Elizabeth Forward hoping to continue building process
Sure, Mike LeDonne wants to win.
The Elizabeth Forward coach was the defensive coordinator of Clairton's 15-1 state championship team in 2009 and was part of winning programs at EF as an assistant and head coach and helped turn around a downtrodden Serra program, so winning is very high on his list of wants … that is if it doesn't get in the way of the greater good.
On the surface, it appeared that Elizabeth Forward went through another undistinguished year in which it won a couple games against bad teams and got beaten convincingly by the upper echelon teams.
But LeDonne sees it differently.
“I am not basing things on wins and losses,” LeDonne said. “The wins will take care of themselves. It is about making Elizabeth Forward a program again. We have to flush out some of the old mindset and instill some of the new.”
That started with snapping a 14-game losing streak with a Week 4 win over Ambridge, but the Warriors still haven't won more than five games since 2000, haven't had a winning season in a decade and haven't won a playoff game since Nov. 3, 2000.
“You don't like losing,” LeDonne said. “We always look to win, but you have to look at the picture of what Elizabeth Forward was and what we want it to become. Wins will take care of themselves. What I look at was that the team got better over the course of the season.”
The Warriors did just that last season.
They won two of their final eight games, but also had heartbreaking losses to South Park (14-6) and Southmoreland (45-44) while playing rival Belle Vernon tight.
Gone is a significant chunk of that team, but LeDonne was able to play a lot of underclassmen last year, and he hopes that will pay off now.
“Anytime you can get younger kids game experience, it is going to bode well for you in the future,” said LeDonne, who noted nine underclassmen saw time on both sides of the ball. “It is not like they started all the time, but they got ample playing time. We are hoping to bare the fruits this year of that.”
LeDonne refused to single out many players, citing that he doesn't care if someone is a returning starter or not, and that they have to earn their job this year. However, he didn't mind bringing up 6-foot-2, 218-pound senior Rex Pearce — a three-year starter and all-conference linebacker who is getting interest from Lafayette, Bucknell and some other Ivy League schools.
“Rex Pearce is the leader of our defense,” LeDonne said. “He is a strong young man, and we plan on using him a little more on offense this year.”
An ankle injury kept LeDonne from using Pearce on offense much last year.
Offensively, LeDonne points to all-conference linemen Adam Oatman (6-1, 240) and Ben Guenther (6-3, 270) as keys.
“I look at them as leaders, and they are going to have to create and mold that unit together,” LeDonne said. “We did get pushed around a little bit last year.”
Ryan Wardropper and Matt Diehl will battle for the quarterback spot with the top receiving threat coming from junior Matt Bernadowski, who caught 17 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
LeDonne believes he has the right kids in place — and the right coaches, including assistant John DiMarco — to start turning Elizabeth Forward into a program.
“I want them to have success and the only way I know how to do it is to invest in the program,” LeDonne said.
“To get back anything out of anything, you have to invest. When I was at Clairton, those kids dreamed. We should have the same dreams over here.”