As high school football camps open Monday across the WPIAL, the question becomes: Who’s the next Quaker Valley?
At this time last summer, it would have been hard to find anyone touting the Quakers as state-championship contenders. They replaced their coach days before camp opened, but they went on to win WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A titles in a storybook season.
So as football practice returns across the state, who’s the team ready to surprise everyone? We’ll find out in the next 17 weeks, between now and the PIAA championships Dec. 6-8 in Hershey.
But before the leaves fall and the weather turns cold, the journey starts this week with afternoon practices in the August heat. Teams will hold their first scrimmages Saturday. On Aug. 24, teams can play a second scrimmage or a so-called Week Zero game.
Week 1 is officially Aug. 31. The WPIAL finals will be spread over three days at three sites. Class A, 3A, 4A and 6A are Nov. 17 at Heinz Field. Norwin will host the Class 5A final Nov. 23. The Class 2A final is Nov. 24 at Robert Morris.
New man in charge
Mike Zmijanac opens camp as a head coach for the 22nd season, but for the first time, his players won’t be wearing red and black. The longtime Aliquippa coach, who won 237 games, six WPIAL titles and one state championship with the Quips, sets up camp Monday with Ringgold, where he was hired in April.
Ringgold is among 19 WPIAL teams starting camp with a different coach than they had at this time last year. Also newly in charge since last August are Albert Gallatin’s Drew Dindl, Aliquippa’s Mike Warfield, Bishop Canevin’s Chris Lucas, Blackhawk’s Zack Hayward, Brownsville’s Scott Fichter, Burrell’s Shawn Liotta, Butler’s Eric Christy, Charleroi’s Lace Getsy, Deer Lakes’ Tim Burk, Freedom’s Russ Barley, Indiana’s Brandon Overdorff, Northgate’s Mike Fulmore, Quaker Valley’s Ron Balog, Riverview’s Todd Massack, Shenango’s Jimmy Graham, Southmoreland’s Dave Keefer, Sto-Rox’s LaRoi Johnson and Waynesburg’s Chad Coss.
Zmijanac’s path to Ringgold was an unexpected one. He led Aliquippa to Heinz Field for WPIAL finals in each of the past 10 seasons, but the school board voted 7-2 to replace him in February. Two months later, Ringgold hired Zmijanac to replace Nick Milchovich, who resigned after four seasons.
Palko’s swan song?
West Allegheny football and Bob Palko have become almost synonymous, but the longtime coach is scheduled to start his final camp this week.
Palko, who has won more WPIAL football titles than any coach in history, agreed to coach one more season before handing over the program to successor Kim Niedbala. Palko has won eight WPIAL titles in 23 seasons. The school board approved a plan to have him work this season alongside Niedbala, the head coach in waiting.