Kiski Area leaders provide silver lining after winless season
When Dave Heavner became Kiski Area's coach in 2012, he brought freshmen Lincoln Clayton and Chad Kuhn up to the varsity team.
Three seasons later, he's counting those two, and the rest of their senior classmates, to provide a big lift after a winless 2014.
“(Our seniors have) seen ups, they've experienced highs, and they've seen downs and experienced lows,” Heavner said. “They certainly have all the experience they need: mental, physical, repetitions. Everything the game can bring to them, they've experienced.”
The Cavaliers' experience marks a difference from last season. Kiski Area made the playoffs in 2013 but lost many starters to graduation, leaving an inexperienced core in its place.
That inexperience showed. The Cavaliers were outscored 429-71; the defense surrendered more than 40 points seven times, including two games of 50-plus points and two more of 60-plus, and the offense managed more than 10 points just twice.
“I think last year, the kids who hadn't really played much were nervous and scared to make a mistake,” Kuhn said. “With a year under their belt, they're going to be more confident, less timid and be ready to play.”
Kiski Area's hopes “begin and end” with Kuhn, Heavner said. Kuhn, who started a few games as a freshman and is entering his third season as the Cavaliers' full-time starter, passed for 968 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for another 156 yards and a touchdown.
“Last year, I improved physically and athletically, but I could have been a better leader,” Kuhn said. “As a sophomore, I was a good leader but I wasn't as good as a physical player as I was my junior year. My senior year, I'm trying to put the leadership aspect that I had my sophomore year and the physical aspect that I had my junior year together.”
Clayton rushed for a team-leading 310 yards and a touchdown and is a key member of the defense at linebacker. He likely will play a bigger role in the offense after fellow running back Justice Evans' offseason transfer to Central Catholic; Evans is ineligible to play football in 2015.
Seniors Deshawon Bracy and Cam Turner and juniors Jon Bracy and Noah Clayton also are key skill players for Kiski Area on offense and defense.
Other seniors expected to contribute include H-back/linebacker Tariq Gant and special teamer Mike Iacovino.
Kiski Area also expects a strong year from its offensive and defensive lines, led by seniors Dalton Prew, Alex Rainey, Noah Sharek and Austin Simmons and juniors Dylan Magill, Cameron Mika and Austin Woods. The linemen won a pair of big man challenges over the summer, including one at Penn State.
“Our goal is to take a step forward each day in 2015,” Heavner said. “We certainly don't want to take a step back, and we talk about not staying still, either. It doesn't matter how big the step forward is, whether it's a half-step or a leap.
“To us, it doesn't matter as long as we're stepping forward.”