With new coach at helm, Indiana continues quest for WPIAL success from afar

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Sunday, August 14, 2022 | 12:01 PM


The road to a WPIAL football championship is a long and winding one for Indiana. As the lone member school currently situated outside the WPIAL’s designed boundaries, the program finds itself in a world of its own.

Road trips can be long, and visitors have had to do some homework before heading eastward toward the foothills.

Even first-year coach Brad Wright, who has lived the past seven years in the Indiana County seat — smack-dab in the middle of a District 6 county — has coached exclusively outside the WPIAL until now.

“It’s like another world,” said Wright, an Armstrong County native and product of Kittanning (now Armstrong), who last coached as an assistant at West Shamokin, an Armstrong County school that made the transition to District 6 after years in the WPIAL.

But, unlike a handful of schools with similar situations across the state who choose to compete on an independent status for various reasons, Indiana, a former District 6 member, remains committed to District 7 (the WPIAL), where it is in its third season in the Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference.

In District 6, there are just two Class 4A schools (Johnstown and Juniata) — and aside from Indiana, the six remaining Indiana County schools are connected to D-6 and compete in the Class A/2A Heritage Conference along with West Shamokin in Armstrong and three others from Cambria County.

It doesn’t leave many possibilities for Indiana, thus the WPIAL is its ticket. Luckily, the Indians’ schedule is made up mainly of opponents from the northern and eastern sections of District 7.

“The head coach here hasn’t been a district employee since 2013,” said Wright, who takes over for Brandon Overdorff, a former all-state running back at nearby Purchase Line, who stepped down at Indiana despite enjoying his best season (5-6) in four years as coach.

“I was hired as a teacher at Indiana Middle School, and being there, I’ll be able to build relationships with the kids,” Wright said. “That speaks for the program.”

Speaking of the kids, Wright and Indiana have some holes to fill in the Indians lineup, most notably at running back, where a pair of near 1,000-yard rushers are gone.

Running back Zach Herrington (979) and quarterback Devin Flint (934) combined for more than 1,900 yards rushing to lead Indiana to the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“They rewrote school records for the rushing game,” Wright said.

But, while that dynamic duo has moved on, he’s excited about four returning offensive linemen.

“We need to add some depth,” he said.

All-conference, 300-pound, twin guards Adam and Alek Clark anchor the Indiana line and are joined by a pair of junior returnees, 280-pound center Ben Cochran and 220-pound tackle Carson Beatty, whom Wright labels, “pretty athletic.”

Garrison Dougherty, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior, is in line to play running back and linebacker, while Trevor Smith moves up from JV quarterback, where the team lost just twice in 2021.

“We’re excited about him,” Wright said of the 5-9, 160-pound junior. “He surprised us in how fast he’s picked things up.”

Smith is the son of IUP associate head coach Jim Smith.

“Football is a life and Trevor is a (college) coach’s kid,” Wright said. “He did pretty well in 7-on-7s this summer. Coming from a team that didn’t throw the ball, you’d expect some growing pains, but he’s picked it up pretty good.”

Defensively, Wright is looking for leadership at linebacker from Dougherty and junior Isaac Nygren (6-1, 190) and in the secondary from senior Liam McFarlane (5-9, 170) and junior Anthony Kowchuck (6-3, 180).

“The key for us is to find some more defensive linemen, so the offensive linemen don’t have to play both ways,” Wright said. “A lot of our success will lie in our depth. We need depth.”

Wright, who formerly coached at District 10 Warren from 2009-13 and District 9 Punxsutawney from 2015-19, spent the past two seasons as special teams coordinator and running backs/linebackers coach at West Shamokin.

He began his coaching career in Virginia as an assistant at Washington & Lee in Montross and later at North Stafford.

“I’ve been coaching for a long time (20 years) and I’ve been exposed to everything from the Wing-T to the spread offense,” Wright said. “For me now, this latest opportunity is a chance to continue to learn and grow. I would say I’m a better coach now, especially being a special teams coach. It’s helped me to see more schemes.”

Indiana

Coach: Brad Wright

2021 record: 5-6, 3-4 in Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference

All-time record: 450-430-36

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.26 at Freeport, 7

9.2 Knoch, 7

9.9 at Shady Side Academy, 7

9.16 at Mars*, 7

9.23 Highlands*, 7

9.30 at Kiski Area*, 7

10.7 Armstrong*, 7

10.14 at Hampton*, 7

10.21 North Catholic*, 7

10.28 Plum, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Devin Flint*

18-36, 229 yards, 1 TD

Rushing: Zach Herrington*

136-979 yards, 12 TDs

Receiving: Korbin Wilson*

11-111 yards, 8 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• Indiana is seeking its first winning season since a 7-4 record in 2014. From then on, the Indians have combined to go 20-45 (.444).

• With a near-.500 record (5-6) in 2021, Indiana’s scoring offense (28.4 ppg) and scoring defense (26.4 ppg) nearly mirrored one another.

• The Indians continue as a member of the Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference, where several former teams (Knoch and Plum) remain on their schedule as nonconference opponents.

• A total of 26 sophomores (14) and freshmen (12) make up more than half of Indiana’s 47-man roster. There also are 11 seniors and 10 juniors.

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