Coach Bob Palko enters final season at West Allegheny at ’900 miles an hour’
Bob Palko’s team opened camp at West Allegheny as they’ve done for years, except this one will be his last as coach.
Was it an emotional first day?
“No,” Palko said. “No sadness. No reflection. I was too busy.”
Palko is scheduled to step down as coach at season’s end after 23 years with West Allegheny. His eight WPIAL football titles rank as the most by any coach in history, so he’ll leave with a legacy that’s unmatched in Western Pennsylvania.
Former Edinboro assistant Kim Niedbala was already hired to replace him and will work alongside Palko as the head coach in waiting.
But Palko is clear that he’s not done coaching his team quite yet.
“It’s one day at a time,” he said. “There’s no looking back on anything. We’re just trying to get better. ... Nine-hundred miles an hour, and when the day’s over, I’ll put my head on my pillow, wake up tomorrow and try to go 900 miles an hour again.”
West Allegheny returns only a handful of starters from last year’s lineup that went 7-3 and reached the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs. The Indians lost to McKeesport, 22-21, in the first round.
Offensively, only four starters are back.
“We don’t bring a whole lot of experience back, that’s one of the issues,” Palko said. “We’re working at it. You have some kids who played, they just weren’t proclaimed starters.”
Among the holdovers is senior Mateo Vandamia, a two-way standout at tight end and defensive end who did a little of everything for the Indians last season. He led the team with 30 catches for 418 yards, but also rushed 25 times as a wildcat quarterback. Combined he scored six times.
Vandamia holds Division I FCS offers from Robert Morris, Albany, Bucknell, Delaware, Fordham, Georgetown, Lehigh, Maine and Morgan State.
He’ll be catching passes this season from freshman quarterback Gavin Miller. The Indians also return junior Kam Kruze, who passed for 500 yards last year, but could shift instead at linebacker.
“We’ve got a young kid at quarterback we think is going to be really good,” Palko said of Miller. “He’s probably going to play a lot. We’re not afraid to do that.”
Leading rusher Will Weber graduated but brothers Dante and Nico Flati return. They combined for nearly 800 rushing yards and nine touchdowns last season. Junior running back Kyle Marett (174 yards in 2017) and sophomore Paul Newton will join them in the backfield.
Defensively, safety Kyle Guilfoil and cornerback Elijah Colliers return, along with Vandamia, Nico Flati (linebacker) and senior Logan Rossi, a Week 1 starter at guard and nose tackle until a season-ending injury.
Palko retired from West Allegheny as a teacher after last school year but agreed to return for one more football season. He’ll walk away this winter, but isn’t retiring from football altogether.
“I’d like to continue doing something (associated with football), I just want to do something different,” Palko said. “Maybe college. Maybe scouting. I don’t know.”
But Palko won’t celebrate this season as a farewell tour.
“I’m not nostalgic,” he said. “That’s not my style.”
Coach: Bob Palko
2017 record: 7-3, 6-2
All-time record: 358-344-14
Date, Opponent, Time
8.31, at Chatiers Valley*, 7 p.m.
9.7, Bethel Park*, 7 p.m.
9.14, Peters Township*, 7 p.m.
9.21, at Upper St. Clair*, 7 p.m.
9.28, Woodland Hills*, 7 p.m.
10.5, at Baldwin*, 7 p.m.
10.12, at Hampton, 7 p.m.
10.19, North Allegheny, 7 p.m.
10.26, at Moon*, 7 p.m.
*Class 5A Allegheny 8 Conference game
Passing: Kam Kruze
46-83, 503 yards, 3 TDs
Rushing: Will Weber*
116-734 yards, 12 TDs
Receiving: Mateo Vandemia
30-418 yards, 6 TDs