Success, death of teammate have reawakened passion for football at Monessen

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Saturday, August 19, 2023 | 9:38 AM


Monessen’s T.J. Taylor is only a sophomore. But he talks like a senior. He acts like a senior.

He is one of the players who has taken it upon himself to make sure teammates are attending workouts and weightlifting sessions.

“This year, I’m noticing it doesn’t matter what class you’re in,” said the center/defensive tackle. “Leaders are everywhere. I take that accountability with me. I work out six times a week, and I try to bring players with me every time I go work out.”

Taylor, who started on both sides of the ball as a freshman, is emblematic of the new attitude that permeates the Greyhounds. Actually, the new attitude is an old attitude. Long accustomed to success, Monessen had hit hard times in recent years and bottomed out three seasons ago with an 0-7 mark.

Under third-year coach Wade Brown, the Greyhounds have begun to look more like contending teams of the past. After a four-win season in 2021, Monessen improved to six a year ago and showed off one of the most potent offenses in Class A while qualifying for the playoffs.

That little bit of success has helped to raise the expectations of the players already in the program and pique the interest of kids who might have been reluctant to join the team before.

Brown said numbers are up, and there even has been talk of possibly fielding a JV team this year. Youth players are involved with the varsity as waterboys and, in general, brought around the high school players at any opportunity just to get them excited about the future of Monessen football.

“The want-to of all the kids, knowing they have a great chance this year to win the conference,” Brown said about the changing attitude around the team. “And, hopefully, they want to win some playoff games. That’s a great thing when kids are holding each other accountable with coming to practice and making sure they’re doing what they need to be doing.”

A little taste of winning has stoked the Greyhounds’ competitive fire. But they also have been spurred on by tragedy.

On Nov. 29, less than four weeks after Monessen was eliminated in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs, junior two-way lineman Amari Altomore was shot and killed. Altomore was expected to be an important part of the team again and, Taylor said, was looking forward to a successful senior season.

Now the Greyhounds are dedicating the season to their late friend.

“For sure you can tell there’s more passion for the game of football because our friend died, and he would have loved to have been here with us,” Taylor said. “We talk about it all the time. … You never know when someone’s last day is, as that showed us.

“Everybody is playing for Amari this year.”

With most of the 2022 team back and the addition of new players who have boosted the roster close to 30, the Greyhounds are setting their sights on a deep playoff run after a pair of first-round exits.

In 2021, as the lowest seed seed in the Class A playoffs, they were dispatched 33-0 by Cornell. Last season, as the No. 11 seed, the Greyhounds lost to Fort Cherry despite scoring 42 points and leading in the second half.

Those days, Taylor said, are over.

“I tell my parents all the time,” he said. “They grew up in Monessen, and they saw how bad (the team) went downhill. I told them we’re going to bring Monessen back to what it used to be and the powerhouse that it was back then.”

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