With new big-play offense, Gateway looks to return to playoff win column
Wednesday, August 9, 2023 | 9:21 PM
Most visitors return from Florida with theme park souvenirs, a suntan and maybe some oranges, but Gateway coach Don Holl brought home a new offense.
When Holl took a trip to the Sunshine State a couple of months ago, he visited with one of his former players, now a college assistant at South Florida. That convinced him the Gators should play fast and throw deep, borrowing ideas from offenses run by USF and Tennessee.
“It suits our people so well, and it’s not complicated,” Holl said. “We’re not reinventing the wheel, but it takes advantage of speed and spacing and just going really fast.”
The Gators already have a good deep-ball passer and speedy wideouts, so Holl was willing to take the leap.
Key is senior quarterback Brad Birch, who has more than 6,000 career passing yards. Birch had long TD passes last year covering 65, 66 and 75 yards, and Holl is hoping this new offense sparks even more.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” Holl said. “When you’ve got a guy who’s a really good deep-ball thrower, it’s a bonus, and we’ve got that guy.”
Around Birch are four teammates with FBS offers: running back Jaquon Reynolds, tight end Remy Bose, slot receiver Kenny Lewis and wideout Steven Jenkins, a Bowling Green commit who moved from Woodland Hills. All are seniors except for junior Lewis.
Their common goal is to find some success in the postseason.
Gateway (7-4, 4-1) tied for first in the Big East a year ago, but lost in the first round of the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs. It was the second year in a row that the team didn’t win a playoff game, a letdown for a roster with big expectations.
The Gators are still hoping to win their first WPIAL title since 2019. But to do so, they’ve got to eliminate the mistakes that doomed them in recent years. Holl said his Gators rarely run into a more-talented team, but at times have leveled the playing field with blunders.
So his coaches have emphasized discipline.
“If we can be the best in the league at the little things that don’t take talent, then how do they close the gap?” Holl said.
Filling out the receiver ranks are juniors Derek Selby and Dyson Harper, and sophomore Shawn Moorefield. Harper is the younger brother of last year’s leading receiver, Dallas Harper, now a freshman at Youngstown State.
Graduation hit Gateway hardest along the lines and on defense, where seven of the 11 starters are gone. Holl said he believes the team has the depth to fill those spots but will rely on a few promising underclassmen up front. Three of the five offensive linemen could be sophomores.
“The two questions will be: How do the new guys factor in on defense?” Holl said. “And how is the young offensive line? If those guys play like they can play, then there’s a pretty high ceiling.”
Holl returned home in June with “good intel” into the new offense when he visited USF line coach Tyler Hudanick, one of his former players at Seneca Valley. There are ties between the USF and Tennessee coaching staffs, and Hudanick previously was on the Vols’ staff.
The new offense is recognizable by its wider splits for the receivers and a frenetic pace, among other things. Tennessee averaged 46 points as the highest-scoring FBS team last year.
The Gateway players were introduced to the new scheme in the winter but the learning accelerated in recent weeks. The Gators already played fast at times, but now it’ll be constant.
“We’ve had some things that were up tempo, but it’s no longer a tool. It’s now an identity,” Holl said. “Some people say, ‘You don’t date it, you marry it.’ We’re all in.”
Coach: Don Holl
2022 record: 7-4, 4-1 in Class 5A Big East Conference
All-time record: 456-224-13
Date, Opponent, Time
8.25 at Mt. Lebanon, 7
9.1 at Woodland Hills*, 7
9.8 North Hills, 7
9.15 Franklin Regional*, 7
9.22 at Plum*, 7
9.29 Hempfield*, 7
10.6 at Penn-Trafford*, 7
10.13 McKeesport, 7
10.20 at Norwin*, 7
10.27 Central Catholic, 7
Passing: Brad Birch
156-259, 2,108 yards, 19TDs
Rushing: Jaquon Reynolds
150-666 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving: Dallas Harper*
36-495 yards, 7 TDs
• QB Brad Birch and LB Remy Bose are both returning first-team all-conference players. OT/DT Matt Brooks and WR/DB Dallas Harper, who were two-way honorees a year ago, have graduated.
• Bose, who’s uncommitted, lists college offers from Akron, Duquesne, Howard, Maine, Stony Brook, Toledo, UMass and Youngstown State.
• The team has two newcomers from Woodland Hills who will be starters: offensive tackle Nasir Neal (6-3, 310) and wide receiver/defensive back Steven Jenkins (6-3, 184).
• Gateway owns seven WPIAL titles, including two in the past six seasons (2019 and ’17).
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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