Among a West Allegheny roster that's excited for another visit to Heinz Field, senior Tory Delmonico might appreciate this return trip the most.
He was there before but didn't always feel like celebrating.
Delmonico was stuck on the sideline with a knee injury last winter when his Indians won the WPIAL Class AAA title over West Mifflin. That was tough to accept for someone who'd waited years for that moment.
“At the time, I don't think I handled it very well,” Delmonico said. “I kind of felt sorry for myself. But I think it matured me. Now, as I look back, I see that everything isn't guaranteed in life. I had to work even harder to get back.”
For him, this wasn't just a one-year wait. This has been a five-year wait since watching his older brother, Jake, play at Heinz Field for Blackhawk in the 2008 championship.
“Ever since then, that's what I wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to play on Heinz Field.”
The 6-foot-2 running back and wildcat quarterback, who fully recovered in the offseason from a partially torn PCL, will fulfill his wish in Saturday night's Class AAA championship with conference rival Central Valley.
“This is what I've been working for,” said Delmonico, who has 15 touchdowns, 631 rushing yards, leads the team with 21 catches and starts at linebacker.
“It's almost like a relief.”
But he understood all season there was no guarantee. West Allegheny is the first reigning Class AAA champion in five seasons to return to the title game the following year.
The list of those who didn't return includes Central Valley, the other Class AAA team headed to Heinz Field on Saturday. Central Valley won the WPIAL title in 2010 with then-star sophomore Robert Foster but reached only the semifinals in '11 and '12 with the Alabama recruit.
“It's difficult (to return to Heinz Field), and people don't understand that,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “After what we went through the past two years in the semifinals, you appreciate how hard it is.”
“We had one of the best players in the state, but that doesn't automatically put you there,” he said. “You have to execute. You have to have all the right pieces. And you have to have a little luck here and there. Not that we took it for granted (in 2010), but we appreciated it even more.”
A year ago, West Allegheny won the WPIAL Class AAA title over West Mifflin, 34-8. Coach Bob Palko and the Indians have made six previous trips and won them all. That includes consecutive titles from 1999-2001.
“It doesn't get old,” Palko said, “and it doesn't get easy.”
Winning one season doesn't always guarantee success the next, he said. But solid leadership allowed this lineup to succeed, especially from a senior class that includes Delmonico.
“Each team is different in how they respond,” Palko said, “how they react and what they do well. They're all unique.”
This will be the third time in five seasons that both Class AAA finalists are from the Parkway Conference.
At least one Parkway team has reached the championship in nine consecutive seasons.
Among Saturday's four title-game matchups, this will be the only rematch of a regular-season contest.
West Allegheny beat Central Valley, 13-7, when they met in Week 5.
A 32-yard halfback pass by Delmonico to Robert Threet was the winning touchdown.
“We have 11 guys on each side of the ball that want to win and don't want to let each other down,” Delmonico said.
And this year, he'll be one of them at Heinz Field.
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