Fundamentals the cornerstone for Mt. Pleasant football program

| Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, 8:55 p.m.

When the Mt. Pleasant football team takes the field this fall, don't expect to see one player be the dominant force on a consistent basis. No star figures to shine brightly all the time, and that's just fine with fifth-year coach Bo Ruffner.

“Our system is set up for lots of kids to play important roles,” Ruffner said. “Sure, you like to have balance, but some years, certain guys carry most of the load.”

This year, the Vikings expect a number of players to carry that load, especially on offense.

“Our philosophy offensively is to take what the defense gives us,” Ruffner said.

Mt. Pleasant certainly appears to have a number of offensive weapons.

Leading the way is junior quarterback Ryan Gumbita, who started as a sophomore and helped the Vikings post a 6-4 overall record, a third-place finish in the Class AA Interstate Conference and a trip to the WPIAL playoffs.

“He started a full season for us, and you can't simulate Friday nights in practices,” Ruffner said. “He'll be a big part of what we do.”

For Gumbita, having a stronger season in 2012 is something he is anticipating.

“(Last season) really helped me,” Gumbita said. “I feel more confident and more experienced. We have high expectations. We want to win the conference championship, and I think we have a shot to go a long way.”

Gumbita will be joined by a stable of running backs, including senior Taylor Allison and junior Tyler Mellors. Both rushed for nearly 500 yards last season, and Mellors missed a significant portion of the season due to injury.

Seniors Joey Paul and Tim Hostettler return as top receiving threats.

“We have a good group of running backs and a good group of receivers,” Ruffner said. “We have the ability not only to run the ball but to throw it, and that should be a key to our success.”

Clearing the way for the skill players will be a talented offensive line.

“Our goal is to blow the defense up,” said Ricky Crowley, a senior left guard and three-year letterman.

Defensively, Ruffner likes the way things are shaping up.“Right now, we have a good front eight,” Ruffner said. “Our linebackers could be our best group since I've been here, and it's the same thing with our down linemen.”

Seniors Eli Holt, Dalton Bull and Allison, along with juniors Eric Klejka and Luke Liprando, lead a strong and experienced defensive front.

The Vikings will be battling for a playoff spot in the Interstate Conference along with the usual top competitors such as Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic. Plus, Washington has been added to the conference, the same team that beat Mt. Pleasant in the first round of the playoffs last season.

“The Interstate Conference will probably be the toughest conference in Class AA this year,” Ruffner said.

Still, Ruffner and his players are confident, especially with 21 lettermen and 19 seniors dotting the preseason roster.

“This group of kids has high expectations, and we'll go as far as our senior leadership carries us,” Ruffner said. “We need to find a way to finish the season the right way. Just doing well and making the playoffs isn't good enough. We want to keep getting better.”

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