New Monessen football coach Mike Blainefield knows all about the Greyhounds’ storied tradition of dominating the Tri-County South Conference for most of the last 30 years as he played on three conference championship teams in the early 2000s.
After being recruited by Joe Moorhead, now the offensive coordinator at Penn State, at Georgetown University, Blainefield carved out a nice career and graduated from Georgetown before returning to the area where he started coaching at Monessen as an assistant.
And, despite the team going through its worst season in program history a year ago with a 1-9 record, Blainefield is not lowering expectations for the team despite last year’s record or the fact that the team only has five seniors.
“I expect us to win the Tri-County South and have a realistic run in the playoffs,” he said with a humbled confidence. “We want to have a memorable run from 1-9 to something special while keeping things realistic.”
Blainefield said the team is so much farther ahead than it was a year ago.
“We had our conditioning test the first day and they were all prepared and finished it,” Blainefield said. “We have a good atmosphere and it is satisfying to see it after being behind the last few years at this point.
“I have seen us grow more as a team and there is less focus on individualized numbers, it is more of a brotherhood and they are buying into playing together.”
The five seniors include three definite starters in quarterback Cory Fleming, right tackle Dantae Cook and left tackle Luke Farmer, and two more seniors who are in the running for playing time in Nate Simms and Isiah Allums.
The team is loaded with what the coaching staff hopes are talented sophomores and freshman, but Blainefield also pointed out junior Vaughn Taylor, a three-year starter at running back and linebacker.
“Leadership and experience can galvanize a team,” Blainefield. “Vaughn challenges his teammates to match his intensity.”
Blainefield has an old school mentality and despite having talented younger players, he would not name any.
“They have to earn their recognition,” Blainefield said. “No one is going to be given anything on this team, but we will have lots of youth taking central roles.
“That is why it was so important to have a solid offseason as a lot of guys who will be on the field have never played in a varsity game.”
Monessen has a rough opening month to the season. The Greyhounds play at rival Charleroi to open the season on August 25, before heading to Tri-County South favorite Carmichaels in Week 1.
After its home opener the next week against Jefferson Morgan, Monessen goes back on the road as it heads to Fort Cherry. The Greyhounds also have road games at Clairton and Northgate.
“The guys are focused on Charleroi and the upperclassmen want revenge,” he said. “It gets no easier from there, plus we go to Clairton and Northgate, as well.
“It is a vicious road schedule against two non-conference teams that are very talented.”