Gateway football preparing for a season of change
Winds of change swept through Gateway in the offseason.
The first change came at head coach, as Donnie Militzer was not retained after one year with the Gators.
He guided the team to an 8-3 overall record, a 6-2 third-place mark in the Quad East and the WPIAL quarterfinals.
The Gateway school board's search for a new coach stretched into the first quarter of this year, and in March, former Clairton coach Tom Nola, who helped the Bears record a record-setting winning streak and win numerous WPIAL and state titles over 12 seasons, was hired to lead the Gators program.
Gateway, which always had been in the largest WPIAL classification since the school was formed in 1958, will be in Class AAA for at least the next two seasons.
Also, numerous starters, including seven who moved on to NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools in Division I, were lost to graduation.
But there is much optimism heading into the season as starters return in certain areas and others who were backups last year are anxious to prove themselves in new starting roles.
“The kids started out a little slow,” Nola said.
“(For the second year in a row), they are learning a new system with a new coach. I am pleased with how they progressed, both in the weight room and on the field (in the offseason). They make progress every day.”
After a week of running plays and hitting teammates in practice, the Gators turned their attention to former Quad East rival Penn-Trafford in a scrimmage at Antimarino Stadium.
Nola will get another good look at his players Friday as Gateway travels to Bethel Park to take on the Black Hawks in a scrimmage that is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
“(Open positions) have created a lot of competitiveness,” Nola said.
“This is a young team. It's created some good competition.”
Competition in offseason workouts and through summer 7-on-7 drills at quarterback came down to sophomore Ryan Waros and senior Michael Loffredo to see who would replace the graduated Jimmy Moore.
Moore threw for more than 2,300 yards and 25 touchdowns last year.
The wide receiver targets are all new after 2,469 yards and 28 touchdowns among Montae Nicholson, Delvon Randall, Anthony Davis and Ricky Rogers moved on to Division I college programs.
Tall receivers in senior John Horner and junior Aiden Howard, as well as seniors Dom Fultz, Arrington Johns and juniors Malik Burks and Harold Denson are ready to take on the receiver duties.
“We have some pretty athletic receivers,” Nola said.
Horner was on the Gateway roster as a sophomore, but he played his junior season at Renaissance Christian Academy in the East Hills. RCA closed in December and Horner, a Division I prospect with offers from James Madison and Akron, is back with the Gators.
Senior Alex McCallum, at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, is in the offensive mix at tight end or along the offensive line.
Senior Adam White is the leading returning running back from last year. He carried the ball 54 times for 295 yards in Militzer's pass-dominant offense.
“Adam is one of the hardest workers I've seen,” Nola said.
“He does it in the weight room, running and during drills. Hopefully, he has a good season for us.”
Dylan Smith, a 6-2, 230-pound senior who has battle through injuries in the past, is expected to be the starting fullback.
“He's been one of our important leaders,” Nola said.
The offensive line is experienced, as four with starting time last year are back in senior Hunter Dale and Dom Scassera, junior Adam Clark and sophomore Robert Hainsey.
Hainsey, who made his mark as a freshman last year, is up to 6-4 and 260 pounds and already is on the radar for Division I schools.
“We have new receivers and a new quarterback, Adam didn't have a ton of carries, and Dylan didn't play fullback last year,” Nola said. “We are going to rely on that experience (on the offensive line) this year.”
The top 10 tacklers on the Gateway defense in 2013 graduated, and Dale, at defensive tackle, leads all returnees with 22 tackles (10 solo).
McCallum had 10 tackles (five solo) and is expected to be a stalwart at defensive end.
The linebackers are brand new, and Smith is the anchor in the middle with guys such as awnioe Isaiah Davis and sophomore Ahmad Wilson on the outside.
The players in the secondary, like at wide receiver, didn't get a ton of playing time last year.
Fultz, Burks, Horner, Johns and junior Jaleel Bey all have been competing for starting time at safety or cornerback.
“It's really exciting to just be back out here and playing,” Bey said.
“We lost some great players, but there were a lot of guys waiting for their chance. Last year's seniors really helped us every day. We raised our game because they were raising their game. We want to take some of that into this year. It's all about work ethic and how much we want it.”
Sophomore Jordan Washington returns to handle the kickoff, field goal and extra point duties.
He earned All-Quad East honorable-mention honors last year, along with Hainsey, Scassera and White.
“Jordan has been kicking pretty well, and he should have another good season,” Nola said.
Gateway's boys enrollment for grades nine through 11 dropped below the line between Quad-A and Class AAA, and school officials accepted the move to AAA for the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
The Gators find themselves in the Greater Allegheny Conference that saw six teams in the WPIAL playoffs last year and four of the six reach the WPIAL quarterfinals.
Mars and Franklin Regional finished tied atop the Greater Allegheny standings last year, and both were 7-1 in conference play.
MSA Sports put together a conference preview of each team and predicted Mars would finish first, followed by Gateway in second, Franklin Regional in third and Knoch in fourth.
The remaining order of finish found Indiana in fifth, followed by Hampton, Hollidaysburg, Yough and Greensburg Salem.
Yough, in AA last season, joins Gateway as a conference newcomer, as Highlands, a AAA playoff team last year, and Derry moved down to AA.
Gateway opens its season Aug. 29 against Greensburg-Salem at 7 p.m. at Antimarino Stadium.
The Gators wrap up the regular season and conference play against Franklin Regional.
The teams have not played since the regular-season finale in 2003 when both were in the Quad East. Gateway won that game, 49-13.
“Triple A is very competitive,” Nola said. “Just because we drop from Quad-A, it doesn't mean we won't have some challenging games.”
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.