West Mifflin standout Nahki Johnson among 2 ruled ineligible by WPIAL

Thursday, June 20, 2019 | 8:00 PM

West Mifflin’s Nahki Johnson and Gateway’s Diego Bledsoe played football together last season at Steel Valley before each transferred elsewhere.

In separate hearings Thursday, the WPIAL declared both ineligible for next football season, ruling that their transfers were motivated at least partially by athletics, WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley said. Steel Valley administrators had contested the two transfers, alleging that the moves occurred because their school changed football coaches.

Both athletes will be juniors in the fall.

Johnson is a major-college recruit with scholarship offers from Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan, Mississippi State and others. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound defensive end transferred to West Mifflin in December, shortly before coach Rod Steele also switched from Steel Valley to West Mifflin.

“There was a timeline that was presented by Steel Valley that the board put some semblance in,” O’Malley said. “Obviously, West Mifflin was able to counter most of that, so it became a subjective decision by the board. There was a lot of debate in arriving at a decision.”

PIAA rules prohibit a student from following a coach to another school. Even though Johnson transferred before Steele was officially hired, the nine-person WPIAL panel voted 6-3 to make him ineligible for one year from his transfer date.

Steel Valley’s administrators suggested that athletes were being recruited to West Mifflin, but “that couldn’t be established” in Thursday’s hearings, O’Malley said. Bledsoe’s hearing was open to the public but Johnson’s was closed at his attorney’s request.

Both Johnson and Bledsoe can appeal to the PIAA.

Bledsoe (5-11, 230) also plays defensive line. His transfer was contested because his father spoke out critically at a February school board meeting when Steel Valley hired Ray Braszo to replace Steele as coach.

Steel Valley administrators played a recording of Robert Bledsoe’s public comments for WPIAL board members. In the recording, he said Steel Valley players “don’t want to play for this guy.”

An attorney representing the Bledsoes countered that a landlord’s eviction forced Robert Bledsoe to move, so they relocated closer to his work in Monroeville.

Ultimately, the audio recording swayed the board, O’Malley said. Disciplining a student for a parent’s action is unpleasant, he said, but added that the PIAA rules are clear.

“If you look at the reasons for transfers that are (considered) athletically motivated, one is if a parent has a problem with a coach,” O’Malley said. “That’s the rule. We didn’t write it, but that’s what it says.”

In other hearings, the WPIAL granted postseason eligibility to three transfers: Kiski Area’s Kenneth Blake (football), Gateway’s Jiahna Bracy (girls basketball) and Gateway’s Shane Thrift (football).

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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