Strong junior class has Mt. Lebanon coach Bob Palko optimistic in Year 2

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Monday, August 31, 2020 | 2:51 AM


Mt. Lebanon coach Bob Palko had 14 sophomores earn a varsity letter in his first season with the Blue Devils.

That has him excited because those sophomores are now juniors, so he expects to see a discernible jump in their performances. For football players, that transition from 10th grade to 11th is significant, Palko said.

“No question,” he said. “It’s huge.”

Palko has never shied away from playing talented underclassmen, but said last year’s lineup was the youngest he’d ever coached. As a first-year coach at Mt. Lebanon, that youth let him lay a new foundation for the program.

Consider, this year’s quarterback will be either junior Joey Daniels or junior Jack Smith, and junior Alex Tecza will play an important two-way role at running back and safety.

“You’re going to hear a lot about him as we move forward,” Palko said of Tecza, but he could have been talking about any number of Mt. Lebanon’s juniors.

“We just let him play one-way last year but he’s really, really good,” he added. “He’s extremely talented.”

The team’s top four wide receivers are all juniors: Eli Heidenreich, Jacob Munoz, Brendan Anderson and Matt Wertz. The team’s top lineman is Cooper Austin, a 6-foot-2, 255-pound junior who played both ways as a sophomore.

“We think his ceiling is huge,” Palko said. “He’s going to be another one of these recruits coming out of Mt. Lebanon.”

Mt. Lebanon went 7-5 overall last season, 5-3 in the conference and reached the WPIAL Class 6A semifinals. It’s clear, if they match or exceed that success this fall, it’ll be on the shoulders of their deep, talented junior class.

“We had a lot of sophomores that played last year, so obviously you’ve got sophomores that are now juniors,” Palko said. “We like the way the kids are. It takes time to implement stuff, get organized and establish a culture that I’m more comfortable with.

“I think the future looks bright.”

However, Palko stressed that he wasn’t slighting his seniors. Running back Visawn Pennix rushed for 493 yards on 65 carries last season, averaging better than seven yards per attempt. He’ll see more carries this fall.

The Blue Devils also added a senior transfer from Thomas Jefferson. Trevor Barrett will start at inside linebacker alongside seniors Ryan Martin and Pat Dunn, who both return.

Smith and Dan King, both juniors, also play linebacker.

“I don’t want to take anything away from the seniors,” Palko said. “These kids are awesome.”

Last season was Palko’s first at Mt. Lebanon after 24 at West Allegheny, where he won eight WPIAL titles and more than 200 games. His assessment of his first year in blue?

“Great kids, great community, bad head coaching,” Palko said with a laugh. “I don’t think I did a great job last year. That’s my opinion. There’s so much to learn. There’s no other way to put it.”

But entering Year 2, he sees real progress.

“It takes a while to establish that stuff,” Palko said. “And then you have more sophomores this year. It’s interesting to watch the whole process go.”

Schedule

Coach: Bob Palko

2019 record: 7-5, 5-3 in Class 6A

All-time record: 595-281-30

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, Baldwin*, ppd

9.18, at Canon-McMillan*, 7

9.25, Hempfield*, 7

10.2, at North Allegheny*, 7

10.9, at Central Catholic*, 7

10.16, Norwin*, 7

10.23, at Seneca Valley*, 7

*Class 6A game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Joey Daniels

77-141, 1,307 yards, 16 TDs

Receiving: Evan Jones*

27-422 yards, 7 TDs

Rushing: Mason Ventrone*

72-523 yards, 11 TDs

*Graduated

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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