Gorman: Washington makes his mark with Moon
Mark Washington knew three years ago that Aliquippa had the makings of a multiple WPIAL champion.
But Washington couldn't pass up a chance to become a first-time head coach.
“We knew this was a great class when I was at Aliquippa,” Washington said, “but it was time for me to get my own opportunity.”
So in 2011, he took over one of the worst teams in Class AAA, despite not knowing a soul in Moon Area.
After winning the 1998 WPIAL title and going 42-21 between 2001-06, the Tigers suffered through a stretch that saw them go 8-47 over the next six seasons.
Now, Moon is back in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs for the first time since ‘06. The Tigers (6-3) play West Mifflin (8-1) on Friday.
“Our players are buying into the program,” said Washington, 45. “When you're rebuilding a program, the kids have to buy in and understand that we're all together in this thing. We make no excuses, no matter what happens: win, lose or draw. It's all about hard work. There's no other way to do it.”
An offensive lineman at Aliquippa under Don Yannessa in the mid-1980s, Washington played on two WPIAL title teams.
Now, he is trying to instill a mentality in Moon that already exists in Aliquippa, where nothing short of a championship is satisfactory.
“I believe in the core values: working hard, doing the grunt work, getting in the weight room and doing the little things, not the big things,” Washington said.
“Everybody looks on Saturday and sees who caught the touchdowns, but they don't know how they caught the touchdowns, what they did to get there.”
Washington surrounded himself with a staff that includes four Aliquippa alums, including a sideline mentor in Frank Marocco.
The Tigers overcame the loss of leading rusher Anthony Colaianni to injury by focusing on their togetherness.
Behind the blocking of the front five led by senior tackles Charlie Brenner and Josh Todd, center Niko Yaramus and fullback Ian Kelly, senior Cole Blake has rushed for 1,457 yards.
“It's a collective thing,” Washington said. “You see his name, but it's the guys up front blocking for him.
“People understand that it's a work in progress, that we're still trying to get better. A lot of our kids are saying, ‘It's not about me, it's about we.' It's about us, as a program.”
One that, together, is poised for the playoffs.