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Steel Valley coach believes good health is key his team's season

| Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, 1:26 a.m.

A glance at Steel Valley's record the past three seasons might lead some to believe that the program is stuck in neutral under coach Rod Steele.

Those who play against Steel Valley know better.

Steel Valley was buried by injuries and youth the past two seasons, but a potentially powerful Ironmen squad is returning for the 2013 season. Steele has big expectations.

One of his rivals feels the same way.

“Lots of good teams in this conference,” South Allegheny coach Pat Monroe said. “And I'm not so sure that Steel Valley isn't the team to beat. They've got almost everyone back. That team is loaded.”

Monroe's words are striking given that Steel Valley and South Allegheny play in the Century Conference, where perennial powers South Fayette and Seton-La Salle routinely have their way.

While Steele appreciated the nod from Monroe, he isn't buying it yet.

“Pat's a nice guy, and that's a nice thing of him to say,” Steele said. “But we still have some young guys, and I wouldn't say that we're the favorite.”

Steele's squad took a small step back in 2012 largely because of injuries to a number of key players.

Still, the Ironmen reached the postseason, something they have done in each of Steele's three seasons as coach.

He isn't satisfied by any means — Steele is 16-14, having lost in the first round of the playoffs on each occasion — but thinks his team could be primed for a strong season.

“I really do like the progression that I see us taking,” he said. “What I see right now is that this team is buying into what we're trying to do. It's been a smooth camp, and some of the younger guys have gotten a little older, grown up a little bit.”

Steele is hopeful for a season of good health, especially where his backfield is concerned.

D'Andre Pickens is a returning starter at tailback and could be poised for a terrific season. His ability to break big plays — he blends the ability to shed tackles with 4.5 speed — could be significant for the Ironmen.

“He's got speed, and he's got cutting ability that is really good,” said Steele. “And then you have to consider just how well put together this kid is. He's just really strong and really good.”

And the Ironmen may have a new star as well. Freshman running back Duane Murray will see plenty of playing time this season.

“He really looks like he's going to be a good one,” Steele said. “He doesn't look like any freshman you'll ever see.”

The running game figures to carry the Steel Valley attack early while junior quarterback Connor Stevens begins his first season as starter.

Steele likes his team; good health seems to be all the Ironmen need.

“That's the thing,” he said. “We've got some good football players here. We just have some kids that have really taken some smacks to the head the last couple of seasons. If we can avoid that, I think it can be a really good season.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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