Steel Valley finding its way back to top

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Sunday, August 22, 2021 | 6:01 AM


Just three years removed from its latest WPIAL football championship, Steel Valley is trying to find a way back to the top.

“They’re getting it, slowly but surely,” said coach Ray Braszo, who returned to the Ironmen’s helm in 2019, a year after the school won its second WPIAL Class 2A championship in three years.

“The only way to improve is to come and do the lifting and the workouts. It’s not just running in circles. You’re trying to improve your techniques, your plays. If the kids aren’t there, there’s no opportunities to teach it. That’s the only way they can improve. That’s what we use our summer for.”

Since his return to Steel Valley, it’s been a battle for Braszo and his staff, who’ve had to scrap for players and deal with a pandemic that has slowed progress nationwide.

But, he’s seeing some progress.

Steel Valley won a title in 2016 and ‘18 under former coach Rod Steele, who essentially traded places with Braszo by taking over as coach at West Mifflin, where Braszo previously coached.

Steel Valley is coming off a 1-5 record in the covid-shortened season last year, Braszo’s second since his return.

He enters the year with a combined record of 31-24 at Steel Valley, including 26-14 from 2006-09. In between, Braszo coached West Mifflin to a nine-year record of 64-34, his teams reaching the WPIAL playoffs every year.

Braszo also coached the Titans from 1988-2005.

But his focus now solely is to turn Steel Valley back into a winner.

“Overall, we had a really good summer,” he said. “Some of the guys still need to pull in, but a lot of them have been here, especially the skill guys. They’ve really worked hard, and we’re happy with that. Their attitude is a lot better than when we got here. We’re getting to know them better. Overall, our coaches have done a good job.”

A total of 15 starters are back, an encouraging sign. But the team is young, with just four seniors on the roster, including dynamic twins Nijhay and Nyzair Burt.

“We’re sort of rebuilding,” Braszo said, hedging a bit. “Most of the kids are young, but they played a lot last year. And they’ve been working at it this year, this summer. That’s as positive as you can get.”

Braszo conceded its tough to maintain competitive practices, at times, when he doesn’t have a full roster available. He said the total number of players was low when he took over but is slowly increasing each year.

The Ironmen are nearing 30 players after hitting a low of 20 in 2019.

“When you don’t have a lot of numbers,” he said, “it affects practices. You want guys to compete for a job.”

The Burt brothers are coming off all-conference seasons, Nijhay Burt at running back and defensive back and Nyzair Burt at wide receiver and defensive back.

Braszo said that Nijhay Burt, the returning Allegheny Conference defensive player of the year, is drawing attention mainly from Mid-American Conference schools.

“He’s not a huge kid, but a tough kid,” Braszo said. “Those two guys will be good leaders for us.”

Junior Cruce Brookins is back at quarterback and defensive back.

“I believe his future will be at defensive back,” Braszo said. “He’s another one who will get some college interest by the end of the year.”

Anchoring the line is Greg Smith, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound junior. Braszo said Smith’s potential is untapped.

“He’s getting in shape. I don’t know if he really realizes how good he can be,” he said.

Other key returnees are center Brendan Snyder, tight end Angel Herrera and wide receiver/middle linebacker DeShaun Johnson.

“We have some new guys and some guys who are young who are fighting for jobs,” Braszo said. “We keep hoping these guys want to keep working hard and get better because once the season starts, it is what it is.”

Steel Valley

Coach: Ray Braszo

2020 record: 1-5, 0-3 in Class 2A Allegheny Conference

All-time record: 294-212-12

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

9.3 at Clairton, 7

9.10 East Allegheny, 7

9.17 at Keystone Oaks, 7

9.24 Brentwood, 7

10.1 Ligonier Valley*, 7

10.9 at Summit Academy*, 12:30

10.15 Shady Side Academy*, 7

10.22 at Apollo-Ridge*, 7

10.29 Serra Catholic*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Cruce Brookins

13-33, 106 yards

Receiving: Nyzair Burt

7-106

Rushing: Nijhay Burt

100-650, 9 TDs

FAST FACTS

• Steel Valley is seeking a return to the WPIAL playoffs after being shut out the past two seasons.

• The Ironmen reached the playoffs from 2014-18, winning WPIAL and PIAA Class 2A titles in 2016 with a 15-0 record, as running back DeWayne Murray finished his high school career as the WPIAL’s sixth all-time leading rusher with 6,503 yards.

• Steel Valley won another WPIAL championship in 2018 but was ousted from PIAA playoffs in semifinals by Wilmington.

• The lone Steel Valley victory in six games last season was a 14-12 decision against Brentwood. Its five losses were by an average of 16.4 points per game.

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