Shaler football builds chemistry during red-hot start to season

Sunday, September 24, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Ryan Barnhart wasn’t sure if he wanted to play guard. The Shaler senior had spent most of his career as a middle linebacker. But coming into the season, he knew the Titans also needed help up front.

“At the beginning, I wasn’t sure I wanted to play on the offensive line,” Barnhart said.

But Barnhart was able to lean on his wrestling background to help build his confidence. The 5-foot-11 Barnhart wrestled from first to eighth grade and wasn’t uncomfortable with hand fighting in the trenches.

With Barnhart playing up front, the Shaler line has jelled to allow the Titans’ offensive machine to roll. Shaler got off to a 4-0 start and scored 30 or more points in three of its first four games.

“It felt natural,” Barnhart said. “I didn’t find pulling too difficult. I felt like I would be comfortable with pass blocking.”

Keeping opponents from getting to quarterback Keegan Smetanka has the Titans feeling confident in what likely will be a brutal battle for a playoff spot in the Northeast Conference. Smetanka has thrown for 1,007 yards so far this season, which is second in the WPIAL behind Central Catholic’s Payton Wehner, who has 1,012 passing yards.

“I think each of the linemen has great personalities, and it’s great to see them jell together,” Smetanka said. “The chemistry between them and me is awesome. Their chemistry has propelled them to be better.”

Ben Yeckel and Zac Ehrenberger have also been key contributors on the offensive line.

“A lot of us have played together since we were 6,” Barnhart said. “I think we have decent chemistry.”

Thanks to the time provided to Smetanka, he has been able to spread the ball throughout the passing game. Joe DeSabato has a team-high 432 receiving yards, while Kaden Orga (278 yards) and Brandon London (248) have also had big plays in the passing game.

Nathan Rosso leads Shaler with 411 rushing yards.

Smetanka said he expected the Titans to be competitive from the start of the season.

“You talk about expectations and optimism, when you return 17 starters, that’s how it’s going to be,” Smetanka said. “It’s amazing that we have the community behind us.”

Shaler also had the benefit of a five-week runup to conference play. The Titans, who were scheduled to play Franklin Regional in Week 4, won’t play its first conference game until they host Woodland Hills for homecoming on Sept. 30.

“It’s rough because of the injuries that happen before we play our conference games,” Barnhart said. “But it gives us time to get things situated before the games that matter.”


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