Despite 14 wins in 2 years, McKeesport left wanting more
For some programs, winning 14 games in two years, earning a conference title and qualifying for the playoffs in back-to-back seasons would be considered a great success.
In fact, Jim Ward would've done just about anything to have that kind of success during his previous head coaching stints at South Allegheny and Yough.
But when Ward was named McKeesport's coach three years ago, expectations changed.
“My goal wasn't to come here and average seven wins a year,” Ward said. “The goal was to come here and compete for a state championship and have a legitimate chance to do that. We haven't done that. It hasn't been enough.”
It hasn't been close to being enough when you take into account what McKeesport accomplished right before Ward replaced legendary coach George Smith three years ago.
McKeesport went 56-16 from 2004-09, which included the school's second state championship in 2005. Ward lost nearly half as many in two seasons including thorough beatings to end last year — 38-0 to Gateway and 42-7 to McDowell in a first-round playoff game.
“Nobody has to worry about me being content on 14 wins in two years,” said Ward, who has a 20-40 career record. “To me, that's not enough. It does need to be more. I will be the first to say it. I am not happy, especially how things ended last year. It has left a sour taste in my mouth.”
Ward is hoping his young team will help get rid of the bad taste. He is expecting at least 14 underclassmen — seven on each side of the ball — to start the season opener Aug. 31 against Hempfield but will rely on a pair of seniors to take McKeesport to the next level.
Quarterback Eddie Stockett (Akron) and linebacker Hodari Christian (West Virginia) already made verbal commitments to Division I schools and are the unquestioned leaders for the Tigers.
“Overall, we are young,” Ward said. “But I like this team quite a bit. It is a talented group of underclassmen. It is just a matter of how quick we grow up, but when you have a Division I quarterback to go along with some young and talented guys, it certainly makes it a lot better.”
Stockett put together one of the best passing seasons in McKeesport history last year. He threw for 1,772 yards and 17 touchdowns, including a five-touchdown game against Latrobe.
“He does so many things so well,” Ward said. “He has great size, he thinks like an athlete so he understands the little things that you don't always have time to coach. He has a big-time arm that is also accurate.”
This year, Stockett is going to add another weapon to his arsenal — his legs. Despite rushing for only 136 yards last year, Ward expects Stockett to be a vital cog in the Tigers' run game.
“We are going to take advantage of his ability to run the football more,” Ward said. “He will run the ball, but in the end, we just have to take advantage of his talents and let everything run through him.”
Christian, who will play linebacker in college, will see plenty of time running the ball as well along with a plethora of running backs including Allen Wright, Mychal Moore and Shawn Robinson.
“We lost some guys, but we got some guys,” Ward said. “It is really not a position I am worried about. We have a lot of depth at that position. We don't expect anybody to rush for 2,000 yards, but we have a lot of capable guys.”
On defense, Christian and with all-conference defensive lineman Brendan Green return to a unit that allowed fewer than 10 points five times last year.
“We need to take the next step and get further and compete for those championships we talked about,” Ward said. “That's our goal now.”