Interest in football skyrockets at Linton Middle School after Penn Hills state title
After Penn Hills won its first PIAA title since 1995 last year, coach Jon LeDonne hopes to make it a yearly occurrence. In order for that to happen, Penn Hills will need to rely on its feeder program to cultivate and develop the talent in the area.
The Linton Middle School Indians, the main source for LeDonne, are experiencing success and an increase in numbers this season.
The Indians, coached by Ray Clemons, have won all six games this season led by about a dozen eighth graders.
“It has been a wonderful and exciting season,” Clemons said. “It has been some hard work with the kids and the coaching staff. We’re pretty happy with what is going on right now but we still have a few more games to go and a lot more work to put in.”
Linton, which has scored more than 40 points in four games this season, has earned shutout victories over Latrobe, Armstrong and McKeesport. The team’s closest game was a 16-14 win against Norwin.
The Indians have outscored their opponents, 222-30.
Clemons, who has been with the program for four years, turns to its 26-8 win against Gateway as a prime example of how this year is different from previous seasons.
The Indians lost to Gateway, 65-6, last year and during a 7-on-7 tournament this year.
“It left a sour taste in our mouths with the players who were returning,” Clemons said.
Linton has been led by eighth grade quarterback Julian Duggar, who Clemons believes will be the next big name playing quarterback for Penn Hills.
Amir Rollins, Rayquan Cosby, Cameron Thomas and Santana Leavy have provided some offensive punch for the Indians. Aiden Pham and Bernard Nbum have anchored the defensive line.
Interest in the program spiked by 50 percent this season as Clemons has 30 players on the roster. Last year, Clemons finished with 12 — barely enough to field a team.
Clemons believes the dozen eighth graders will have an opportunity to make an impact for the high school team in some fashion next year.
“The guys who went through that last year didn’t quit and they came back this year and were hungrier than ever. They are still riding this happy wave with us right now,” Clemons said.
As a middle school coach, Clemons has players with a mixed bag of football experience. Some have played midget football, while some have only played flag football.
“The coaching is a lot of instructional because a lot of the kids are coming from flag football programs,” Clemons said. “There is not much tackle football experience. You’re starting from scratch when it comes to tackling and the mental aspect of being tackled or hit. Then there are kids that played on midget league teams but their fundamental part hasn’t developed yet.”
Clemons is in constant contact with LeDonne and the Penn Hills coaching staff as he tries to implement the same terminology and scheme being taught for the high school team.
“We want to be a successful program where we can be a feeder to the high school and keep the tradition of Penn Hills going in the right direction,” Clemons said.
The Indians will finish their season with games against Hempfield, Plum and Connellsville. With no postseason, Clemons might add another game to allow the kids to gain more experience.