Inside the Program: Mt. Lebanon football
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After starting its season with a 39-14 loss against Class AAAA No. 1 North Allegheny, Mt. Lebanon has won its past three games, outscoring opponents, 108-28. The Blue Devils (3-1, 3-0), in their first season under Mike Melnyk, trail only undefeated Upper St. Clair (4-0, 4-0) in the Southeastern Conference. Melnyk beat out a slew of candidates to replace Chris Haering, who left after 17 seasons at Mt. Lebanon to become the linebackers coach at Pitt under Paul Chryst. Coming from across the state at Manheim Township High School near Lancaster, where he coached for 13 seasons, Melnyk has spent the past several months getting adjusted to high school football in the WPIAL. So far, he likes what he has seen. "I think Western Pennsylvania football is really quality football," he said. "The one thing that I've noticed is that it's very physical -- the kids enjoy hitting, that's been a nice thing -- that they like to play the game and like to play physically." A week removed from a 42-7 victory against Baldwin, the Blue Devils will visit conference foe Woodland Hills (3-1, 2-1) tonight at 7.
Quarterback Tyler Roth entered the 2012 season as an unproven commodity, having thrown only three passes last year. That inexperience hasn't affected him in the first four games.Roth has completed 54.9 percent of his passes for 776 yards and 10 touchdowns with no interceptions. Though Melnyk admits his quarterback is "still a work in progress," he can't help but be impressed with what he has seen. "He didn't have a lot of experience, but he worked extremely hard in the offseason. He's taken care of the ball and made very good decisions."
It's not uncommon to find good-sized offensive linemen on Class AAAA rosters, but among a group of teams with towering blockers, Mt. Lebanon stands out. The Blue Devils roster has six offensive linemen who stand 6 feet 2 or taller, and eight who weigh at least 225 pounds. In particular, 6-6, 290-pound Alex Bookser and 6-4, 285-pound Will Gladden are prime examples of the size that the Mt. Lebanon line has. This isn't, however, a line that's hulking and nothing more -- it has been effective. "Our line has done a nice job enabling us to run the ball and pass the ball," Melnyk said. "Our pass protection has been pretty good this year, considering they didn't throw the ball a whole lot in the past."
Junior wide receiver Troy Apke is the top threat in the passing attack, having caught 13 passes for 339 yards and a 21.2-yards-per-catch average that places him near the top of WPIAL receivers. Troy's father, Steve, played linebacker for Pitt in the 1980s before playing three games in the NFL during the league's strike-plagued 1987 season.
Doran Graham was expected to be an important part of the offense this season, but he missed two weeks of training camp with an injury. Seeing his first significant number of carries of the season last week, Graham delivered in a big way, rushing for 179 yards and two touchdowns. "His emergence last week makes us that much better of a football team," Melnyk said.
In his time at Manheim Township, Melnyk coached a player whose name resonates strongly with area college football fans -- Pat Bostick, a former Pitt quarterback and current color commentator on the team's radio broadcasts. Melnyk recalled several fond memories of Bostick, particularly how the two would spend their lunch period for three years watching film, eating lunch and talking football. It has been rewarding to watch his former student get to where he is today. "It's been very gratifying to see the success that he's had," Melnyk said. "It's like a father being proud of his child."
First Published September 28, 2012 12:00 am