Riverview looks to build on trip to postseason
Riverview qualified for the WPIAL Class A playoffs last year for the first time in nine seasons.
The Raiders scored Eastern Conference victories over Leechburg and Greensburg Central Catholic and a nonconference win over Avella.
Those wins — Riverview finished 3-7 overall in 2016 — were good enough to earn the wild card for the playoffs. The Raiders fell to No. 2 Rochester, 39-6, in the first round.
Second-year coach Matt Bonislawski said he hopes the mix of returning players and new varsity talent can get the job done, punch their ticket to the postseason and advance further this fall.
“They have to realize that the goal is to take that next step and win and advance in the playoffs,” he said. “We had some good participation in the offseason and got a lot of things done. The kids have to know that we can only control what we do and can't worry about what anyone else is doing. We have to prepare 100 percent and play that way, too.”
Bonislawski admits the journey through the 2017 season will be a challenge for his team, which lost a couple of key players to graduation.
Those losses included Valley News Dispatch all-star Nasan Tibbens, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored more than 10 touchdowns, as well as all-conference linebacker Brandon Davis, who also completed the season as the starting quarterback.
“It's pretty well known that we have four of the best teams in Class A, last year and also going into this year, in Clairton, Jeannette, Bishop Canevin and Imani,” Bonislawski said. “It's always tough facing that. We have to work extra hard to compete with those teams and find a way to win those other games, too. We can't make any excuses.”
Bonislawski said Springdale should be good again and will challenge for one of the five automatic playoff bids from the conference.
The Raiders entered preseason camp with a roster that numbered in the mid-20s.
“We feel that all the players we do have are good players, but it does go to a point where it makes it tough to practice and get reps that way,” Bonislawski said. “I know we will play some teams with similar numbers, and they run into the same issues. We just have to do what we can to get the job done.”
With only a few seniors on the roster, a number of young players again will get a chance to lead the way.
“We made a number of changes last year after the Springdale game (Week 5). We felt some of the freshmen and sophomores had potential, but they just weren't ready to play right away,” Bonislawski said.
“As the season progressed, they got more comfortable with the system, and we put them in the game. They went through it all against some tough teams and in the playoff game against a very good Rochester team. We had a lot of young starters towards the end of the season who are a year older and a year more confident in their abilities.”
Eight players with varsity experience return.
Sophomore Zach Hanlon is a two-way player at offensive tackle and defensive end who played almost every down last year.
Devlin Costello, a junior tight end and linebacker, also will be a key cog, along with junior wide receiver Ben Blacksmith.
Others, Bonislawski said, who are hoping to make an impact again this season are senior Christian Tamburro (defensive tackle); juniors Ryan Slebrich (center), Cody Demko (wide receiver), Nick Palmiere (running back/linebacker), J.D. Sykes (linebacker), Devon Binz (cornerback) and Jack Stock (safety); and sophomores Camron Jackson (offensive guard) and Jake Rider (offensive tackle/defensive end).
Junior Jared Massack is expected to take over at quarterback.
“I am looking forward to seeing what Jared can do for us,” Bonislawski said.
“There is a lot of excitement for this season,” Massack said. “We just want to come out and get that chance to compete.”
The players have welcomed Billy Conley, a transfer from Highlands, into the Raiders football family.
The 6-foot-1, 250-pound senior offensive and defensive tackle, Bonislawski said, should be a strong addition in the trenches.
“Billy has been settling in and getting more and more comfortable,” he said. “He's strong and can move his feet pretty well. It was tough moving for his senior season and leaving his friends, but football has helped him get to know some of the guys before school starts.”
Riverview opens its season and conference play Sept. 1 at Leechburg. The Raiders will host rival Springdale in its annual game under the lights Sept. 29.