When Woodland Hills goes on the road for the first time in Week 2, Wolverines coach George Novak will see a familiar face staring back at him from the opposing sideline.
George Smith, who coached at McKeesport for 28 years before resigning after the 2009 season, is back as the head coach of the Tigers this season.
"It's going to be tough going against them," said Novak, Woodland Hills' coach since 1987, its first season. "It's his homecoming and they're bringing back their two state championship teams.
"But I'm excited for him."
Novak and Smith have faced one another many times, including in two WPIAL Class AAAA championships games. Woodland Hills beat the Tigers in 1999 and McKeesport got the victory in 2005.
It was one of two WPIAL titles for McKeesport under Smith. The Tigers also won the district title in 1994 and both times the Tigers won the WPIAL title, they also won the PIAA title.
Smith retired after leading McKeesport to the WPIAL semifinals in 2009. He was replaced by Jim Ward, and the Tigers made the playoffs in each of Ward's three seasons.
The Tigers never won a playoff game under Ward, however.
"When the previous guy resigned, people in the community and players who played for me approached me about the position," Smith said. "I thought it was time to give back to them."
So in January, the Mc-Keesport school board unanimously approved Smith as its new coach. His first order of business -- increasing the number of players at each level of McKeesport's football program. There were 52 players on the varsity roster last year.
"We didn't have the numbers," Smith said. "So we had to make adjustments. I brought in some of the guys who played for me to coach the ninth grade and junior high teams. We have 60 kids on the ninth grade team now and 70 kids on the junior high team. It's like a small army."
The varsity, meanwhile, has more than 60 players on the roster this season. Two of the team's best players from last season, Eddie Stockett and Hodari Christian, have moved on, however.
Stockett, the team's quarterback, threw for 522 yards and rushed for a team-best 660 yards.
Christian ran for 546 yards and was a force from his linebacker position on defense. He is now playing at West Virginia University.
The returning players will all have to adjust to Smith's flexbone offense. The Tigers did run some option last season, but Smith's offense will still be a transition.
"The biggest transition is just teaching them the fundamentals -- stay disciplined, come off the ball and stay low," Smith said.
"We have a long way to go."
It's been a transition for Smith, too.
For the past three years, Smith was relaxing at this time of the year. Now, he's running two or three practices a day.
"I get tired," he said. "I'm used to vacationing and napping."
But with Smith back at the helm, other teams likely won't be sleeping on the Tigers this season.
"He's just a great man," Novak said. "He's a legend at McKeesport and when he left, they missed him a lot. I'm looking forward to having him back. He does a great job coaching."