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Knoch grad Albert takes dad’s path into coaching career

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Aaron Albert (left) and Beaver athletic director Pat McDanel shake hands after Albert was hired last month to become the Bobcats baseball coach.

Nobody questioned if Aaron Albert would follow his father, Sam, into coaching — it was just a matter of when.

After all, one of the 2002 Knoch graduate’s earliest childhood memories is standing on the sidelines at Three Rivers Stadium as Valley’s ball boy in the Vikings’ 1991 WPIAL Class AAA football championship game loss to Blackhawk.

“The Three Rivers Stadium people tried saying that I was too small to be out on the field, but my dad wasn’t having any of that,” said Albert, who was 7 years old at the time. “I thought (going to Three Rivers Stadium) was going to happen every year. I was like, ‘What happened?’ ”

The Beaver Area school board voted 10-0 last month to hire Albert, the son of Highlands football coach Sam Albert, as the Bobcats’ new baseball coach. Albert was hired over 10 other candidates to replace longtime coach Bruce Herstine, who guided the Bobcats to the 2013 WPIAL Class AA championship before losing to Loyalsock, 5-4, in the PIAA Class AA title game. Beaver (6-9, 4-8) finished fifth in Section 1-AAA last season.

“It was immensely stressful,” Albert said of the interview process. “I never got a firm feel on anything until the Thursday before I was hired. I came out of the (second) interview feeling that I did a really good job. I called my dad and he said, ‘That’s all that you can do.’ ”

Said Sam Albert, who just finished his 13th season coaching at Highlands after stops at Valley, Butler and Freeport: “I’m proud as heck of him. He’s been around (coaching) his whole life, and the thing I stressed to him was that it has to be your program and to put your stamp on it.”

The nearly two-month process hiring started when Aaron Albert, 32, received a text message from Beaver athletic director Pat McDanel that the job was opened.

Albert got the text while burning time at a coffee shop near Washington before the Rams’ game against Albert Gallatin.

Albert started the afternoon two hours early for the Rams road game at Albert Gallatin, but overcome by emotion and poor GPS directions, the former IUP baseball standout ended up following the Albert Gallatin marching band to the stadium and arriving in the middle of pregame warmups.

“(I was) late in my dad’s terms,” Albert said. “I ended up getting lost.”

What’s not lost are Albert’s credentials. He arrived at IUP as a preferred walk-on before setting single-season records with a .447 batting average and 68 hits in 2006, his freshman season. He ranks fourth in IUP history with a .369 career batting average.

“I was invited to the Reds, Pirates and Marlins tryouts, but nothing materialized,” said Albert, who played left field for the Crimson Hawks. “At the end of the day, I was a good D-II baseball player, but I wasn’t going to be making millions (of dollars) in Major League Baseball.”

Albert took a long road to baseball, dropping everything after his first year of college to chase another dream by competing in professional wrestling under his alter ego, Ashton Amherst.

Albert, who hasn’t wrestled in six months, has more than 250 wins and earned at least 14 professional titles as Ashton Amherst. He currently holds the National Wrestling Alliance North American tag-team title with partner James Miller (JR Mega).

“My family tends to forget the year of wrestling training,” Albert said. “Pro wrestling is all about working together. If your partner is on a different page, it doesn’t work. Same as a quarterback, wide receiver and a pitcher and a catcher’s relationships.”

With the recent job openings at Knoch, Highlands and Freeport since the end of last baseball season, Albert never considered applying for the jobs out of the immense respect he has for his father.

“I love my dad, and I wouldn’t be here without him, but the Alle-Kiski Valley is his thing,” Albert said.

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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