Cougars' Jenkins keeping it light
Charleroi football coach Ed Jenkins has been known to sport an odd sense of humor with his players.
“Oh is that what they say?” Jenkins said, laughing. “Yeah, a little bit. Sometimes, the kids don't get my humor. They just look at me kind of funny at times, but we try to keep it light in our program.”
That's a novel approach for a program that hasn't had much to smile about in nearly a decade. The Cougars are coming off back-to-back 2-7 seasons and last made the postseason in 2004. In his second year at the helm, Jenkins is aiming higher.
“(Making) the playoffs is something we talk about every day and I think you have to,” Jenkins said. “We set goals in our program and our goal right now is the postseason, whether it's in the fourth spot in the conference or higher.”
Safe to say the Magic City is starving for a winner, let alone a team fitting of its $7 million on-campus stadium. Jenkins insists he feels no extra pressure since the school district splurged on the glistening, artificial turf facility which opened in 2011.
“The urgency to win is something we place on ourselves,” Jenkins said. “We want our community to have a winner. We want people to be able to sit in a new facility on a Friday night and watch winning football. But as far as added pressure by the district or the people, any pressure we feel comes from us.”
Charleroi returns to the Class AA Interstate Conference, including title contender Washington and perennial powers Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic. The Cougars lost to all three teams last year by a combined score of 162-14.
Jenkins admits that while a move back to Class A would help, his team embraces its rough schedule ahead.
“We don't complain about it. There's nothing better than playing Jeannette or at Washington on a Friday night and seeing some of the best running backs and receivers in the WPIAL,” he said. “It's exciting. Hopefully with this being a realignment year they'll re-evaluate some (enrollment) numbers and we'll get some relief, but until then, we'll line up and play.”
The Cougars currently have 38 players on the roster – 10 shy of Jenkins' desired total. He laments that Charleroi, like many smaller Class AA programs, is caught in a Catch 22.
“Everyone wants to play for a winner, but in order to win, you need kids to come out,” he said. “The thing about turning a program around is there's no magic potion. You have to go through it the hard way, build from the ground up and treat kids the right way.”
The program took a punch to the gut when standout lineman Zach Blystone withdrew from the district this summer and transferred to Washington. The PIAA recently upheld Charleroi's claim that Blystone transferred for athletic purposes. He is ineligible to play this season.
“He's a kid we invested in and had a lot of hopes and expectations for him and his family though it was important to go somewhere else,” Jenkins said. “We wanted to send a message we have good athletes in Charleroi and people can't come in and take kids from our district.”
Still, Jenkins called the incident “a no win situation for everyone”.
“Everything thinks Charleroi won because Zach isn't playing,” he said. “We didn't win anything. Zach still doesn't play for us.”
Brandon Bowman, another college prospect that remains with the Cougars, said he sees a different collection of teammates this fall.
“For the past couple years, we haven't really been a team. Everyone was out there on their own,” Bowman said. “Coach has us working us as one team and making everybody one family.
“Yeah, he jokes around and makes sure everyone is having fun, but you know when it's time to play around and when it's time to get serious. I think we'll be a lot better this year and (the playoffs) are a real goal.”
And, jokes aside, Jenkins can repeat that claim with a straight face.
“We know we have low numbers, we know we have young kids at key positions, but we're willing to confront the dream,” Jenkins said. “It's been a long time since we've been there and I can honestly say this group is a group that believes it can get us there.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.