Vacation post - 08-14-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

-Happy 34th birthday to former Penguins forward Adam Hall (above). A free agent signing prior to the 2007-08 season, Hall's Penguins career amounted to 46 games and six points that campaign. In the postseason, he saw action in 17 games and scored four points as the team advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. In the Final against Detroit, he scored two goals in two separate games, both wins for the Penguins. He spent last season with the Flyers.

(Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Talkin' Bout Practice: August 13

Written by Sam Werner on .

Pitt was once again indoors for today's practice session, which marked, essentially, the halfway point of training camp. They'll finish up this week and next week, then it's a game week as the Panthers prepare for Delaware. In case you missed it in today's PG, here's my story on freshman cornerback Avonte Maddox, who has been one of the pleasant surprises for Pitt so far in training camp.

Now, on to some quick practice notes...

- The biggest observation today was that the coaches fooled around a bit with the offensive line configurations. Specifically, starting left tackle Adam Bisnowaty got some work at left guard with the second team, while Jaryd Jones-Smith moved up to play first-team left tackle. This change was really only just for a few snaps, but caused some raised heads nonetheless.
Offensive line coach Jim Hueber explained afterwards that the motive behind the shift was that he felt Bisnowaty was a guy who could move inside in an emergency scenario in the case of an injury to a starter. Basically, I think the staff probably feels that Jones-Smith is their sixth-best offensive lineman right now, so if Dorian Johnson suffered an injury, they could shift Bisnowaty inside and bump Jones-Smith up to the first team at left tackle (Jones-Smith really can't play inside because of his length). Hueber went on to praise the work Johnson had done thus far in camp, leading me to believe that the starting five along the offensive line are the same as they've always been (Bisnowaty-Johnson-Rowell-Rotheram-Clemmings), but the coaches are just trying to sort out their depth options at this point.
"I think [Bisnowaty] is comfortable out there," Hueber said. "I know we have spent a lot of time with Jaryd, but I hate to take anything away from a guy who truly got injured playing for us and just take it away. The days of Wally Pipp are over.
"I did move Jaryd around a little bit. I think Paul [Chryst] said last night or this morning that this is halfway for us in terms of preparation for the games. So I have to have an eye on what we are going to do when we start putting a team together and what we have to do if something would go wrong rather than just say 'Hey, we have some guys.' I'm not sure some of our redshirt freshmen are ready just yet."

- Everyone who missed time due to injury earlier this week, including linebacker Todd Thomas, was back on the field today, with the exception of linebacker Zach Poker, who continues to sit out with what appears to be a left shoulder injury.

- James Conner had a nice play on the defensive side of the ball today. He rushed the quarterback from his defensive end spot and got some good air to bat down a Trey Anderson pass just as it left his hand. Chryst said that nothing Conner has shown them in training camp has altered their original plan of how much to use him on defense this season.
"Our thought all along hasn't changed from what we wanted to do going in," Chryst said. "We're doing it with him because we believe he can help us. Just like in the running game, or the running back position, he has stuff still to work on. Same thing with defense, but I think he is taking advantage of the time he is getting to work both sides during individual periods. He's young at (defensive end) and he needs to keep growing at it. Nothing to this point has changed."

- The freshmen running backs — Chris James, Qadree Ollison and Dennis Briggs — have gotten more reps in team drills over the past few days. While I still think James is probably the only one of those three that will play this year, Ollison, in particular has shown some flashes of potential as a bigger back.
"Well, up until this week, [the learning process] was a little slow, to be honest with you," running backs coach John Settle said. "The last couple of days, it seems like something has hit. A spark has happened. The last couple days we've been as good as I've seen."

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Goin' Campin': Even 88-year-old mother of coach helps at West Allegheny preseason camp

Written by Mike White on .

Goin' Campin' is Varsity Blog's series that hits the road to give you notes, quotes, anecdotes and everything else from district football preseason camps.

I won't profess to know how every WPIAL team operates its preseason training camp. But over the decades, I've seen a lot of training camps - and must say West Allegheny's is one of a kind.

The camp is so well managed and organized. That's impressive. But that's not what makes this camp different. How how many teams have boosters cook lunch with homemade food every day for the players and staff? Good food, too. And how many teams have an 88-year-old mother Croutonsof the head coach helping to cook lunch? Laverne Palko, mother of head coach Bob Palko, has been helping with training camp lunches for a few years, and there she was today, in the kitchen of the cafeteria, slicing Italian bread and making her famous homemade croutons (pictured).

"People eat them like potato chips," said Bob Palko. 

Laverne and Bob Palko are pictured below.

Laverne Palko

And how many teams have people who have no affiliation with the team drive from the other side of the state every year and spend two weeks helping with lunch and whatever else at camp?

But that's what you have at West Allegheny. Coach Bob Palko creates an atmosphere that isn't found at many places. Booster club members cook lunch every day in the school cafeteria. And this isn't bad cafeteria food. It's as good as a restaurant. You might have anything from ham and scalloped potatoes, to today's meatball sandwich and potato soup (few sports writers turn down free food). And don't forget those Mama Palko croutons for the salad.

Also at the camp, high school girl students are managers and help with trainers at camp. Pre-teenage sons of assistant coaches sometimes spend two weeks at West Allegheny, acting as managers or just wanting to be around Dad and the team. Heck, Tyler and Luke Palko (Bob's sons) were fixtures at the camp as tykes before they played at West Allegheny.

"Dad what's a jagoff," said the young son of offensive coordinator Dan Marshall as they left the cafeteria today.

Too funny. I couldn't hear Marshall's answer.

"It really is like a family here," said defensive coordinator Bryan Cornell, an assistant for 17 years. "I'm not just saying that. It's true. It's really all because of Bob."

Cornell's young son was on the sideline during morning practice and ate lunch next to his Dad.

Palko has been doing camp this way for years and it must work, right? Is he at legendary status yet? The guy has won seven WPIAL titles in 19 years as coach. No other WPIAL coach has won seven outright.

And check this out: Palko and his program are so highly thought of by 65-year-old Bill Hanczar and his wife, Deb, that they drive from Williamsport every year at this time, stay with family in the West Allegheny district, and help cook food and serve lunch to the team.

Crazy? Well Bill Hanczar is a 1967 West Allegheny graduate who comes to some games every year. But he has no child or relative on the team.

"Coach Palko knew that I was coming to games, so he invited me to get closer to things if I wanted," said Bill Hanczar. "I've been coming and helping at lunches and hanging out at camp for 10 years now."Bill from West Allegheny

But his wife didn't go to West Allegheny and she also helps out. (Bill is pictured taking lunch trays from players today).

"We just love it," said Bill Hanczar. "I pretty much stay on the cleanup side and she stays on the kitchen side. It really is just a family here."

Then there is Laverne Palko, smiling while she slices the bread for those croutons. So what makes an 88-year-old spend August afternoons for two weeks, working in a cafeteria for high school football players? Shouldn't she be playing bridge or watching game shows?

"My husband has been gone for nine years," said Laverne Palko. "He used to come to all the practices. It's for the kids and I want to support my son. He's all about the kids, and that means so am I."

The blonde boys

There are a lot of white heads at West Allegheny.

Per tradition, many of the players dyed their hair blonde before the start of preseason camp. Coach Palko is pictured below addressing the blonde bombers

Golden heads at West A

Championship caliber - again

West Allegheny has won two consecutive WPIAL titles and has to be considered a favorite for a third. A number of key players return. Running back-defensive back Chayse Dillon is one of the best players in Class AAA. Quarterback Andrew Koester already has committed to St. Francis, Pa. Tight end-linebacker Sean Orsini is a force and Armand Dellovade returns at linebacker and running back.

Plus, there are some other good-looking athletes and linemen who might not have seen loads of varsity time in the past. It should be just another in a long line of top teams at West Allegheny.

"I think we've all improved as a team," Koester said. "Our goals are the same, but we're thinking a little bigger this year. Obviously, Erie Prep has beaten us the last two years [in the state playoffs]. We'd like to go far enough to get another chance at them."

Here is one guy's Class AAA preseason rankings.

1. West Allegheny

2. Thomas Jefferson

3. Mars

4. Central Valley

5. Gateway

More West Allegheny

**** Watch 6-4, 270-pound lineman Derek Klontz. Only a junior with a lot of potential.

**** West Allegheny ran out of the wildcat formation with great success the past few years. You wonder if we will see it as much this year because of Koester, who is more of a dropback QB.

Highpod**** Many high school teams now film their practices, especially in the preseason. West Allegheny also films all of its practices - from two angles. From the side and the end zone. Palko always seems to be up on technology and has new "toys." The film from the end zone is taken from a "HI-POD." It is a camera on a long pole (pictured to the left).

Actually, Palko said his team has used the "HI-POD" for three seasons. I'm sure some other WPIAL teams have it, but I just don't remember seeing it a lot.

**** Koester (6-4, 190) has committed to St. Francis. He also is a talented basketball player and he said he could possibly have a Andrew Koesterchance to join St. Francis' basketball team at some point. But as Koester said, "It definitely would be difficult with the time commitment to do both. Football is my priority. But if it's possible, it would be fun to try."

**** So far this week, it has been unusually cool for preseason football practice. But the West Allegheny "blonde bombers" cool off in ice tubs after practice. (picture below). Actually, it's just to ice down sore muscles.

West A bath

And finally ... 

Transfer news

Shawndale Jones, a basketball guard who averaged 18 points a game last season as a sophomore at North Hills, has left the school and enrolled at Kiski School, a prep school in Saltsburg. Jones "reclassified" and is a sophomore again at Kiski. He also will play football at Kiski School.

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Tim Lawrence promoted to assistant coach

Written by Craig Meyer on .

Robert Morris has promoted director of basketball operations Tim Lawrence to assistant coach, the school announced Wednesday. Lawrence, who joined the Colonials' staff last season, replaces Michael Byrnes, who was named the head coach at Rhode Island College in June.

"Tim had a terrific impact on our program in his previous role as director of basketball operations, and we believe he can have an even more positive impact with his additional responsibilities as assistant coach," head coach Andy Toole said in a statement. "His knowledge of the game and relationship with our players, plus his dedication to our program, made the decision to promote him an easy one."

Lawrence's vacant role will be filled by David Richards, who spent four seasons on the Colonials staff as a video coordinator (2009-11) and director of basketball operations (2011-13). Last season, Richards was as an assistant coach at West Virginia Wesleyan.

About a month ago, I'd heard from a source that this move was effectively a done deal, but when I asked people around the program about it, they said it was a move still being processed by the school's HR department. When red tape's involved, nothing is ever entirely official.

At this fairly late juncture in the college basketball calendar, promoting from within makes sense, especially for a smaller program like Robert Morris. Plus, Lawrence is someone people with the Colonials think highly of. That never hurts.

Along with those staff appointments, Toole announced that Robert Morris will host Mansfield in an exhibition game on Nov. 4 at the Charles Sewall Center.


Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Vacation post - 08-13-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

-Happy 64th birthday to former Penguins forward Steve Cardwell. A fifth-round pick in 1970, Cardwell spent parts of three seasons with the Penguins. As a rookie in 1970-71, Cardwell saw action in five games and recorded on assist. He saw action in 28 games during 1971-72 and scored 15 points. In 20 games in 1971-72, Cardwell recorded four points. Following that season, he joined the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the WHA as a free agent. In 53 games with the Penguins, he recorded 20 points.

-Obligatory Video of the Day: A commercial for the Penguins' ill-fated Penvision pay-per-view package:

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.