New Alle-Kiski Valley head coaches ready to make their mark
Kiski Area has had just seven different head football coaches in 51 years. That's a low number, but it's deceiving.
That's because the program's seen five new faces since 2004, a sure sign of instability and a cry for help.
Dave Heavner is the next man ready to spin the wheel as he looks to lead the Cavaliers back to WPIAL respectability while beginning to re-instill stability.
“If you study the history of Kiski Area football, you can see recent history hasn't been too pleasant,” said Heavner, 41, a former Burrell head coach and Valley, Franklin Regional and Highlands assistant. “A lot of work needs to be done; I understood that coming in. The staff and myself have accepted that challenge.”
Kiski Area hasn't won a playoff game since 1990 and hasn't posted a winning record since 2003.
“One thing I tell people all the time is that I am not responsible for the past,” Heavner said. “Just the present. Just today and tomorrow, and the 2012 season.”
Training camp is set to open in less than a month, and Heavner won't be alone when it comes to bringing change to an Alle-Kiski program.
Three other new coaches also are set to stalk the sidelines.
A transfiguration is taking place at Springdale, which steps out of the Chuck Wagner era and places its trust in former Fox Chapel and Apollo-Ridge assistant Dave Leasure. Wagner and his staff had the reins of Dynamo Country since 1993.
Valley, meantime, welcomes rookie head coach Chad Walsh, who will scale the team back to Class AA, all the while shadowed by a daunting losing streak.
Walsh replaces Mark Kaczanowicz, who only coached the Vikings for one season but stayed on as the school's athletic director.
And a rare change of command also is occurring in Armstrong County as Frank Fabian replaces Sam Panchik, Kittanning's head coach for a decade. Fabian coached Redbank Valley for the past two years.
Kiski Area has seen a slight bump in participation since Heavner took over. There are currently 55 players on the varsity roster, 50 ninth-grade boys and 50 in the junior high program.
“I'm very pleased with that,” Heavner said. “You can only have 11 on the field. But you need more than 11 to build a successful program.”
The overhaul at Springdale may be the most intriguing of the new coaching storylines.
Wagner, a face on A-K's football's Mt. Rushmore, stepped down after 50 years of coaching -- 19 at Springdale. Wagner, 77, and a head-strong and bonded group of assistants, led the Dynamos to 10 straight playoff trips and a WPIAL Class A title in 2003.
Leasure, though, assures that the program was left in a sound state.
“My immediate reaction when I got here in February was being impressed with the unbeatable work ethic of the kids,” Leasure said. “They bring water with them into the weight room. Instead of leaving to get a drink and catch a break, they have water by their side. That says a lot.”
Leasure, 41, said he's had low numbers so far, with just 36 players in summer workouts. Springdale has flirted with Class-AAA numbers in recent years.
Leasure knows he has a proud tradition to uphold.
“I was taken aback by the program and the community support,” he said. “They love their football. They expect to win. We have three starters back on offense. A lot of places might give you a pass. At Springdale, the next group had better come in and win. That's a good type of pressure to have, though.”
Valley will slide down to Class AA where it hopes to end a 22-game losing streak and earn a playoff berth in the Allegheny Conference.
Walsh, 43, wants to change not only public perception of his team, but also the players' perception of their own potential.
“The kids are getting enthused,” Walsh said. “We have about 30 kids now. We're figuring to dress 40 and hopefully take 50 to camp. It's about making the kids accountable. There are going to be consequences for everything they do.”
As for Valley not winning a game since Oct. 3, 2009, Walsh said, “We've mentioned (the streak) a little to keep them grounded. We're not going to be intimidated. We have to get that respect back. We're not going to scare anybody right now, but that has to change.”
Fabian, 32, doesn't have a long losing streak to worry about, but he knows he'll soon be labeled as the guy who grounded the Wing-T.
He plans to alter a scheme used by the Wildcats for the better part of three decades. Hold on to your Harry Beckwith Fatheads, Kittanning fans. Fabian plans to install a spread offense.
“The Mothman Prophecies” brought less of a scare to Kittanning.
“That was our offense at Redbank Valley,” Fabian said. “We're going to do something similar here. Now, our personnel had a lot to do with that. We'll be based out of the spread, but our values will remain the same. We want to run the football and be physical.
“We haven't gotten any flack (about the spread) yet. Maybe after the first three and out. We'll see.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.