MONROEVILLE, Pa. — Change is tough, no matter who, what, where, when, why, or how it comes. Everyone struggles with it, but over time, everyone gets used to changes and we push on. This can be applied to any facet of life, so of course, it will also come on the football field.
I do not need to clue anyone from Western Pennsylvania into the changes that have occurred with the Pine-Richland football team. A change at head coach that was not met with enthusiasm when it happened only saw gas poured all over the place when the Rams went from a state championship to an 0-3 start to their 2021 season.
However, time heals all wounds, and as time goes on, the Rams started to get back to their ways. The team blew out Upper St. Clair, and followed that up with a start to finish domination of Gateway, pushing their record to 2-3.
“We knew It was going to come,” said head coach Steve Campos of the two-game winning streak. “I always told the players, it’s not how you start it is how you finish. I said that even when we were 0-3 that we would be as good we want to be.”
Pine-Richland is starting to play a brand of football that could compete with anyone. They are sound up front, they take care of the football, they take the ball away, and they take advantage of other teams’ mistakes. Still, Campos does admit that it took some growing pains, and some feeling out for things to start to click together.
“It took some adjustments,” admitted Campos of the slow start at his new job. “Them getting used to me, me getting used to them, maybe the community quieting down a bit after that first win, and now we are ready to roll.”
Roll they are, and with two impressive wins, the Rams feel as though they can play with anyone. If you ask them, they can.
“Those first three were close games,” added senior linebacker Jeremiah Hasley of the slow start. “We realized we just have to push, and we just have to finish and get through all four quarters. As we go forward it is going to be the same motto.”
Now that Hasley and the defense have settled into their own, they look like a dominant unit that can wreck any game. The Rams dominated Gateway in the trenches on Friday, and after giving up a touchdown on a deep pass on the second drive of the game, the Rams shut out the Gators from there. Heck, they barely let them cross midfield in the second half.
Early on it was a few timely blitzes that got home, and with a lead in the second half, the Rams pinned their ears back and harassed an offense, and quarterback that was getting hype.
“We knew they had a good quarterback, but their offensive line could not compete with our defensive line once the game started. We knew we had to get after him. Our DBs played fantastic on the back end and helped us get time to get past them,” Hasley noted of the full team effort.
The defense wound up with two interceptions and seven sacks. They also had a turnover on downs, and the special teams unit blocked a kick.
Jeremiah Hasley adjusting to the box
Beyond changes at the top of the program, one of the better defenders on the Pine-Richland defense was also getting used to a new position in 2021. Linebacker Jeremiah Hasley has typically played outside linebacker, as an edge rusher.
However, after committing Duke, Hasley moved inside as a box linebacker, where he will look to line up for the Blue Devils in 2022.
“I want to get into that box set up, how I will do in college,” Hasley noted of the change.
Hasley added that there are plenty of changes that come with moving inside as well, and while that change, combined with the coaching change took a few weeks to adjust, it all seems to be going well now.
Hasley was everywhere against Gateway, and his move inside has allowed him to move from a line of scrimmage player to a full field player.
Do not be mistaken, Hasley still wins in areas where he is most comfortable. He attacks downhills and is excellent as a blitzer. Hasley flashes and shows blitz in certain holes before stunting, or dipping behind a lineman in another hole. He created havoc on almost all blitzing chances and added a sack.
He also attacks downhill, and blows up blockers, and running backs when it comes time for the in-game Oklahoma drill.
Hasley picked a pass off, but he was floating near the line of scrimmage when it happened as well. A pass deflected in the air bounced to the linebacker who was consistently in the right place at the right time.
“Turnovers cause those sudden changes and the momentum swings are a big aspect of the game,” noted Hasley of the defense’s ability to win the turnover battle.
Still, Hasley knows improving his change of direction and adding the element of coverage is what can complete his game. Hasley showing blitz early, and backing off as a big body in the middle of the field made life difficult for Gateway quarterback Brad Birch.
“I have been working with my coaches, and all the guys and they have been helping me out,” Hasley said, acknowledging the help he had in the transition. “It has been a great system.”
Hasley has only gotten better on the inside, and as he gets quicker feet in coverage, he will only become a more well-rounded player who can compete at the Division One level.
First, he has a home game against Penn Hills with a chance to get Pine-Richland back .500.