will preview one WPIAL conference per day until the start of high school football season Aug. 26.

When Bob Palko made the big move to Mt. Lebanon after decades of success and championships at West Allegheny, he knew there was something special about the Blue Devils’ Class of 2022.

His first two seasons as Mt. Lebanon coach ended with winning seasons but losses in the WPIAL 6A semifinals.

Then the 2021 dream season for the blue and gold took place last fall, leading to double gold in the district and state.

“Looking back on the magical season, it seems like last week, playing until almost Christmas, but the accomplishments of the senior class was phenomenal,” Palko said. “The kids had their sights and goals aligned and we carried out a daily plan to reach our goals. The legacy they left will always be remembered.”

So with that special group gone, what does the program do for an encore, beginning with the 2022 season?

“The next wave off Blue Devils will have to find out what we do well and find ways to master the things that take no talent,” Palko said. “Control the things we can control and try to develop as much depth as possible and bring the young talent along as fast as we can.

“It’s always a challenge to take a new group of kids and find out how much they can accomplish together and see how they react to adversity and success.”

Palko and his staff will be starting from pretty close to scratch with only three returning starters on offense and two on defense.

On offense, the Blue Devils return Trib HSSN preseason all-star senior lineman Kade Capristo, senior tight end/defensive end Grayson Dee and senior wide receiver Mike Beiersdorf with Dee and his younger brother, junior linebacker Beckham Dee, back on defense.

“Kade is a three-year starter who has committed to Richmond,” Palko said. “Grayson is a three-year starter who has Ivy Leagues and/or high academic schools in his future, and Mike is a returning starter who will be one of the team leaders. Beckham will play on offense (at running back) as well.”

Capristo does not believe a lot of new faces will limit the Blue Devils’ goals this fall.

“Everyone is looking to repeat what we did last year and make a name for themselves,” he said.

Some of the other players to watch for the defending champions this fall include senior Johnny McGhee, an explosive athlete who plays on both sides of the ball, seniors Nate Sala and Will Hartung, who are both returning from injury, and junior linemen Connor Young and Maddox Metzger, who as Palko said, are looking to become forces on both sides of the ball.

The battle for the quarterback position will likely come down to senior Alex Gevauden and sophomore David Shields, who was a big part of the Blue Devils’ WPIAL baseball championship run and has already committed to play baseball at Miami (Fla).

Palko mentioned 16 seniors who have waited their chance for this season — Frank Tinnemeyer, Ryan Long, Andrew Freedy, David Cowher, JP Walters, Anthony Pietragallo, Cole Markel, Garrett Pavlick, Aiden Dawson, Rocky Fennell, Aiden Fennell, Noah Archbold, Idris Wilson, Luke Lombardo, Tyler Harpst and Jack Murphy.

“Now it’s their turn,” he said.

Those players will take their turn with the 6A target on their back after the Blue Devils’ perfect season last fall.

“I think every team in 6A is good this year and it’s going to be a battle every game,” Capristo said. “Honestly, we’re not going to focus on conference vs. nonconference. We are going to play good football and focus on one game at a time.”

Palko is a one-day-at-a-time, focus-on-the-now type of coach. However, he realizes that while small in nature, 6A will carry a heavy punch this season.

“Obviously Central Catholic will be talented, but Seneca Valley seems poised to make a run with a great senior class,” he said. “Plus NA is always ready to challenge for the title.”

Mt. Lebanon

Coach: Bob Palko

2021 record: 15-0, 7-0 in Class 6A

All-time record: 614-284-30

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.26 at Gateway, 7

9.2 Bethel Park, 7

9.9 at Moon, 7

9.16 at Central Catholic*, 7

9.23 Seneca Valley*, 7

9.30 Upper Saint Clair, 7

10.7 at North Allegheny*, 7:30

10.14 at Peters Township, 7

10.21 Baldwin, 7

10.28 Canon-McMillan*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Joey Daniels*

112-189, 2,118 yards, 31 TDs

Rushing: Alex Tecza*

265-2,079, 29 TDs

Receiving: Eli Heidenreich*

54-1,330, 29 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• Bob Palko begins his fourth season as head coach at Mt. Lebanon. He coached at West Allegheny from 1995-2018 and won eight WPIAL championships. After winning another WPIAL crown last fall, his nine titles is tied with Bill Cherpak of Thomas Jefferson for most in WPIAL history. His overall coaching record is 243-81.

• Mt. Lebanon won its eighth WPIAL football championship and first in 21 years when it rolled past Central Catholic in the 6A district title game, 47-7. Alex Tecza rushed for 192 yards and four touchdowns while Eli Heidenreich had 261 yards in rushing, receiving and returns with two touchdowns. Three weeks later, the Blue Devils claimed state gold by beating eastern power St. Joe’s Prep, 35-17. Joey Daniels threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns while Tecza rushed for 134 yards and three scores.

• The 15 wins last fall set a record for most victories in a season in Blue Devils history, breaking the mark of 13 set 40 years earlier. It also marked the fifth time the program finished with a perfect record. The Mt. Lebanon teams of 1940, 1966 and 1970 all finished 10-0 while the 1981 team was 13-0.

• This is the 94th season of Mt. Lebanon football. With 614, the Blue Devils are at No. 12 on the all-time wins list in the WPIAL and the third most in Allegheny County behind Clairton and McKeesport.

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