One of the reasons Western Pennsylvania and the WPIAL have a good reputation around college football — and produce so many college-level players — is the work players and coaches put in to getting better.
Football is no longer just a season sport. The moment a player’s season ends, a vast majority of the ones that have college aspirations are in the gym or on the field practicing or working on a specific area of their game.
Another avenue that players now use is participating in the 7-on-7 football leagues which are popular now all throughout the country. The leagues’ coaches do an wonderful job of working with high school athletes multiple times a week with the sole purpose of getting them better. In many cases its on a volunteer basis because they want the kids to hopefully improve enough to be recruited by college programs.
Pittsburgh now has three of these 7-on-7 leagues with the newest one being Pitt City Elite 7v7 which is being run by former Penn Hills star Melvin Kirby.
Kirby, 36, was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He graduated from Penn Hills High School and played for legendary head coach Neil Gordon. Kirby was an all-state running back and went on to attend Lock Haven University where he earned a degree in criminal justice. He has assistant high school coaching experience at Penn Hills (2008-09, 2013-14), Shaler (2010-11) and Steel Valley (2011).
On January 20, Pitt City Elite 7v7 will be holding open tryouts from 4-6 PM at 600 Iron City Drive, Pittsburgh. Registration begins at 3 PM and if you’re a high school athlete and interested in registering, you can do so on their website pittcityfootballclub.com.
The Pitt City Elite originally started in 2011 and are back after taking a few years off. Some former players that worked out in this program include former Syracuse quarterback Ace Long (Bethlehem, PA), current Buffalo defensive back Boise Ross, former Perry and current Coastal Carolina defensive back Mallory Claybourne and former Sto-Rox and current IUP quarterback Lenny Williams. Other players that Kirby has helped train are former Toledo and current Minnesota Vikings cornerback Treyvon Mathis, former Alabama and current Miami Dolphins defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and former Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush.
As Pitt City Elite 7v7 prepares to relaunch and for their big tryout next week, we caught up with Kirby to find out more about his goals for the club — and it was very apparent that he can’t wait to get started.
“The 7-on-7 platform is a way for these kids to perform in front of college coaches,” said Kirby. “It also changes the way these kids are being recruited. Now it’s no longer about how fast you are and how high you jump, coaches are able to scout and watch these kids in game like situations. That’s what 7-on-7 brings, it brings a Friday night atmosphere, a Friday night feel.”
“My goal with this has always been, I’ve never really worried about the kids with all the offers. I’ve always felt that a kid with 10+ offers doesn’t need my help. I created this program with the premise of trying to help the kids who lacked exposure, the resources and the stage to maximize their potential in order to get some exposure. Kids from the City League and smaller neighborhoods, realistically don’t get the same look and opportunity that kids from Penn Hills, Pine-Richland, North Hills, North Allegheny get. I’d like to think that this 7-on-7 gives these kids the chance to create their own platform and to create their own destiny.”
As mentioned earlier, Pitt City Elite 7v7 isn’t the only place that kids can workout in the off-season but Kirby isn’t concerned with that and the perceived competition. In the end, he views his new program as another outlet to help the kids which is what he’s in this for.
“Right now, their are two other local programs, one being 412 Elite and also Evolve 2/10’s. As I mentioned, for me it’s never been about working with the superstar athlete. It’s not about the superstar, it’s about the opportunity,” said Kirby.
When it comes to the tryouts on January 20, Kirby and his staff are looking for any player that’s willing to be coached and willing to work and compete. As far as where he’s looking for players from, it doesn’t matter if they’re from Western Pennsylvania, Central Pennsylvania, Ohio or West Virginia.
In fact, Kirby tells me that he’s already has a very talented quarterback Ian Haynes from Franklin, Pennsylvania that’s signed up. Haynes has already been invited to participate in the national Elite 11 competition. He’s also received a commitment from another talented player, Ben Howe-Jones, a cornerback/running back from General McLane High School in Edinboro, Pennsylvania.
Kirby is hoping for a big turnout for their tryouts and regardless of the number and caliber of player, he and his staff are excited to get to work and to develop Pitt City Elite 7v7 into one of the premier programs in Pennsylvania.
“It’s been a few years,” said Kirby. “I took a few years off mainly because I feel I was spreading myself thin. Over the years, I was coach, the organizer and the driver, etc. The Achilles heel of the past has always been support. Fortunately, this year I devoted a lot of time to build the right foundation around me so that I get help and can utilize my abilities for various other coaching aspects of the program. I’m really excited for this and to help the kids because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”