Blackhawk to follow lead of Division I prospects Kincade, Podbielski
Joe Hamilton's career as a football coach can be summed up in numbers: More than 330 victories, four WPIAL titles, three state championship appearances, 10 conference titles.
But recently, Hamilton has been dealing with some numbers that aren't so flattering. Last season, the Cougars fielded one of the smallest teams in Class AAA, and this season is shaping up to be a repeat. Hamilton is expecting just 42-44 players on his roster.
A couple small classes have placed the Cougars in a precarious position in terms of depth.
“The junior class, the one that was sophomores (last year), they're the ones that really hurt us in numbers,” said Hamilton, whose team did make the playoffs despite finishing just 3-7 overall. “It's the smallest class that's gone through Blackhawk: 78 boys.
“We've always had a small group here or there, but it's OK when they're sandwiched in by two larger groups. But when you run into double small groups, then you're in trouble.”
On top of it, the Cougars graduated the both Alex Caratelli and Cole Chiappialle, two of the WPIAL's most prolific offensive players last year.
Caratelli was third among WPIAL receivers, while Chiappialle caught 49 passes for four scores while rushing for 1,494 yards — including a Beaver County record 404 against Chartiers Valley — and 23 scores.
But the news at Blackhawk isn't all doom and gloom.
Senior quarterback Chandler Kincade is back to run the offense after throwing for 2,220 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Kincade recently committed to Akron after initially giving a verbal commitment to Pitt.
His primary target is likely to be Bowling Green recruit Andy Podbielski. Last season, he caught only 14 passes for 199 yards and two TDs. But at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, he has the size to play tight end and the athleticism to split out at receiver.
“He ended up being a very good receiver for us,” Hamilton said. “He made some spectacular catches for us, really. And the one thing about him: You tell him something once, and he does it. You're talking about a kid who hasn't had anything but A's on his report card since fourth grade.”
Hamilton expects his offensive line to be better than a year ago with several seniors who gained experience returning.
Defensively is where Blackhawk struggled the most. The small roster not only limited Blackhawk's depth, but Hamilton was forced to bring the ninth-graders up to the varsity. The Cougars tended to wear down and be a step slow on defense, resulting in opponents scoring more than 32 points a game – too much for even the third-highest scoring offense in the Parkway Conference to overcome.
He's hoping that a year of experience changes that.
“I certainly hope we're going to be better,” Hamilton said. “One full year of maturity sure helps in strength building and getting a little more speed.
“I don't know how deep we'll be, but I think we can put in a starting group that will be an effective defense.”