Jon LeDonne is familiar with big challenges and how to overcome them.
He believes the lessons he's experienced in the classroom and on the football field will serve him well as the new head football coach at Shaler Area High School.
"This is a program that has experienced some hard times lately," said LeDonne, who succeeded Chris Siegle after he left Shaler to become an assistant at Duquesne University. "Shaler has had some successful teams in the past, and taking this job gives me the opportunity to rebuild the program."
LeDonne, 31 was hired in mid-May, which is rather late when it comes to getting to know a football team and implementing the offseason conditioning drills so crucial for a high school program. He played for Aliquippa High School teams that won a WPIAL Class AA title in 2000. He went on to play at Robert Morris where he was a four-year starter at outside linebacker.
His experience is especially vital considering the schedule the Titans face in the Northern Eight Conference. A year ago, Shaler was 0-7 in conference play and winless in nine games overall.
"This is the toughest conference in the state of Pennsylvania," said LeDonne, who lives in Pine. "In that conference, you play the toughest teams week-in and week-out. And, besides those teams in the section, we're going to play two tough out-of-conference opponents in Penn-Trafford and Woodland Hills."
LeDonne already has met with his returning players, and he said the number of players attending conditioning drills has gradually increased. He believes the number will rise as August draws closer.
When LeDonne did meet with the players, they expressed relief in one area.
"They were excited that the process [of hiring a coach] was over," he said. "It was a lengthy process, and they didn't know who was coming in. At first, there were about 20 kids in off-season conditioning, but now it's in the 40s. That's not the numbers you want for a Quad-A program, and we're hoping more student-athletes will buy into what we're saying and want to play football."
The district serves Shaler, Millvale, Etna and Reserve Township. LeDonne has traveled throughout the district and gotten to know its residents.
"They are very positive," he said of the team's fans. "They know where the program has been, and they know it won't be an easy task rebuilding it. We want them to know that our football team supports their communities, and we hope they will support us."
LeDonne also said he's received plenty of support from the school district's administration, and he's grateful for that.
LeDonne plans to use a base set of plays on offense and an aggressive defense.
"We want our guys to act like sharks and get after the blood in the water," he said. "We want to teach them the proper techniques and have them play fast and play smart."
LeDonne comes to Shaler from Gateway, where he was an assistant this past season to Donnie Militzer.
"That was a successful program, but we learned that talent doesn't take you all the way," he said. "Sometimes, we had guys playing as individuals and not as a team. But I don't see that happening here.
"They'll learn to put the team ahead of themselves. I learned that playing at Aliquippa and at Robert Morris."