New conference, same goals for Monessen
For years, Monessen participated in the Tri-County South Conference and, after either winning or tying for the title year-in and year-out, the Greyhounds often got bounced out of the playoffs early.
This year, Monessen is in the rugged, revamped Black Hills Conference, which is home to no less than seven teams that made the WPIAL playoffs a year ago, including four-time WPIAL champion Clairton.
“There is no two ways about it, it's going to be like a playoff game each week,”Monessen coach Andy Pacak said. “Going 6-3 (in the conference) is not a good year for us and the guys want to get it rolling.
“They want to show what we can do and we have had great summer workouts three days a week.”
“There's a familiarity with Clairton and we played Bishop Canevin twice,” Pacak said. “We also played Chartiers-Houston in the playoffs.
“You kind of know what they do, but seven of the 10 teams in the conference made the playoffs last year. I think it is a good thing because it puts a challenge in front of you. The fourth-place team in our conference could end up at Heinz Field (playing for a WPIAL title).”
Pacak, who is entering his ninth year as head coach and served for many more as an assistant, shared his feelings for the team.
“Of all of my years as a head coach or an assistant coach, this is the best bunch of kids that I have ever coached,” he said. “And that is saying something.”
A young team in 2011, the Greyhounds didn't have the season that they have come to expect, and a core nucleus has helped make preparation for this season go smooth.
And while Pacak only has seven seniors this year, the Greyhounds are still considered young, despite returning 17 starters (nine on offense, eight on defense).
Leading the way will be quarterback Chavas Rawlins, a West Virginia University recruit.
Pacak says that Rawlins not only has great talents that go with being a Division I quarterback, but he is like having a coach on the field.
“Chavas has his finger on the pulse of this team,” Pacak said. “He's been playing for us at one position or another since he was a freshman. he has waited four years for this chance to shine and he is a leader that any coach would love to have.
“I'm going to hate like heck to see him go, but I know he is going to do special things for us before he does leave.”
Rawlins isn't the only prime talent on the Greyhounds' roster.
According to Pacak, Rawlins has teammates who can also play at the next level.
“We have a handful of other guys who can play Division I or I-AA,” he said. “Some of the guys got time last year as a younger player and now they know what to expect.”
Rawlins also started at safety a year ago, and the other returning senior starters include running back/linebacker Keith Davis, right tackle Ray Dickerson, and defensive lineman/running back R.J. Small.
Juniors who have starting experience include running back/receiver/cornerback Javon Brown, receiver/linebacker Clintell Gillaspie, left guard Jonathan Kravets, running back/linebacker Justice Rawlins, left tackle Justice Tartt, and right guard/defensive end Shyheim Windom.
Chavas Rawlins, Small, Gillaspie and Davis are all returning all-conference players.
Justice Rawlins was an all-state selection as a freshman, but missed last year due to a knee injury suffered in a pre-season scrimmage.
Sophomore Brandon Lenhart also returns as a starter at linebacker.
The other offensive starter will be senior center Pete Tarka.
Something else that Pacak mentioned about his team is its flexibility on offense with his skilled players.
“We have seven guys who we call the ‘Posse,'” he said with a smile. “They will all see time at running back and receiver.”
The group includes Davis, Small, Brown, Gillaspie, Justice Rawlins, junior Kayne Jackson, and senior Trey Holmes.
First-year defensive starters include Holmes at strong safety, Jackson at an end and sophomore Rashawn Ford at tackle.
Senior Alex Piccarelli will handle the kicking duties while Chavas Rawlins will punt.
Monessen opens the season at home with long-time rival California on Aug. 31.
Bill Hughes is a freelance writer fo Trib Total Media.