Greensburg semipro football team rolling at break
The Greensburg Panthers semipro football team entered the fourth of July break in a comfortable position in the Ohio Football League.
The Panthers sit atop the division with a 6-1 record, and despite their 27-20 loss to the Strabane Spartans on June 22, the league championship is still within their grasp.
“This season has been very good for us,” team president and coach Charles Dawson said. “In the offseason we aggressively recruited guys, and we are bigger. The quality of players is up from last year.
“We have a lot more college guys and pros this year. Our team is naturally just a lot better.”
While riding a 5-0 record, the loss to the Spartans served as an eye-opener to the Panthers, Dawson said. That week, Greensburg climbed to No. 6 in the national rankings.
“That one loss was a blessing in disguise and woke us up,” Dawson said. “I think they were feeling too good and came to practice thinking we're the best already.”
The Panthers responded by beating the Pittsburgh Colts, 21-6, on June 29. Dawson said he was pleased with the win, because the players showed up to practice hungrier and played with chips on their shoulders.
“If we continue to do what we do and get to practice, get the reps, I think we can make it the whole way to Ohio (for the championship),” he said. “If our guys think they already won it, there's no way in heck we can make it there.
“We stress that the games are won at practice and not on Saturdays.”
After finishing the team's inaugural season in 2012 with a respectable 7-4 record, Dawson was able to hit the streets and recruit harder. He added Nathan Harr, Adam and Matt Gabris, William Haase, Dee Wolford and Brandon Anderson. Each had local high school experience and played in the college ranks.
Add the new players with last year's leading wide receiver Dan Blaszkowski and team MVP Craig Gordon, and the Panthers have a solid foundation most second-year teams strive to attain.
“Being a first-year team, it was hard to get established veterans to come to our team,” Dawson said. “Since our successful season, our name got out there to a lot of people.
“I was able to attract players who have been involved with semi-pro for a while. Now we can build with players from the Pittsburgh area and show we're doing the right things.”
Similar to what the Steelers have done for decades, the Panthers have given opposing quarterbacks fits this season. Dawson changed from a 4-3 defense to a 3-3-5 hybrid defense that's unique because only one player lines up with his hand down.
“We try to give the offense crazy looks ... it's controlled chaos,” Dawson said. “If you would look at it from a fan perspective, it looks like everybody is rushing.”
With the home-stretch of the regular season on the horizon, Dawson and his Panthers are poised to make a deep run and attempt to bring another football championship to the region.
“Our expectation all year has been to make the playoffs and get to the championship game in Ohio,” he said. “Nothing's changed. We're getting healthy, and our expectations are just rolling right now. We're in a good spot.”
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.