Steel Valley hoping to stay healthy after injury riddled 2011
All last season, Steel Valley went from a team that could squeeze into the WPIAL Class AA playoffs to one that might make an impact in the postseason.
Throughout 2011, though, the Ironmen were decimated by injuries that left the squad a shell of what it could have been and restricted the team's overall potential.
There was, however, something good that came out of an average 5-5 season. With all the injuries, Steel Valley was able to put several younger players into key positions, where they earned unexpected playing time that will help them to move into starting roles in 2012.
“Last year, it was a disappointing year, but I was encouraged because, by Week 3, we had five starters out of our lineup and, if you go down and tell (Steelers coach Mike) Tomlin that he's losing five starters, it's going to affect him somehow, some way,” Steel Valley coach Rod Steele said. “A lot of those kids got to fill those roles really got valuable experience. …They didn't make excuses for it, and they won the games they had to win to get into the playoffs.”
Junior wide receiver/defensive back Derek Taylor is one of those players who was forced into the lineup by injury, and he is expected to make a significant contribution on both sides of the ball. Last season he caught only three passes for 50 yards and a touchdown, but he is expected to be a key component in the passing game.
“I think Derek is a playmaker,” Steele said. “He's made plays all summer long against some of the best defensive backs out there, so it doesn't surprise me.”
Another was sophomore Vinny Steele — the coach's son — who moved into a starting role on the offensive line and should help anchor a veteran front led by a Division I prospect in junior Corey Pinkerton. The team also has another Division I prospect in senior outside linebacker Richard Brooks.
Perhaps the biggest asset will be having senior starting quarterback Patrick O'Malley back for another year. O'Malley threw for 634 yards and four touchdowns last season, but having that year under his belt will go a long way toward maintaining offensive continuity and stability in the huddle.
O'Malley will have more of the offense on his shoulders this season after the team graduated running back Dontez Williams, who was 12th in the WPIAL last season with 1,551 yards and 22 touchdowns. Instead of a veteran back, the Ironmen will have a pair of untested runners in junior D'Andre Pickens and senior Kamau Chandler.
“To have O'Malley back and having him on the same page as me as far as our terminology and philosophy and the details is key,” Steele said. “In high school football, you can't overlook experience, and it's a good feeling to know your quarterback's back.”