Steel Valley’s hopes for another WPIAL championship built on youth, experience
Steel Valley lost its star tailback to injury in the very first scrimmage a year ago, the start of what became an injury-cursed season.
As a result, the Ironmen were forced to turn to an untested backup in the backfield. At times they also started a freshman quarterback. They inserted another ninth grader into the lineup to bolster the defense. And after overcoming all of those challenges, they lost their defensive leader to a broken arm early in the WPIAL Class 2A championship.
It was the most injuries in one season for coach Rod Steele, who was constantly looking to his bench for help.
And yet the team still reached the WPIAL finals.
“Now you can spin that to a positive,” Steele said. “I say that because we were fortunate enough to have a lot of young kids playing. So those young kids have winning experience and they were on the big stage.”
Steele will count on those young veterans as his team tries to win its second WPIAL title in three years. Ronnell Lawrence, now a sophomore, is the team’s full-time starter at quarterback. Nahki Johnson, another talented sophomore, returns as an all-conference honorable mention pick at defensive end. Sophomore Diego Bledsoe starts at right tackle.
“You hope that their confidence is helped by the experience they got,” Steele said. “They played at the highest level you can play in the WPIAL. They played in the big game. Now you’ve just got to hope they can carry that over.”
Steel Valley went 11-1 last season and finished as WPIAL runner-up after a 37-10 loss to Washington.
The Ironmen bring back a solid group of upperclassmen that includes four-year starter Todd Hill, a strong offensive line and tailback Kameron Williams, who returns for his senior year as a 1,000-yard rusher.
The offensive line averages 230 pounds, Steele said, with junior Rionte Carter at left tackle, senior Joe Craft at left guard, junior Trevon Epps at center, junior Dionte Williams at right guard and Bledsoe at right tackle.
But the team’s youth could determine its destiny.
“The key is for us is try to stay healthy,” Steele said, “and also have a couple of our young kids step up and play. Our young kids are going to have to define some key roles. We’ll see how it turns out.”
Steel Valley loses 14 seniors from last year’s roster, a group that included Najhier West, Trevon Adams, Amonte Strothers and Trey Karfelt.
“I really have a lot of confidence in the young players,” said Hill, a linebacker and fullback. “Nahki could have been first-team all-conference. Ronnell came in and led us to a victory. I’m proud of everyone.”
Hill can relate. He was a freshman starter just three years ago. Now as a senior, the Howard recruit wants to add another WPIAL and PIAA title to the ones the team won in 2016.
“I still feel like I’m in ninth grade,” Hill said with a laugh. “It feels a little weird (to be a senior), but I just want to have my own (WPIAL) championship and my own state ring. We won two years back with Paris (Ford) and DeWayne (Murray), but I want my own. Me, Kam, we can have our own legacy rather than (share) that one.”
Coach: Rod Steele
2017 record: 11-1, 6-0
All-time record: 277-200-12
Date, Opponent, Time
8.31, East Allegheny*, 7 p.m.
9.7, at Avonworth*, 7 p.m.
9.14, Shady Side Academy*, 7 p.m.
9.21, at Valley*, 7 p.m.
9.28, at South Allegheny, 7 p.m.
10.5, Western Beaver, 7 p.m.
10.12, at Apollo-Ridge*, 7 p.m.
10.19, Summit Academy*, 7 p.m.
10.26, South Side Beaver, 7 p.m.
*Class 2A Allegheny Conference game
Passing: Ronnell Lawrence
36-78, 722 yards, 10 TDs
Rushing: Kameron Williams
155-1,091 yards, 19 TDs
Receiving: Amonte Strothers*
21-563 yards, 13 TDs