Penn Hills had a flawless season. Literally. The Indians had a perfect 8-0 record in the conference, but even more impressively, finished the year with an overall record of 16-0. No one was expecting Penn Hills to win a state championship but they did just that. This was a much improved season from what was an 8-4 team just a year ago. The expectations were well exceeded and now the bar has been set higher going into the 2019 season.
Bringing in Coach Jon LeDonne in 2017 raised a few eyebrows. After all, he had two winless seasons in a 3-year coaching stint at Shaler from 2014-2016, managing an abysmal 2-27 record. However, LeDonne, who replaces John Peterman, turned things around quickly. The Indians had losing seasons the past two years but won 8 games in 2017 in LeDonne’s first year and made a huge leap in his second year by doubling his win total from a year ago. LeDonne now has built a 24-4 record in two years at Penn Hills and has high hopes for the fall.
Quarterback Hollis Mathis (6’1, 180 lbs) was the orchestrator of the Indians offense. The quarterback received some late notice from a few small college programs amid his playoff run last fall and chose William & Mary as the university best to continue his playing career. Halfback Terry Smith (5’9, 210 lbs) was the lead back for the Indians. He had one of the best seasons for a running back in school history and committed to Saint Francis University.
Cornerback Daequan Hardy (5’10, 160 lbs) was the centerpiece of the Indians defense. The talented corner was one of the best defenders in all of Pennsylvania. His elite play landed him the opportunity to continue his career at Penn State, where he is currently enrolled. He was the most gifted player on a defense that didn’t feature a lot of stars but played exceptionally well together as a unit.
Corey Thomas, a 6’4 195-pound safety signed with Akron. He will play outside linebacker for the Zips.
Players to Watch on Offense
The Indians averaged 37 points per game last season and will try to duplicate those results this season. They will rely on several 2-way players for production and making big plays in order for this team to have a chance to defend their title.
The quarterback battle will be between senior Eddie McKissik (5’11, 180 lbs) and junior Kahmi Naylor (6’0, 183 lbs). This will come down to whoever wins the job in training camp. Both players are good athletes and the one that doesn’t win the job will help at another skilled position on offense or defense.
Akeem Snell (6’2 180) is the top returning wide receiver. He is a big-time player that should be primed to have a breakout senior season. He is a vertical threat and a playmaker that they will look to in crucial moments.
2020 prospect Tony Grimes (5’8, 165 lbs) is another one of the primary targets. The junior receiver earned All-League honors for his play throughout the season and also received his first offer from William & Mary. Tony Grimes had a strong junior season and carries lots of experience with him after being one of the returning starters from last year’s championship team.
One of the biggest additions to the team this year will be Germar Howard. He is a 6’0 185-pound transfer wide receiver from River Valley high school in Ohio. He has loads of talent and will immediately be one of their go-to players on offense. Noel Roach is another receiver that will contribute in 2019.
Class of 2021 running back Derrick Topeck (5’10, 175 lbs) will be one of the featured backs in the rotation for the Indians. The departure of Smith leaves a void that must be filled and a few different players will be used at the position. Howard played some running back last year with his team in Ohio and will definitely help share the duties in the ground game and could emerge as their top back.
The offensive line will have limited size, but return 3 players from last year’s team that got playing time, in Jayden Terry (6’1 260), Damon Moultrie (6’0 287), and Claude Vangelus (6’2 260). The Indians will need to have some younger players step up and help in the trenches.
Players to Watch on Defense
The Indians allowed fewer than 12 points on average across their 16 games. Akeem Snell is the best returning starter on the defensive side of the ball for Penn Hills. As a safety, he has good size and it allowed him to elevate and break up deep balls in the back end of the secondary for the Indians.
Germar Howard is a great offensive weapon but he may have even more upside on defense. He is the type of athlete that has the size, strength, and speed to move around at the second and third levels and play wherever they need him. Dylan Bennett (5’8, 170 lbs) and Donte Pollard (5’10 170) will likely be the two corners. Roach will also play in the secondary.
Donnie Blue (5’11 190) will be one of the starters at outside linebacker and Topek will start opposite of him on the other side.
2020 graduate Jamie Tigner (5’11, 205 lbs) will be a force up front at his defensive tackle position. Underclassmen Claude Vangelus (6’0, 240 lbs) will see an uptick in his playing time as he accompanies Tigner at the defensive tackle spot. Derrell Smith-Porter (6’1 240) is a defensive tackle that will be a key player inside for the Indians. Sqy Featherston (6’0 210) should be the starter at defensive end.
Repeating an undefeated championship season is hard to ask of any team at any level. Penn Hills lost a lot of their core after the 2018 season. Given that they will be filling starting roles at quarterback and running back, it’s hard to see a championship run in the fold again, but no one saw it coming last year either. Coach LeDonne has played all the right cards in his first two years and a little bit of magic in 2019 could have him leading the Indians back for a deep playoff run.