Leechburg hopes to parlay returning experience into success
This year marks the 100th season of Leechburg High School football, and the Blue Devils would like nothing more than to get more competitive and back into WPIAL playoff contention.
Only one player graduated from last year’s 0-10 team, and coach Mark George hopes to parlay returning experience into success.
“We look to have six seniors and 11 juniors this season,” George said. “We were dealing with a lot of freshmen and sophomores last season. Our philosophy from Day 1 since we first met for a minicamp in late May has been last year we were trying to get you into a position. Now, you know where to go, where to be, and we expect you to make plays.”
About 25 players are expected to suit up for the opening night game Friday at Apollo-Ridge. First-year Leechburg helped the original Apollo Area High School open Owens Field in 1919.
“The coaches and I are seeing things develop over the summer,” George said. “How that translates into real football when we put the pads on remains to be seen.”
Dylan Cook took his lumps last season as a freshman quarterback.
“Dylan has worked hard over the summer, and we’ve seen the improvements,” George said. “He’s improved his footwork, technique and mechanics. He was (age) 13 when he started his first varsity game, and he did a nice job, but maturity speaks volumes.”
Leechburg has good size this season with 300-pound junior lineman Colton Forester returning to the program after a one-year absence. Colby Potts, who played as a freshman last year, is closing in on 270 pounds. Center Jacob Shaw is also close to 270 pounds; likewise lineman Matt Tresco.
Guard John Wagner is 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, but he put on more than 20 pounds of muscle in the weight room over the winter.
In one major position change, senior Nico Venanzio will move from the line to tight end.
Senior Bret Kardos will be a full-time running back after seeing action at quarterback last year. He and junior Jake Blumer will be counted on as linebackers.
Track standout Chace Wadsworth will be a slot back.
“We’re going to have some athleticism that we haven’t had around here in a while,” George said.
Punter/kicker Tanner Dudek has performed well in camps over the summer and is getting looks from Division I FCS schools such as St. Francis, Duquesne and Holy Cross.
Several staff changes took place at Leechburg.
Mark Jones will not be an assistant and will concentrate on his duties as athletic director. He is replaced by quarterbacks coach Chad Walsh, a former Valley head coach and Highlands graduate who was on the Kiski Area staff in 2017.
Cody Rainey also is a new addition.
“He took over our weightlifting and agility in the offseason,” George said of Rainey. “We’ve never had that before. We saw a lot of improvements there.”
Leechburg again will reside in the Class A Eastern Conference for the 31st straight season.
Bishop Canevin moved over to the Big 7 Conference. Other than that, the conference alignment stayed the same with defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Jeannette, Springdale, Riverview, Greensburg Central Catholic, Clairton and WPIAL runner-up Imani Christian.
Coach: Mark George
2017 record: 0-10, 1-7
All-time record: 387-500-38
Date, Opponent, Time
8.24, at Apollo-Ridge, 7 p.m.
8.31, Jeannette*, 7 p.m.
9.7, at Rochester, 7:30 p.m.
9.14, at Greensburg C.C.*, 7 p.m.
9.21, Riverview*, 7 p.m.
9.28, at Clairton*, 7 p.m.
10.5, Frazier, 7 p.m.
10.12, Imani Christian*, 7 p.m.
10.19, at Bentworth, 7 p.m.
10.26, at Springdale*, 7 p.m.
*Class A Eastern Conference game