Back to the future: Mt. Pleasant has look of a contender, much like Vikings' title teams of 1980s
Mt. Pleasant football coach Bo Ruffner has vivid memories about his high school days playing quarterback at Latrobe High School.
He also remembers the tough, physical battles Latrobe had against the Bill Elder-coached Vikings.
“Mt. Pleasant teams were physical, hard-nosed and well coached,” Ruffner said. “They had an outstanding program in the mid-1980s. I never beat them as a player.
“We thought they were a bunch of country boys who lined up and would run right at you. They ran downhill, and on defense, they swarmed to the ball. They brought it.”
Since Ruffner joined Mt. Pleasant six years ago, he has been trying to rekindle those glory days for the fans of Mt. Pleasant Borough and Mt. Pleasant Township. Those fans would tailgate around the high school prior to games, boost up the 50/50 raffle sales and sell out the stadium on Friday nights.
What Elder built at Mt. Pleasant was something special.
“It was good while it lasted,” Elder said from his home in Deland, Fla. “I was surrounded by good people. We all worked and believed in the same goals.
“The players bought into the system, and we had cooperation with the community, school board, boosters and staff. Winning certainly helped.”
Mt. Pleasant was a power, and Elder (1978-92) started seniors until they lost their jobs. They rarely did, and sophomores rarely dressed for a varsity game.
“If you stayed with the program throughout, and you worked hard and we did our job as coaches to prepare you, you were given the opportunity to play,” Elder said. “If you wanted to play, you didn't miss weight-room sessions. There was competition for positions. We believed in playing a lot of people.”
When Mt. Pleasant won its first title in 1983 against Aliquippa, Elder said the coaching staff prepared the team well. Mt. Pleasant shocked Aliquippa, 16-14.
Elder said the defense was confident, and quarterback Joe Detore was at his best. He said the loss to Derry at midseason made the team work harder.
“We came out throwing against them, and they weren't prepared for us to do that,” Elder said. “Aliquippa was always on TV, but we just played a great game.”
Mt. Pleasant defensive coordinator Bob Gumbita said players always looked up to the 1983 team. He looked up to Detore, who lived in his neighborhood.
“Times are different now, but when I played, you wanted to be part of the football program,” Gumbita said. “We'd get 100 kids out for football. It meant something to be on the team, and coaches Elder, (Paul) Tepper and (Dan) Barton made it fun. They were big influences on so many people.”
Gumbita was part of the 1986 team that won the WPIAL Class AAA title. The squad included Doug Adamrovich, Bill Barber, Dave Reese, Doug Caruso, Dean El-Attrache, Larry Williams and Billy Ray Sherbondy, among others. Adamrovich and Barber are junior high coaches.
Mt. Pleasant played in the WPIAL championship game three times in four seasons, taking second in 1984. They made the playoffs seven consecutive seasons.
“I can still remember those days,” Adamrovich said. “It was a great time — the atmosphere at games, and the team being a close-knit group. All we cared about was winning. We never worried about individual stats.
“I remember the Kiski game when Dean got hurt and Larry came in and ran a boot around end for big yardage that ignited our winning drive. They'd never seen us run the boot, and it turned out to be a huge play.”
Ruffner's squad is expected to challenge for the WPIAL Class AA Interstate Conference title in 2013.
And like the teams of the 1980s, the Vikings will rely on a strong ground game and stingy defense.
“I remember when I was a ball boy for my dad (Bo Ruffner Sr.) in 1984 and what a big thing it was to beat (Mt. Pleasant),” Ruffner said. “We (Latrobe) won the conference, but they still played in the championship game.”
Gumbita, who was one of the rare underclassmen to play under Elder, said he's using the same 4-4 defense, with a couple twists, that he learned from Tepper, who was Elder's defensive coordinator.
He said he runs into Tepper and Barton on occasions. Elder now lives in Florida, and Gumbita said he chats with Elder and his wife on Facebook.
Ruffner said his current team probably doesn't know much about the history of those teams. He said they're trying to form their own identity.
“Sure they've heard from the coaches and people in the community talk about those teams,” Ruffner said. “The fans love to talk about those teams. It brought the communities together.
“We're trying to carry on those same traits. We have four good running backs, a solid offensive line and an outstanding quarterback. We have the chance at being pretty good.”
Running back Tyler Mellors and quarterback Ryan Gumbita, the son of Coach Gumbita, are two of the top players returning.
Their goal is to make the playoffs, win the conference and get to Heinz Field.
Ruffner said achieving goals is part of the process facing the team.
You can't get to Heinz Field during Week 1.
“We had a special team back in the 1980s,” Adamrovich said. “I see those same intangibles in this senior group. I'm sure they'll do well.”