Steel Valley adjusts to new coach, shorthanded roster

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Monday, August 19, 2019 | 10:50 AM


Maroon and gold is the new blue and gold for new Steel Valley coach Ray Braszo as the long-time coach will once again walk the home sideline at Ironmen Stadium.

Braszo isn’t concentrating on the past and how he got there, he’s more focused on trying to lead Steel Valley back to the WPIAL Class 2A championship game.

“With all that’s happened, I try not to think about it,” said Braszo, who has more than 30 years of coaching on his resume. “I moved on and I’m trying to get comfortable down there, get the kids to know us and get them where we need to be. We’ve moved on and are not looking back.”

Braszo coached the Ironmen from 2006-09 and tallied a 26-14 record during his four-year stint. From there, he moved on to West Mifflin where he coached the Titans for nine seasons and compiled a 66-34 record.

Braszo and his staff are tasked with finding replacements for a team that won WPIAL Class 2A title last season with a short bench. The Ironmen defied the odds, and lived up to their name, by beating South Side Beaver, 48-6, for their second WPIAL title in three seasons with less than 20 healthy players on the roster.

“We opened camp with 34 kids,” Braszo said. “We made it a goal that we really wanted to have a JV team. They haven’t had a JV team in a couple of years, I think.”

Without question, the defending champion Ironmen will go into the season with targets on their backs. The only problem is, this isn’t the same team.

The Ironmen have just five returning players who know what it takes to win a championship. Seniors Trevon Epps (OL/DL), Riont’e Carter (OL/LB) and Dionte Williams (RB), junior Robert Fowler (OL/DL) and sophomore quarterback NiJhay Burt will lead a young Ironmen team. Burt got the start for Steel Valley in the 26-6 loss to Wilmington in last season’s PIAA semifinals.

“Things change a lot and things always change unless you have a lot kids returning,” Braszo said. “Not a lot of numbers last year, most of the kids are gone and there’s a lot of younger kids that we’re working with. Plus, (they) got new system.”

Steel Valley will deploy a pro-set offense, and the quarterback will mostly work out of the shotgun. Burt and senior NaSheed Lee-Goodwine will battle for the starting quarterback position. Both quarterbacks have the same skill set and are a threat to run with the ball.

Other than the offensive and defensive lines being intact from a year ago, there are a ton of question marks that dot nearly every position on the field. The biggest of which is at running back where for years Kam Williams and Todd Hill torched defenses.

“At running back, we got a whole bunch of people,” Braszo said. “They all have good speed. We’re looking to see who outworks the other.

“At the fullback position, you got to have a good blocker and he’s the bigger of the backs. We can use a lot of them I think.”

The wide receiver position is a little less cloudy. The Ironmen will be young out wide with sophomores Inenella Leonard and NyZair Burt. There’s another battle for the starting slot position between another pair of sophomores in Romar Watts and Trent Thompson.

In the defensive secondary, senior Charles Booker is pushing to start at one of the safety spots. There’s a four-way battle for the two cornerback spots between seniors DeSean Livingston, Doron Dorsey and NiJhay Burt and junior Ben Votodian.

“We’re looking for effort in practice and them doing what they are supposed to be doing,” Braszo said.

Steel Valley will play a Week Zero game against 2018 Interstate Conference champion Charleroi on Aug. 23 before opening Allegheny Conference play at East Allegheny on Aug. 30.

“I think, so far, we’re happy with the kids we have on the line,” Braszo said. “They’re responding really well, and that’s a place that you want to build first. If we can get it done up front and keep working, everything else will fall into place.”

Schedule

Coach: Ray Braszo

2018 record: 12-2, 5-1

All-time record: 289-202-12

Date, Opponent, Time

8.30, at East Allegheny*, 7

9.6, Avonworth*, 7

9.13, at Shady Side Academy*, 7

9.20, Valley*, 7

9.27, South Allegheny, 7

10.5, at Western Beaver, 12:30

10.11, Apollo-Ridge*, 7

10.19, at Summit Academy*, 12:30

10.25, at South Side Beaver, 7

*Class 2A Allegheny Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Ronnell Lawrence*

60-121, 1,054 yards, 12 TDs

Receiving: Eshawn Carter*

18-491 yards, 8 TDs

Rushing: Kam Williams*

234-2,020 yards, 22 TDs

*Graduated

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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