South Xtra: Lebo's Roth makes smooth transition to quarterback role
Tyler Roth is used to being in the spotlight.
Roth was an all-conference selection as a defensive back and a punter last season for Mt. Lebanon. He also started as a sophomore for the Mt. Lebanon basketball team as it reached the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game in 2011.
Thus, Roth was neither anxious nor nervous when new Mt. Lebanon football coach Mike Melnyk picked him as the starting quarterback last spring. Melnyk replaced Chris Haering, who left to become the linebackers coach at Pitt under first-year coach Paul Chryst.
"I was excited," Roth said. "It meant a lot to me. I was excited he had that kind of faith in me and I was excited to take on a new challenge as a senior."
Roth has met the challenge so far this season as he has led Mt. Lebanon to a 3-1 record. After losing to North Allegheny in a non-conference game on opening night, the Blue Devils have won three in a row inside the Southeastern Conference heading into a big game at Woodland Hills (3-1, 2-1) on Friday night at the Wolvarena in Turtle Creek.
"He's done an outstanding job, especially when you consider he had thrown three varsity passes prior to this season," said Melnyk, who previously coach at Manheim Township, near Lancaster. "I'm not surprised, however, at how he's done. He was an all-conference cornerback so you know he's a great athlete and he's also very intelligent.
"He's one of those kids who takes the instruction you give to him verbally and immediately puts it into action physically. He picks up on things very fast."
Roth has been the perfect fit for Melnyk's more wide-open offense as he has thrown for 776 yards and 10 touchdowns without an interception while completing 45 of 82 passes.
The regular season reaches its midway point this weekend and Roth is closing in on the 873 passing yards Pat Goff had for Mt. Lebanon last season when Haering used a more run-heavy attack that featured 1,907-yard rusher Luke Hagy.
"We were all stunned when coach Haering left," Roth said. "The first thing us seniors did, though, once we found out he was leaving was get together and say we were going to stick together and keep an open mind about whoever was hired as the next coach.
"Coach Melnyk has been great. He's earned our respect. Our offense is all new this year but we've really responded to it."
Mt. Lebanon's offensive line has been superb as Roth has only been sacked once. The Blue Devils also have two big-play wide receivers in Troy Apke (16 receptions for 339 yards) and Mike Briercheck (13 for 246).
"The rest of the guys on offense have made it so easy for me," Roth said. "All I have to worry about is executing plays."
The most impressive part about Roth's season is he has performed so well on only one healthy leg. He strained a hamstring in the opener and has not played on defense since.
"You have to be careful with hamstring injuries because once you hurt it badly, then you're probably going to be out for a long time," Roth said. "We're trying to play it smart and it would just put too much stress on it to play both ways right now. I'm confident at some point I'll be back on defense again but I don't know exactly when."
Roth understands smart as he has a 4.5 GPA in honors courses and plans to study engineering in college. He has an offer to play defensive back from Bucknell of the Patriot League and Ivy League schools Cornell and Princeton are also interested.
"Academics are going to be as important as football, probably more important when it comes to making my college decision," Roth said. "Football isn't going to last forever."
For now, though, Roth is focused on his final high school season and Melnyk is happy to have him running his offense in his first season at Mt. Lebanon.
"We're getting better every week," Melnyk said. "I don't think we're a finished product yet. Tyler is improving each week and I don't think we've seen the best of him yet."