Dylan Vaniel wants the fresh faces on McKeesport’s football team to settle comfortably into their new roles.
Seeing an across-the-board transition at the skill positions on offense has the 6-foot-2, 246-pound senior motivated to keep the new Tigers off their backs.
Helping McKeesport’s option attack move in the right direction -- and protecting quarterback Konota Gaskins -- isn’t something Vaniel will have to go at alone.
When the Tigers open the season Saturday afternoon against Erie High School at the Wolvarena in Turtle Creek, Vaniel will be flanked by center Brandon Brooks, a first-team all-conference selection, and junior guard Andy Mellinger, who was chosen for the second team.
“The main key we live by is, stay low and fire off the ball,” Vaniel said. “We stay attached to our guy, so whenever we hit them, they don’t break off and hit our skill guys.”
McKeesport coach Matt Miller said the group had a good workout in the team’s scrimmage against Central Catholic last Saturday.
The Central Catholic Vikings are perennial challengers for the WPIAL’s Class 6A crown and are notorious for having big front lines.
“It’s huge because now you are hoping you can control a little bit of the defensive line,” said Miller on having an experienced line coming back. “We played Central Catholic last week and they were humongous and a difficult task for us. This week, with Erie, they are the same way, they are big up front. It’s not as scary going into those types of game when you are looking at an established line.”
Having that core will be vital for a McKeesport team whose dynamic offensive unit lost its leading rusher (Layton Jordan), passer (John Harper) and receiver (Branson Smith) to graduation.
The Tigers racked up 362 points last season and finished the year 8-3.
“It’s basically to show us how we could we could actually get,” Vaniel said. “The scrimmage showed us we have a good group. Our line is fairly well, there are some minor things we have to work on like any football program.”
Getting senior running back Devin Sims and fullback Rahmon Powell caught up in the offense will be an important part of the early season. Miller said Powell will be one of several players to see time at fullback and McKeesport has several strong options.
Vaniel and his teammates are prepared for the battle. McKeesport’s program enjoys the challenge of playing tough competition.
The Tigers decided to play up in Class 5A for this two-year enrollment cycle and will have the two teams which met for the WPIAL title last season, Penn-Trafford and Gateway, in its conference again this season.
The Gators handed the Tigers two of their three losses last season, including a 28-21 defeat in the WPIAL semifinals.
“It’s one of those things when you are in the spring time, it seems like a great decision and now that all those battles are in front of you, you wonder if it was a great decision or not,” Miller said. “All kidding aside, I think it is the best brand of football and I think we are capable of playing at that level.”
McKeesport Area High School
Varsity Football Schedule
|Aug. 25||Erie (at Wolvarena)(*)||2 p.m.|
|Aug. 31||Connellsville (C)||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 7||at Albert Gallatin (C)||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 14||Penn-Trafford (C)||7 p.m.|
|Sept. 22||Plum (C)||1 p.m.|
|Sept. 28||at Latrobe (C)||7 p.m.|
|Oct. 5||at Indiana||7 p.m.|
|Oct. 12||Kiski||7 p.m.|
|Oct. 19||Franklin Regional (C)||7 p.m.|
|Oct. 26||at Gateway (C)||7 p.m.|
(C) - Conference Game
(*) - "WPIAL vs. Everyone Showcase" at Wolvarena, Turtle Creek
Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer who covers local sports for Tube City Almanac and other publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published August 21, 2018.