Share This Page

McKeesport linebacker takes over leadership duties

| Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr./ for the Daily News
Ronald Vezzani Jr./ for the Daily News

Hodari Christian has a lot of work to do in the next few months.

Not only is the McKeesport senior linebacker readying himself for the Tigers' final preseason scrimmage Friday against Penn Hills, but he is preparing himself for a busy final semester so he can leave school early and accept early admission to West Virginia.

“I feel real good about that because now I can just focus on my upcoming senior season and play the best I can when it comes,” Christian said.

“It's not going to be that hard because I'm just going to double up for the first two (quarters) to finish in December and leave in January.”

Christian will be the second McKeesport linebacker in as many years to head to a Division I school, following in the footsteps of Illinois rising freshman T.J. Neal. Playing with another top prospect helped him learn what he needed to do, both in sifting through his college choices and picking the right school to what he had to do to help the Tigers become a contender in the new nine-team Quad East Conference.

“I really learned leadership and things like that and just picking a school that was right for me,” Christian said. “He was the leader of the defense and, so far in camp, I'm the leader of the defense.”

And the young McKeesport defense will need a leader. The Tigers lost several key starters to graduation and are attempting to rebuild with some inexperienced underclassmen.

Perhaps the one advantage they have going into this season is they will be quite prepared for their first two opponents, as they will have seen two similar teams in the preseason.

“Central Catholic is more of a two-back, pro-style offense and Penn Hills likes to spread you out, and for us it gives us the sense of defending two different styles of offense. And in Week 1, Hempfield runs a similar offense to Penn Hills and Central is kind of like Woodland Hills,” McKeesport coach Jim Ward said. “I enjoy our scrimmages, and I think it prepares us well for the season.”

Which is what makes Christian's leadership ability all the more important as he cultivates the maturation process of the team's defense. The Tigers were solid throughout most of the 2011 season but were gashed for 80 points in their final two games, a 38-0 home loss to Gateway and a 42-7 defeat at Erie McDowell in the opening round of the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. Conversely, McKeesport allowed only 51 points (10.2 points per game) in its other five conference matchups.

Putting those two games in the past and establishing a new identity were two priorities for the team in training camp.

“You've got to assess your talent and find out who the kids are and what they do best and put that within your scheme,” Ward said. “You look at the things you did well last year, you look at things you didn't do well, you add a few things and tweak a few things and do things based on what your talent is.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kbarnes@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161 ext. 1977.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.