PG North: Colin Dunlap's High School Football Notebook

Shady Side's long journey

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Looking through the Post-Gazette archives from the 2004 football season, something jumped out that needs to be read again and again (and maybe even another time after that) to attempt to halfway fathom it.

Shady Side Academy started that season with 23 players on its roster. And after a few weeks -- and the expected attrition through injury -- the Indians played a game late in the season with just 19 players in uniform, one of those being solely a kicker.

Yes, that's right, just 18 position players suited up for that game.

That was Shady Side coach Dave Havern's first season guiding the Indians, a season in which the team went 2-7 and gave up 28.8 points per game, which, if you think about it, is kind of a miraculous effort for a squad so undermanned.

"It wasn't the first option and it never got right down to a vote or anything such as that, but there was some talk that an option could be to get rid of the program at that point." Havern said.

"It was tough to justify spending the money it takes for football when only that many kids were participating in the activity."

To its credit, the school did not disband the program and this year is playing its 114th season.

As it stands, the Indians are 7-1 overall, 6-1 in the WPIAL Class AA Allegheny Conference heading into their regular-season finale against host Deer Lakes (1-7, 1-6) tomorrow night.

That is quite some turnaround, and Havern uses an example from the 1972 film "Jeremiah Johnson" to adequately describe it.

"You know in that movie there is a scene when Jeremiah Johnson runs into Will Geer's character," Havern said before continuing.

"Well, Geer's character looks up and says, 'You have come a long way, pilgrim.'

"That's when Robert Redford looks back at him and says, 'It feels like a long way.' "

Havern then added, "I kind of feel like Robert Redford a little bit in that regard.

"You know, we have come a long way, and it has been tough every step of the way and I have felt it.

"But we've got players, from the 40th guy right down to the best player, to buy into the line of thinking that we were going to get better every single time we went out on the field."

And, unquestionably, the Indians have, particularly this season.

Shady Side's lone loss was against No. 2-ranked Ford City (8-0, 7-0) in Week 2, a 25-7 road loss.

Since then, though, Shady Side has yielded just 28 total points, with no team scoring more than a touchdown against the Indians.

Havern admitted that a big part of Shady Side's turnaround has been because of the way seniors such as quarterback Dan Rooney, lineman Mike Farrell, split end/safety Phil Soeder and running back Vince Miller have played.

But there has been another big component responsible for Shady Side's resurgence.

Shady Side assistants Terence Parham, Matt Fisher, Bobby Grandizio and Charles DiNardo all are Shady Side graduates.

"It means a lot to them to see our program succeed," Havern said. "I think it means a lot to everyone, but these guys have put in the time and also have a certain pride factor because they went to school here."

You tell me

Last week's question was:

"At this point in the season, who would you name the PG North coach of the year and why?"

Scott of Cranberry: "There is really only one choice for coach of the year and that is Ron Butschle at Seneca Valley. Why? The Raiders are 5-3 overall and 3-1 in the conference. They hadn't won a division game in years and here they are winning three in a row and clinched their first playoff berth since 2002. If that is not reason enough for being the coach of the year I don't know what is."

Cathy of Brackenridge: "I want to nominate Sam Albert of Highlands. To be 7-1 and playing for the conference title on Friday with only two starters retuning from last year makes him a genius ... and he is cute, too."

Tom of James Creek, Pa.: "Jacque DeMatteo of Shaler, hands down."

Dave of Overbrook: "Shaler Area coach Jacque DeMatteo has to be considered for the PG North coach of the year because of the amazing turnaround he's done with that football program."

Now for this week's question:

"Everyone always bellyaches that too many teams make the WPIAL playoffs -- particularly in Quad-A. So tell me, rather than just complaining, how exactly would you remedy this real or perceived watered-down postseason field?"

Please send me your e-mail responses with your name and hometown by next Monday morning and I'll include some of the better responses in next week's notebook.


Colin Dunlap can be reached at cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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