Gorman: Selfless attitude spurs South Allegheny success
Keaton McClelland drove a McGuffey defender so deep into the end zone that a South Allegheny assistant signaled for a touchdown and called for the extra-point team to run onto the field.
There was only one problem: McClelland wasn't carrying the football.
“We didn't score, but we should have given him the ball,” Gladiators coach Pat Monroe said, with a laugh. “He blocks to the whistle. He's relentless and plays at a frenetic pace.”
It's no coincidence that South Allegheny has clinched a WPIAL playoff berth for the first time since 1986. Since a 35-0 loss to Seton-La Salle, the Gladiators have won seven straight. A win over No. 2 South Fayette (8-0) on Friday would give South Allegheny a share of the Century Conference title.
McClelland, a senior fullback-linebacker generously listed at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, epitomizes the team-first attitude at South Allegheny this season.
“When we watch film, there isn't a week that goes by when there aren't five or six Keaton McClelland plays that jump out at you,” Monroe said. “He's legitimately a tremendous pound-for-pound football player. He's fearless, extraordinarily courageous on the football field.
“You remember the old cartoon with the Tasmanian Devil? That's how he plays. Obviously, when you have somebody playing like that alongside you, it's going to motivate you to dig in and play harder.”
Led by a master motivator in Monroe, the school psychologist, the Gladiators are a selfless team winning without the benefit of a 1,000-yard rusher, passer or receiver this season.
Monroe is accustomed to winning, after leading Duquesne to two WPIAL Class A championships and a PIAA title. In five years, he's taught the Gladiators how to become winners.
Not that this South Allegheny team is without talent. But the Gladiators are defined by their toughness. They can bulldoze behind the blocking of McClelland and linemen like Ryan Bednar and Justin Yarborough and the running of quarterbacks Dustin Anderson and Ty Cook and bruising back Brandon Murn.
They also have learned how to win close games, like last week's 14-6 victory over Steel Valley.
Now, the Gladiators face their greatest challenge yet, against South Fayette.
South Allegheny will rely on an athletic secondary featuring cornerbacks Cook and Josh Rountree and safeties Delvinn Coleman and DaVonte Johnson, who has two pick-sixes among his team-best five interceptions, to try to stop one of the best passing attacks in the WPIAL.
“You've got a combination of a lot of very good athletes, many of whom could carry teams if they had to, if they were that individual to lean on,” Monroe said of his team.
“They have a collective purpose. There's a lot of unselfishness, being ready for when that week's scheme calls for them to step up and be relied upon. It's that kind of perfect storm where you have good athletes who are also mature and know what it takes to get it done.”