While the Penn Hills football team has been having one of its most successful seasons in almost a decade, coach Jon LeDonne and his staff have made an effort to create roots in the youth ranks during his first season.
The Indians have partnered with the Penn Hills youth and midget football teams, as well as the flag football team through the Penn Hills YMCA.
LeDonne has welcomed these local teams to share a football field and work alongside the varsity for three Thursday practices.
This type of access is being utilized to generate and continue the interest in football for younger players in the Penn Hills community as they transition to high school. The Penn Hills youth football program is for players 10-11 years old, while the midget team is for 12-13.
“Some of my guys are going off to high school next year so it was beneficial for them to see the type of practice that was happening at the high school and the type of work that goes into it,” Penn Hills midget football coach Noel Roach said.
“They were able to, in a short period of time, build some camaraderie with some of the players. It also helps strengthen the neighborhood bond and make those kids want to move on and play for the high school.”
Roach reached out to a familiar face on the Indians coaching staff; he went to Cal (Pa.) with co-defensive coordinator Brian Tarrant.
However, Roach made a further connection after LeDonne reached out and invited the youth and midget teams to a Penn Hills home game earlier this season.
“With them winning, it just makes it better. Everybody wants to be part of a successful organization. My players seeing a team winning games and winning playoff games and competing for championships just builds that interest even more,” Roach said.
LeDonne also has welcomed to practice the Broncos flag football team, which is coached by Penn Hills senior Jayvin Turner. They got an opportunity to work alongside the Indians as they prepared for their semifinal matchup against Central Catholic.
“It’s great because it builds confidence in themselves. They get to see a team above them that are role models. They get to see what’s ahead of them if they just keep their heads focused,” Turner said.
Turner, a former wide receiver and cornerback, turned his attention to coaching after he suffered a concussion in the seventh grade.
Turner, who coaches players that range from 7-9 years old, believes the program provides a lot of benefits for skill development, such as a passing, catching, speed, agility and how to read defenses.
However, those who start with flag football have to adapt to the hitting in contact football.
“You have to get used to getting hit every single play. The guys that come in that play contact in midget league they are use to hits when they come to high school. But when you play flag and you come to tackle, it takes you awhile to get use to those hits,” Turner said.
Turner, who has eyes on being in the coaching profession, will look to attend college as a broadcast communications major to become a sports analyst if the coaching plans don’t come to fruition.
Andrew John is a freelance writer.