Seneca Valley banking on experience, consistency
Seneca Valley coach Ron Butschle is able to look at a disappointing 2017 season and identify the team’s biggest issue.
The Raiders stumbled out of the blocks, going 1-6 to begin the year before finishing 3-6 overall and 2-4 in Class 6A’s Northern 7 Conference, missing the postseason.
“Inexperience and inconsistency was our issue last year,” Butschle said. “Last year, we had, on offense, three returning starters. This year, we have eight returning starters.
“We have a lot better sense of the identity we’re going to have and a much better grasp of where our strengths are.”
Much of the talent from the team that went to Heinz Field two years ago graduated. Coach Dave Vestal resigned and Butschle stepped in before last season. He admits some mistakes were made early.
“I think last year we worried more about the X’s and the O’s going into Week 1,and I don’t think we were in as good of shape as we could have been,” Butschle said. “We fixed that this year.”
Increased fitness could go a long way for a team that is huge up front.
The offensive line returns three starters and averages between 275-280 pounds. Junior tackle Kevin Meeder, a 6-foot-5 heavyweight wrestler, plus guards Drew Robertson and David Tkatch, are back. Marcus Might, who skipped last season to focus on basketball, brings a 6-6, 285-pound presence to the line, as well.
“We’re probably as big and as physical as I’ve ever had, in terms of size and strength of a team,” Butschle said.
That group will open holes for mobile quarterback Gabe Lawson, who threw for 1,066 yards and rushed for 375 more, accounting for 18 touchdowns a year ago.
“He’s a very athletic quarterback,” Butschle said. “I think his legs are going to be a big weapon. If Gabe does what he’s coached to do, his athleticism is going to be a really big part of what we do on offense.”
Josh McLean is the team’s top returning pass catcher. The running back position will go by committee.
On defense, the linebacking corps is one of the more solid groups around, highlighted by Saige Ley, who has a Division I offer from Nevada, and 2017 leading tackler Jake Stebbins, who has multiple Ivy League offers.
The three returning offensive lineman will contribute to the defensive line. McLean returns as a two-year starter at safety, and Conor Hayes will be the other. Hayes’ older brother, Brennan, is the top cornerback.
Butschle thinks his team will be in the mix to win Class 6A, which now features just one conference of nine teams. Seneca Valley keeps rivalries with Pine-Richland, Central Catholic and North Allegheny.
“I know what our league last year was like in terms of being competitive,” he said. “I know that the teams that are coming from the other league in Mt. Lebanon, Canon-McMillan and Hempfield are all quality football teams.”
Butler and Norwin round out the classification in which only six teams will make the playoffs.
Seneca Valley will open the season in Week Zero against Erie McDowell and will also play Class 5A Woodland Hills this year. Butschle and his team are embracing the weekly challenge.
“We really feel like we’re going to compete to be at the top of the heap, but every week is going to be tough,” he added. “But I think that’s a positive thing.”
Coach: Ron Butschle
2017 record: 3-6, 2-4
All-time record: 239-284-11
Date, Opponent, Time
8.24, Erie McDowell, 7:30 p.m.
8.31, at Central Catholic*, 7:30 p.m.
9.7, Canon-McMillan*, 7:30 p.m.
9.14, Mt. Lebanon*, 7:30 p.m.
9.21, at Butler*, 7:30 p.m.
9.28, at North Allegheny*, 7:30 p.m.
10.5, Hempfield*, 7:30 p.m.
10.12, Woodland Hills, 7:30 p.m.
10.19, at Pine-Richland*, 7:30 p.m.
10.26, at Norwin*, 7 p.m.
*Class 6A Conference game
Passing: Gabe Lawson
79-125, 1066 yards, 12 TDs
Rushing: Noah Mancuso*
91-485 yards, 5 TDs
Receiving: Jake Bunofsky*
23-400 yards, 4 TDs
Josh Rowntree is a TribLive HSSN broadcaster and writer.