WPIAL Class 2A breakdown: Target on defending WPIAL, PIAA champion Steel Valley
After an historic season, Steel Valley's players deserved a months long celebration from winter until summer camp.
No team ever had accomplished what the Ironmen did last season, when the undefeated state champions finished all 15 victories under the mercy rule. Each week, a 35-point second-half lead made the clock run continuously.
Their performance was the most dominant since the rule was implemented in 1998, so the players had reason to relax and reminisce. But they didn't for long.
“One of our coaches took us out to eat, and he asked us when we wanted to start (working out for next season),” said Amonte Strothers, an all-conference cornerback as a junior last season.
His team's answer: “Immediately.”
“We were like: ‘We want to start now,' ” he said. “We started lifting about a week later — right back at it.”
That's likely unwelcome news for the rest of Class 2A.
Mercy rule victory No. 15 was over Southern Columbia, 49-7, in the PIAA Class 2A final on Dec. 10 at Hersheypark Stadium.
The Ironmen outscored their opponents 537-81.
Per game, that's a 54-8 average score.
Yet by early January, the team's focus already had shifted to making another playoff run.
“Even though we played into December last year, we brought them right back,” coach Rod Steele said. “We knew we graduated a lot. We knew we had to make sure we had a good offseason developing kids. So we came right back into the weight room the week after Christmas break. The kids probably only had off three or four weeks.”
Steel Valley graduated 15 players from that championship roster, including standouts Paris Ford and DeWayne Murray.
Ford, a Pitt recruit, scored 23 touchdowns. Murray, a Duquesne freshman, was a 2,000-yard rusher with 46 touchdowns.
They'll be difficult to replace.
“It's going to be hard to repeat, because the talent and team we had was amazing,” said senior Nahjier West, a running back who scored five touchdowns in last year's state final. “It will be hard to do the same thing they did, but I think maybe we can.”
How much has the gap narrowed between Steel Valley and everybody else? That's the question.
East Allegheny finished second in the Three Rivers Conference behind the Ironmen last season but lost the head-to-head matchup 66-0.
Neshannock, which had been considered the WPIAL's second-best team all season, lost 49-14 in the WPIAL final. Riverside lost twice to Steel Valley, 41-7 and 42-0.
“It was an amazing run,” Steele said. “It was an amazing group of kids, and it wasn't just on the field either. Off the field, not one player got suspended from our program or school for disciplinary reasons. Ninety-three percent of the kids make the honor roll. Our team gets enshrined into the Heinz Field Hall of Fame. A lot of great things happened for that team.”
This year's team will lean heavily on West, Strothers, LB/FB Todd Hill and WR/DB Trevon Adams. Senior Trey Karfelt takes over as quarterback.
Strothers and Hill were all-conference defensive players last season. But when the opener arrives, last year's accomplishment won't matter anymore, Strothers insisted.
“Like I tell this team, that team's in the coffin,” Steele said. “It's buried. It's over with. You guys did what you had to do. Now let's move on. What about this senior class? What legacy are you going to leave?”