At Bethel Park, as in the movie, “Footloose,” the Black Hawks are holding out for a hero if they are to accomplish anything this season.
“Enthusiasm matters,” head coach Jeff Metheny told his players. “Be the man in the huddle.”
Metheny went on to address his charges the reason why a team is successful.
“Emotion, grit and heart,” he said.
The players have religiously attended drills and committed themselves, but Metheny is looking for leaders for the rugged 6A class in the WPIAL.
“We need the good players to start and lead,” he said. “Not just execute and be an example, but get after people.”
Metheny believes it is imperative James Gmiter, a West Virginia recruit, takes the reins. A starter since his freshman season, the 6-5, 305-pound tackle anchors a very experienced line.
“We expect James to be a dominant player,” Metheny said. “To have played as a freshman means he is a special guy. That’s so rare. James is so athletic and he works hard in the weight room. He’s got a great opportunity. He just needs to take advantage of it. We are counting on his senior leadership.”
The Hawks also will depend upon Gmiter’s experienced linemates.
At the other tackle is Connor Wholey. A smart player, the 6-7, 250-pound senior is being approached by Ivy League schools.
“He is intelligent,” Metheny said. “He has the tools and great potential.”
Wholey, like many of the Hawks, doesn’t say much.
“In football, you’ve got to communicate. We need to find those guys,” Metheny said. “Those athletes are so important to developing teamwork. Our kids are so good with the young guys. We want them to be demanding of their teammates and caring of them, too, because in the middle of the battle, you have to be tough with each other.”
Tough up front are Liam Williams at center and Dan Kwiatkoski and Gavin Vargesko at the guard slots. All are returning starters. “Those are real good players. Tough and strong,” Metheny said, noting that Vargesko can bench press 330 pounds.
“Our offensive line works well together. We are experienced and those guys work hard. Our line is the key. I think this year we will be a better team in scoring because all the starters are back. We can roll those guys because we have a lot of good linemen and we have depth.”
David Opferman returns to the tight end spot and Jake Dowell has experience at center and nose guard, juniors Brandon Greco and Ben Hutz are expected to contribute to the line play along with a host of sophomores.
While the Hawks are long on experience in the trenches, they are thin at the skill position. Quarterback is the huge question mark as the Hawks attempt to replace alum Cole Rogers.
While camp has been a spirited competition between senior Carmen Esposito, junior Luke Surinus and sophomore Anthony Chiccitt, the Hawks are unsettled at the spot. According to Metheny, they are “going with the guy that we can win with.”
In the backfield, the Hawks are going with a complement of players.
Johnny Doleno, who gained all-conference honors as a multi-purpose back, will be featured in BP’s two-prong backfield with Tanner Volpatti. Sophomore Jehvonn Lewis, who was a part of BP’s WPIAL championship 400 relay team, also will excel in the backfield.
“Those are three good kids,” Metheny said. “We have guys with big-play capabilities, guys who can make plays.”
With his speed, James Krandel, who also was a member of the relay, can make plays at wide receiver with veteran Austin Lewis, who will start at cornerback on defense.
Fullbacks Luke Mattola, a standout lacrosse player, and Tiger Burkes, a junior, will be featured in the passing attack along with Erik Slaby, a wide receiver who also plays free safety.
On defense, Gmiter at nose guard, Vargesko and Wholey at tackles anchor the line. All three are experienced. Experienced, too, are Opferman, Greco and Mattola at outside linebacker. Kwiatkoski shores up the inside along with Cooper Shoemaker. In the secondary, Chris Loera and Ben Yantak have experience as strong safeties along with Jared Yantak and Volpatti, who has played the free safety slot in the past. On the corners are Austin Lewis, Doleno, Lewis and Slaby.
Zak Ferris is back out for the team his senior year and will play at free safety while senior Ben Barnot is a corner. Dowell, Corey Hardinger and Anthony Klase are also expected to contribute to the defense.
“Inside linebacker is our concern on defense. We are thin there and we need experience. Plenty of it,” Metheny said. “It’s like offense, where quarterback is the big concern and we need to develop depth and get experience fast.”
Nevertheless the Hawks “expect” to make the playoffs. They finished runner-up to Mt. Lebanon in the conference and posted a 5-5 overall record after falling in the first round of the post-season.
“That’s always the goal,” Metheny said of the playoffs. “We want to get better as the year goes on. Get the guys to gel and develop.
“We play some good teams early,” Metheny noted of North Allegheny and Pine Richland. “We’ll see where we are and who steps up.”