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Smith, option flexbone back at McKeesport

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
McKeesport coach George Smith works with his players Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, at training camp.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
McKeesport's D'Angelo Fields watches the ball Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, at training camp.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
McKeesport's Tomi McKelvey (left) and Luke Eckels work Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, at training camp.

Ask George Smith why he has favored the triple-option offense for the better part of the past two decades, and he'll immediately single out the offensive line.

High school football teams don't always have the luxury of having a dominant offensive line, and the option can mask that.

But the times you do have a top-notch line, look out.

This year might be one of those look-out years at McKeesport.

Smith returns to the sidelines for his 29th season at Weigle-Schaeffer Memorial Stadium after a three-year hiatus and has one of the most talented offensive lines he's seen at McKeesport.

“The linemen are the strength of the team, and the skill positions is where we have to bring it along slow,” Smith said. “Not too many times you can say that.”

A pair of transfers — Luke Eckels from Serra Catholic and mammoth 300-pounder Jason Chavis (son of former McKeesport star Jason Chavis) from Gateway — to go along with holdovers that include Tomi McKelvy, Jaylin Short, Jawan Hill, Kameron Bostic, Justice Smith, T.J. Fichera and David Hatcher have Smith eager to get the ground game rolling again at McKeesport.

The Tigers averaged around 230 yards on the ground during their 5-5 season a year ago that ended with a first-round home playoff loss to Bethel Park, but they never were able to run the ball under Jim Ward to the degree of success they did under Smith.

“We threw the ball my first couple years, but I found out that if you are going to be successful, you have to be able to run the ball,” Smith said. “You want to throw when you dictate you should throw the ball.”

The issue with McKeesport, which can be the 12th team in WPIAL history to reach 600 wins with four, is finding skill players following the departure of Eddie Stockett and his 1,300 yards of total offense last year. Stockett led the team in passing and rushing.

Smith said he could use a quarterback-by-committee approach. If that's the case, he has enough at his disposal with David Queen, Josh Reist, Ty-Mar Sutton and Tywann Smith.

Queen has the most experience of the bunch as he started a Week 4 game against Penn-Trafford a year ago.

Mikell Moore, Allen Wright and Seanlou Gilmore saw considerable playing time a year ago, and Reggie Smith could help out on offense.

“You can be the greatest football player in the world, but if you can't get the kids to do what you want them to do in a game, then it doesn't do you any good,” Smith said. “That's what we are trying to do.”

Smith, who has a 197-106-3 record, including two WPIAL and state titles, abruptly resigned amid controversy three years ago.

He was replaced by Jim Ward, who resigned in early December after a 19-11 record in three years, including 15-5 in conference play.

Under Ward, the Tigers advanced to the playoffs all three years but lost in the first round each season.

McKeesport went 5-5 last year with a first-round playoff loss to Bethel Park.

“Pride,” he said. “For me, it was all about pride. Sure, I missed it, but I was able to live without it. It was all about pride. I live here, and I want to get this program back where it was.”

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