Monessen returns talented, experienced team
A year ago, when Monessen debuted in the Black Hills Conference after decades of dominating the Tri-County South, few people outside of the Greyhounds' locker room gave the team a fighting chance to compete for a top spot in the rugged loop.
However, Monessen went 8-1 in conference play — losing only to five-time defending WPIAL champion Clairton — en route to a 9-2 season.
Monessen coach Andy Pacak said he was not surprised at his team's success a year ago and certainly does not expect any dropoff this season.
“There are some great teams, great programs in our conference,” Pacak said. “However, all those years in the Tri-County South, we wore the bull's eye on our backs. Every game we played was the other team's Super Bowl. We were used to having to be ready week in and week out. So while the competition was stiffer in the Black Hills, our preparation or thinking never changed.”
Coming into the 2013 season, Pacak is encouraged by what he sees from a team that features numerous returning starters.
“We have seven kids who started three or four years for us,” Pacak said. “This team is committed to winning and is looking forward to the rigors of what we will face in this conference. “
Offensively, gone is multi-talented quarterback Chavas Rawlins, which means the Greyhounds will use a different look when it comes to play calling.
“We won't be so wide open, but we still expect to be successful,” Pacak said. “I have a front line that is loaded with experience and we have some skilled kids who, honestly, can play the game and play it well.”
Junior Noah Rullo will step into the role of quarterback, but senior Justice Rawlins will also see some snaps behind center.
“Noah is holding his own right now. (Rawlins) is our wild card on offense because he will play quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end, you name it,” said Pacak. “Like his brother, he is a special talent.”
Seniors Clintell Gillaspie and Javon Brown return to form what will be talented one-two punch in the backfield.
Last season, Gillaspie rushed for 642 yards on only 92 carries with eight touchdowns. He caught 24 passes for a whopping 542 yards and six more TDs.
Brown made amazing use of limited touches last season as he averaged more than 10 yards per carry with 345 yards on just 32 carries and five TDs. In addition, he rolled up 372 yards on just 19 catches with three more scores.
Also returning are fleet wide receivers Irvin Green and Lavelle Rush.
The tight end will be senior Kayne Jackson.
Up front are returning starters Justice Tartt (tackle) and Jonathan Kravets (guard). Other starters are players who saw plenty of action last season: senior Raealo Davis (tackle), junior Zach Wheeler (guard) and sophomore Bate Cieply (center).
“It's nice having three or four linemen back and having Clintell and Javon to run behind them,” is Pacak said of his team's offense.
On defense, Monessen returns seven starters: Jackson (end), linebackers Rawlins, Gillaspie and sophomore Demond Jordan, corners Brown and Rush and safety Green.
Jackson, one of four returning all-conference players, led Monessen with 16 sacks a year ago.
Other starters on defense are Davis at one end and Kravets and Tartt at guards and DeShawn Holmes at safety.
Pacak was high on Holmes and another newcomer, junior Tyler Mikita, as two players who are not household names, but will make a difference.
“I really like where we are right now on both sides of the ball.” Pacak said. ‘This is an experienced, veteran team with a lot of talent.
“I look at kids like Clintell, Javon, Justice Rawlins and Justice Tartt and if schools are not recruiting them they are crazy,” Pacak added. “Those kids can play at the next level at a high level for sure.
“They are all fantastic kids and good, strong football players.”
Looking at the Black Hills Conference, Pacak said it would be foolish to not look at record-setting Clairton as the overall frontrunner.
“They are the best team in the WPIAL, best in the state, until somebody beats them,” Pacak said. “After that is the rest of us — a lot of good teams. And we think we will be at the top of that list.
“We will be extremely disappointed if we are not only competing for a conference title, but also for a WPIAL title.”
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.