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Steel Valley hoping to avoid costly injuries this season

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

For the past two years, Steel Valley prepared for the regular season with high hopes and reasonable expectations of being one of the elite teams in the Century Conference.

Both times, however, the Ironmen slipped to the middle of the pack, barely earned a spot in the WPIAL Class AA playoffs and were one-and-done against top-seeded and eventual champion Aliquippa.

It wasn't through any fault of the team that Steel Valley fell from contender status. Instead it was a rash of injuries that decimated the lineup and forced a squad with little depth in a lower classification to play a plethora of inexperienced athletes at key positions against some of the best teams in the WPIAL.

“Our biggest thing is staying healthy because, when you look back at our films, we had a different lineup in there for various reasons,” Steel Valley coach Rod Steele said. “We got hit by the injury bug like no other for the last two seasons, and I would just like our team to stay healthy and let us be able to go out there and compete.”

The injury situation the past two years should benefit the team greatly in the upcoming season. What those younger players learned by their baptism through fire will only help in their preparations for the season opener at Keystone Oaks and beyond.

“I think that helps because it creates an environment for the younger kids that they want to get back on the field, and they're pushing to get back on the field and pushing one another,” Steele said. “That competition brings out the best in a player and the best in a team, and that's what I'm most pleased about because it's a healthy environment for us.”

Steel Valley will go only as far as a healthy line on both sides of the ball will take it. This year's version has four starters back on both sides, including center Vincenzo Steele, tackles Corey Pinkerton and Tyrell White and guard Shane King.

A healthy and veteran front is certainly good news for senior running back D'Andre Pickens, who was banged up most of last season. Despite a shoulder injury that limited his time in the latter half of the year, he was able to average 6.5 yards per carry and rack up nearly 900 yards.

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