AAA / KEYSTONE: Ringgold taking steps into new era

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An old adage says "change is good," but it doesn't always work out that way.

But when a team has won only nine games in four seasons and not had a winning record in six years, how can change hurt?

Ringgold will find out this season. The Rams switched Class AAA conferences from the powerhouse Big Seven to the Keystone, a conference that has not won a playoff game since 2000 -- the season Ringgold last had a winning record (6-4 in the Class AAAA Quad West Conference).

But as noteworthy a change as it was, the conference affiliation swap was not nearly as abrupt -- or potentially jarring -- as the summer coaching change. Russ Moore was put on an indefinite suspension, and athletic director Steve Campos took over, purportedly on an interim basis.

"The kids have had a great attitude and are picking things up well," said Campos, who has 24 years experience as a coach at the college level but only one at the high school level. "I've been pleasantly surprised. I've run it just like I've run all my college camps, challenging them to raise their level. And they have done a great job. Their attitude has been fantastic. The kids are excited about football this year."

The circumstances surrounding the departure of Moore -- who will be paid the remainder of the five-year contract he signed before the 2004 season -- are unclear.

He was only 7-13 in his two seasons, but that was a significant improvement over 2002 and '03 when the Rams were 2-18. Campos directs all inquiries over the handling of the situation to the school board

Moore is employed by the Ringgold School District as a high school health teacher and is working on a volunteer basis on the Chartiers-Houston coaching staff under longtime friend Terry Fetsko. He said he refused to resign and his contract could not be terminated without a public hearing, which he was denied.

"I'm really missing the seniors at Ringgold," said Moore adding he is eager to find another head coaching job. "I hope they win every game. I hope they win the WPIAL. I want them to have all the success in the world and have no animosity towards them."

The Rams have hope after winning three of their last four to end the '05 season. Robert Heller, who twice broke the school record for rushing yards in a season, amassed more than 3,000 yards on more than 500 carries.

That's a big hole to fill, but don't expect Campos to do it with just one player.

"We don't want to get into a situation like last year where we rely on one person," said Campos, who has experience with more than a half-dozen college teams, most of them in the region. "We want to spread the ball around and get a lot of kids a lot of touches. The positive thing is that we have depth at the offensive positions."

Ringgold opens Friday at home, when they will rename their stadium "Joe Montana Stadium" with several high-profile guests as the school inducts its first Hall of Fame class.

The Rams hope recalling the past will return the program to that traditionally prestigious level it previously enjoyed.

"The kids are out there having fun, the seniors are working hard because this is their last year," Campos said. "There are a lot of guys battling for positions, challenging each other. It's been a really good camp. We have a lot of capable kids here."

KEYSTONE DATA

TEAM TO BEAT
Albert Gallatin The Colonials were 7-42 since 2000 before making the playoffs last season for the first time in school history, but they are the consensus choice to win a conference that hasn't won in the playoffs since 2000.

CONTENDERS
Mount Pleasant Coach Mark Lyons said just making the playoffs isn't enough for the Vikings. Alex Bearer (OL 6-2, 225), Jake Hoffer (FB/LB 5-11, 210), Steve Moyemont (LB 6-2, 205) and Zach Auen (WR/DB 5-10, 185) are the top returnees.

Laurel Highlands The passing duo of quarterback Jared Jodon and receiver Gregg Forse is gone, but coach Jack Buehner remains "cautiously optimistic" his team can be a contender. Kaleb Ramsey, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound sophomore receiver last year, could be a player to watch this season.

Uniontown The Red Raiders enjoyed their first winning season since 2002, but quarterback Steve Kezmarsky, 1,221 yards passing, and Quindell Dean, 43 catches, graduated. Playmakers John Farrell and Kevin Sanders return.

THE OTHERS
Ringgold The Rams are hoping a new coach (Steve Campos) and a new conference alignment (from the Big Seven) will bring new luck to a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2000.

Belle Vernon New coach Lou Rood takes over a 0-10 team that scored only 35 points last season. The Leopards have installed new offensive and defensive schemes and have 22 new starters.

Derry The Trojans have not had a winning season since 2000 and lost their two all-conference players, their quarterback and top three rushers and receivers to graduation.

FIVE TO WATCH
Alex Bearer, Sr., Mount Pleasant, OL/DL, 6-1, 235; John Farrell, Sr., Uniontown, RB/DB, 6-1, 190; Brian Layhue, Sr., Belle Vernon, QB, 6-4, 220; Randy Rankin, Sr., Laurel Highlands, RB, 6-0, 200; Kevin Sanders, Sr., Uniontown, WR/DB, 5-11, 185.

GAME OF THE YEAR
Mount Pleasant at Albert Gallatin, Oct. 13


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