When Rodney Huffman was promoted from an assistant to head football coach at West Greene two years ago, he understood that a lot of work was needed to get the Pioneers to where he wanted them to be – the WPIAL playoffs.
It’s a spot the Pioneers haven’t been to since 1993.
“It’s a process that we have to go through,” Huffman said about a drought lasting longer than the players on his team have been alive.
Huffman saw that it was going to take time to rebuild the program.
He knew obstacles existed.
He understood there was going to be a lot of downs before any significant ups.
When he drove home after each game of his first season as head coach, after losing all nine regular season games, Huffman still believed in the process.
While teams playing West Greene averaged 42.7 points per game in 2015, the Pioneers scored only 42 points the entire season.
In 2016, West Greene nearly reached the light at the end of the 23-year tunnel until a 41-0 loss to California in the regular-season finale extended the playoff drought.
Prior to defeating Jefferson-Morgan last year, the Pioneers had not won a game since Sept. 19, 2014, when they defeated Serra Catholic, 44-43.
“We were a young team. We’re still young. But we stopped an 18-game losing streak and beat teams that we haven’t in a long time, Monessen and Jefferson-Morgan,” Huffman said. “We had to start somewhere. It just wasn’t a feel-good thing in the end because we fell short.”
While the list is short and to the point from Huffman for improving on a 3-7 record, it’s more about joining the playoff party that has ignited West Greene athletics over the last few years.
“West Greene has playoff fever for the first time in a long time,” Huffman said, noting that the Pioneers’ basketball teams made the playoffs and the softball team brought home a state title earlier this year.
“It’s our turn to join that party.”
For the Pioneers to join the postseason festivities, the Pioneers must improve their third-down defense and limit turnovers.
The one way West Greene can limit the third-down failures and sustain drives is to simply hand the ball to sophomore running back Ben Jackson. As a freshman, Jackson ran for 1,190 yards to combine for a one-two punch with quarterback Zach Pettit, who ran for 780 yards despite missing the final two games of the season.
Guiding the way for Jackson and Pettit will be three returning offensive linemen: Wyatt White, Jeremiah Miller and Brock Bedillion.
In charge of eliminating third-down frustrations on defense will be seven returning starters, including linebackers Andrew Litton, Gavin Scott, Brayden Black and Cole Widdup.
“We had such a rough time on third down, no matter what the yardage,” Huffman said. “If the other team needed 18 yards, it would get it. If they only needed one yard, it got two. We have to be able to get off the field.”
It will also help if they can keep Jackson and Pettit healthy down the stretch.
“I think overall it’s just a process of maturity,” Huffman said. “It boils down to how much they want and how well we play. I think we’ll be in the playoff chase. If we get rolling, we have a chance to be pretty good. Even though we haven’t made the playoffs in that long, it’s not just about making them. It’s about trying to make noise once we are in them.”