Finally healthy, South Allegheny ready to compete
Making the playoffs at South Allegheny was never going to be an easy proposition for coach Pat Monroe, but losing five players to season-ending injuries in 2011 made attaining success impossible.
All of those injured players have returned for the Gladiators this season, giving Monroe and his staff a legitimate chance at a competitive season.
“You don't ever want the kids making any excuses,” said Monroe, the former Duquesne coach. “But the fact of the matter is, we endured an awful lot of bad luck last season. Hopefully, we can keep these guys healthy this season.”
The players returning from the injuries could give SA a huge boost. They include starting middle linebacker Justin Yarborough (torn ACL), starting tailback Brandon Murn (broken ankle), starting running back Keaton McClelland (shoulder injury), starting wideout Josh Roundtree (torn labrum) and starting tight end Tim Burkholder (shoulder injury).
That core of players give Monroe the kind of experienced seniors that he's never enjoyed at SA.
“That's the thing that's unique about the team I have this year,” he said. “Not only are these guys finally healthy, but they're really smart. All of them. This is a very mature, intelligent football team.”
Having such a veteran squad has enabled Monroe to add numerous variations to his offense. Multiple formations have been simpler to install because Monroe is dealing with experienced players.
Of course, rocket science won't be required when Monroe calls his most frequent play this season.
Murn figures to receive a load of carries behind guard Ryan Bednar.
Rarely has Monroe enjoyed a more powerful offensive lineman than Bednar, a 6-foot-2, 283-pound senior guard.
“What a player,” Monroe said. “He can do everything on the football field. He's a beast of a football player.”
Bednar, in fact, figures to be a force on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, Monroe figures to use him at numerous positions around the line of scrimmage. Bednar is capable of dominating at nose tackle or defensive end.
Offensively, Bednar's usage will be simple. The Gladiators will run behind the guard time and time again.
“Yes,” Monroe said with a chuckle. “That sounds like a pretty good idea.”
Monroe believes his offense could be very good, even though star tight end Jesse James was lost to graduation in June.
Murn is a powerful runner and should see the bulk of SA's carries this season.
“Like him a lot,” Monroe said. “He's going to be a big part of our football team.”
Quarterback Dustin Anderson could be poised for a big season.
A physically imposing player at 6-3, 230 pounds, Anderson is one of the WPIAL's largest quarterbacks.
“I can't imagine there's another quarterback out there whose arm is as strong as his,” Monroe said. “And he's just so big and strong. He's tough to bring down. Plus, you can now see him starting to get comfortable running the offense. I have very high hopes for him.”
The Gladiators haven't made the playoffs since 1986, and Monroe realizes it would be foolish to raise expectations too high before his fifth season as coach.
But he likes this team.
“When you go 1-9 the season before you have to be quiet and that's what we'll be,” Monroe said. “We've got nothing to brag about. But I know that we have a lot of good football players back. Hopefully we can keep some of these kids healthy, because we feel like we can be a pretty good football team.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.