Gorman: Kugler anchoring another North Allegheny title run
Patrick Kugler loves to pull pranks, but when North Allegheny football players decided to grow mustaches for the playoffs, the joke was on him.
“I can't grow facial hair,” Kugler said with great disappointment. “It's bad. I've been growing it a month, and it's barely noticeable.”
The reverse is true on the football field, where Kugler clearly stands out. It's no coincidence the 6-foot-4, 285-pound senior left tackle is a three-year starter and the Tigers are the first Quad-A team to win three consecutive WPIAL championships.
“When the names and faces changed, his was the same,” North Allegheny coach Art Walker said. “He's the leader of that offensive line, that's for sure. Those guys have become a very close group, and he's been the constant, definitely the cornerstone.”
Kugler has developed into one of the more dominant players in the WPIAL, if not the state, without ever scoring a touchdown.
“I'm not one to follow most of that stuff, but I feel like I do belong — me and Dorian Johnson — in that same category as Robert Foster and Tyler Boyd,” Kugler said of Belle Vernon's Johnson, Central Valley's Foster and Clairton's Boyd. “We understand that, as offensive linemen, you're not going to get the limelight, but you're the heart and soul of the team.”
A Michigan recruit who has been selected to play in the Under Armour All-America Game in January, the youngest son of Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler is not only a physical specimen who plays with a nasty streak but also one whose athleticism is underrated.
“He looks like an NFL guy playing with middle-school kids,” McDowell coach Mark Soboleski said before his Trojans lost to North Allegheny, 56-6, Friday night in a PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal at Seneca Valley.
“You know he's a coach's kid. You can just tell. He's got great technique. He gets off the ball so hard. He does not look like he should run as fast as he does. You see kids that big and they're slow and gawky. But he's got great, great feet. I think he's in a class by himself. He stands alone.”
Kugler spent the summer working on his steps in pass protection, allowing quarterback Mack Leftwich to throw for 2,915 yards and 40 touchdowns. Yet when the Tigers need tough yards, they know whose blocks to run behind.
“I don't ever have to worry about anyone coming from my blind side,” Leftwich said. “That's one less thing to worry about. And when we need a yard or two to get a first down, we run behind him and tight end Kevin Edwards. Being on the down-blocking from those two is not something you want to be on the other end of.”
Woodland Hills coach George Novak, whose Wolverines lost to North Allegheny in the WPIAL final for the second time in three years, puts Kugler in “the same category” as Stefen Wisniewski, the former Central Catholic and Penn State star who starts at center for the Oakland Raiders.
Kugler's value comes in his blocking on offense and drawing double teams at defensive tackle.
“Trust me, if I had to pick one guy, I don't know if it would be Leftwich or him,” Novak said. “People don't think about linemen that way, but he's one of the cream of the crop.”
Kugler will be the first to say there's room for improvement. He has increased his strength considerably since his sophomore year but bench presses only 15 pounds more than his body weight. And critics say he takes the occasional play off, a sign of his stamina.
Kugler, however, has developed into an emotional leader who adds levity to the Tigers' locker room.
“He's the guy making jokes and doing pranks to keep everyone loose and laughing,” Leftwich said. Adds Walker: “When the game starts he's all business. He calls people out. He's very competitive.”
That is evident in everything from pingpong games against his mother to wrestling matches with his older brother, Rob, a redshirt freshman right guard at Purdue, to see who was tougher.
“He's learned so much from his brother,” Walker said, “but he's come out of his shell since his brother has been gone.”
Kugler wants to go out the same way his brother did, by winning a PIAA championship.
Then he could finally shave.
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7812.