2-sport star Rodney Gallagher has talent to elevate Laurel Highlands

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Sunday, August 23, 2020 | 6:01 AM


Sophomore Rodney Gallagher helped the Laurel Highlands basketball team win a WPIAL Class 4A title in 2020.

Can the superstar athlete now help the football team become relevant?

Since North Union and South Union merged to become Laurel Highlands in 1966, the basketball team has had most of the school’s athletic success.

In 54 years, the Mustangs have not won a conference title in football and are 0-10 in WPIAL playoff competition.

Second-year coach Rich Kolesar hopes things change in all sports in the district.

“We’re hoping all sports, just not basketball and baseball, are successful,” Kolesar said.

He’s the district’s third coach in three seasons. Laurel Highlands was 3-7 in his first year.

If Gallagher can elevate the program, Manges knows he won’t be able to do it by himself.

“Rodney is an amazing athlete,” Kolesar said. “He’s exciting.”

Gallagher plays wide receiver and defensive back. As a freshman, he ran the ball 36 times for 392 yards and five touchdowns, caught 25 passes for 491 yards and five scores and had returns (kickoff and interception) for scores.

Kolesar plans on getting the ball in Gallagher’s hands even more this season. He and juniors Dan Carney and Joe Chambers will battle for playing time at quarterback. They’re replacing Tyler Christopher, who completed 111 of 251 passes for 1,387 yards and eight touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

Chambers is one of six other basketball players that decided to join Gallagher on the football team this season.

The others are junior receiver Jayden Pratt, junior receiver Demonte Kiss, senior receiver Tarrence Thomas-Brown, senior lineman Ray Egnot and junior tight end A.J. Sumpter.

“We got three-fourths of the basketball team out,” Kolesar said. “They are kids that know what it takes to win.”

Laurel Highlands only returns three starters on offense and four on defense.

Along with Gallagher, the offensive returners are receiver senior Christian Burchick and senior running back ShiNeill Thomas, who rushed for 228 yards and scored three touchdowns.

Gallagher, Burchick, Thomas and senior tackle Lorenzo McFadden return on defense.

“Replacing the entire offensive line is a concern,” Kolesar said. “But we have a good group working hard to replace them. We will average around 270 on the line.

“We do have a lot of talented skilled players, just not a lot of experience. It will be fun watching them grow.”

Kolesar said he plans to play a defense that suits the talent.

Laurel Highlands was a 3-5 stack that switched to a 4-4 on defense in 2019. Kolesar said he may use more 4-3 this season.

“We had good numbers working out all summer,” Kolesar said. “We’re ready for the challenges we’ll face in the Big (Eight) Conference.”

The top teams in the conference are Thomas Jefferson, Belle Vernon and McKeesport. Kolesar said he expects his team will battle West Mifflin, Trinity and Ringgold for the next spot. Uniontown, also in the conference, decided not to play football this fall.

Schedule

Coach: Rich Kolesar

2019 record: 3-7, 3-4 in Class 4A Big Eight Conference

All-time record: 187-344-7

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, at Albert Gallatin, 7

9.18, Ringgold*, 7

9.25, at West Mifflin*, 7:30

10.2, Belle Vernon*, 7

10.9, at Thomas Jefferson*, 7:30

10.16, at McKeesport*, 7

10.23, Trinity*, 7

*Class 4A Big Eight Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Tyler Christopher*

111-251, 1,387 yards, 8 TDs

Rushing: Tyler Christopher*

119-413 yards

Receiving: Robbie Sleighter*

28-261 yards

*Graduated

Fast facts

• North Union and South Union merged to become Laurel Highlands in 1966. North Union and South Union are townships that surround Uniontown in Fayette County.

• Laurel Highlands has never won a WPIAL playoff game. It is 0-10.

• The last time Laurel Highlands played in a WPIAL playoff game was in 2015, losing to Central Valley, 59-14.

• Belle Vernon football coach Matt Humbert graduated from Laurel Highlands in 2003. He played quarterback.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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