With a nod to the past, Levert Hughes hopes to build a bright future for the Pottstown football program.
Last Friday, the first-year head coach’s approach started paying dividends in the present.
Pottstown exhibited resilience, determination, and play-making ability in a 20-14 win over Harriton – the program’s first win in almost three years – evoking fond memories for a handful of members of the coaching staff.
When Hughes was hired in late April, his first challenge was building the right coaching staff around himself. Football experience and knowledge was important, of course, but a connection to the community was just as significant. So he drew upon his own years of familiarity with the Pottstown community to appoint four assistant coaches who had a hand in Pottstown’s most recent Pioneer Athletic Conference football championship in 2002.
Quarterbacks coach Terrence Shawell was a dual-threat quarterback in 2002, while wide receivers/defensive backs coach Justin Gibbs starred at both of the positions he now coaches. Current offensive coordinator Madison Morton and offensive/defensive line coach Todd Wallace were members of the 2002 coaching staff.
Collectively, they hope to join Hughes in restoring Pottstown football to its storied past.
Friday night the Trojans took the first, and arguably greatest step in that direction, registering their first victory since October 18, 2019. Hughes said the game served as validation for the team’s hard work but stayed true to his mantra of not overemphasizing one result – win or lose.
“Practice, we have our ebbs and flows,” he said. “Some of these kids, they haven’t experienced a win in high school. It can be easy to hang your head, get frustrated because you (haven’t won in so long).
“Now we’re not dealing with that. We got that win, now we can get them into a routine.”
Hughes and the coaching staff use that idea of routine in imparting the life lessons he feels he can teach through the game of football. “Things don’t always work out the way you want,” he said. “But if you stick to it, do things the right way – you develop discipline. That’s why the first thing I told these guys was to show that discipline off the field, in the classroom.”
But after losing nearly their entire 2020 season to the pandemic (0-4) and enduring an 0-10 finish last year, it was important for Pottstown’s players to experience some of the upside of the ebb and flow Hughes preaches. The Trojans did so in the best way possible – persevering when times got tough.
On Friday night, Rashean Bostic and Nahzier Booker – two of the veteran mainstays on the Pottstown roster these past few years – connected for an early score to put the Trojans in front, but Harriton responded with its own touchdown drive and took the lead with a pick-six midway through the third quarter.
Pottstown had a choice – hang their heads, get frustrated and fold, or fight for the victory that was a long time coming. They chose the latter.
Booker’s short touchdown run got Pottstown back to even at 14, and Joel Mundo’s 30-yard touchdown run put the Trojans back on top 20-14 with four minutes to play.
But on Harriton’s last-chance drive, cornerback Dimark Lyons was beaten for a long completion. Again, though, rather than hang his head Lyons stayed with the play, chasing down the receiver and punching the ball loose on the one-yard line. The fumble carried through the end zone for a touchback, giving Pottstown possession and the breakthrough victory.
“He got caught on the play,” Hughes said of Lyons, “but he stayed with it. I’ve been coaching Dimark in one sport or another since fifth grade. He does not get rattled. He’s the same type of player I was – same height, same position – so I can connect with him. He’s coachable, he’s composed, and he’s going to be a player.”
When asked how Pottstown can keep the good times rolling, Hughes didn’t mince words.
“By staying eligible,” he said. “We can’t build if we don’t have you on the field with us.”
To that end, Hughes leans heavily on his staff of assistants. Justin Gibbs, who coaches Lyons and the other defensive backs, preaches the importance of being a mentor on and off the field.
“If a player comes to me, the biggest thing I want them to know is that I understand,” said Gibbs. “There are challenges everywhere – academics, athletics, family.
“But it’s a part of life. High school kids go through these things, and you can’t let it take away from your goals, your responsibilities.”
Gibbs works part-time in the school district off the football field and has two young kids involved in the Pottsgrove Future Falcons youth program, where he volunteers his time. “It’s about giving back to a community,” he said, “and the hope that the next generation will do the same thing.”
On the field, Gibbs pointed out similarities between his own 2002 PAC championship team and this year’s Trojans. “When we started out – I mean, we all played as freshmen,” he said. “So by the time we reached our junior, senior years, we were prepared.”
“[The coaches] have talked about that too,” said Hughes. “Their first couple years, they were at the bottom of the standings. But they stuck with it, stayed around to create that turnaround.”
“The things those kids had were talent, and a desire to get better,” said Madison Morton, Gibbs’ position coach in 2002 and currently Pottstown’s offensive coordinator. “They had the desire, so they did what they needed to – hit the weight room, get bigger, stronger, and faster.”
Morton, who’s been involved in coaching football since 1996, took a hiatus to enjoy his own son’s playing career – Owen Morton currently is a senior tight end at Alvernia – and returned to coaching in 2019 under Jeff Delaney. He sees some of the same similarities as Gibbs.
“Young kids, playing varsity early based on need and ability,” he said. “Can they continue on that same path? That’s up to them.”
Just as Hughes has coached Lyons, Friday’s night’s hero, since fifth grade – that’s the same year in his own upbringing that Justin Gibbs, then a water boy for the Trojans’ high school program, met Madison Morton, his eventual position coach.
Now they’re coaching together at the school.
“Kids today are so similar, yet so different from my era,” said Morton. “I know that makes me sound old, but I choose to focus on the similarities… and that’s a commitment to the community.
“I take tremendous pride when I run into players from 10, 15, 20 years ago… they still call me Coach. There are kids on this year’s team, I see their fathers in the stands – I coached their fathers. That’s good because I’m familiar with these men. I know the messages the kids are getting at home reinforce the messages we are giving them on the field.
“There’s history there. It’s family. It means a little more because I know the work I’ve put in, as well as the coaches before me and who’ve worked alongside me.”
Going through the hard times – the ebbs and the flows – this year will serve the underclassmen well when the senior class featuring Bostic and Mundo move on in 2023.
“We build brick by brick,” said Hughes. “We’re not going to get every signature win. But if we get enough wins, and we get more experience through JV games and on Friday nights, we will build confidence.”
Hughes couldn’t help but notice his first year at the helm coincides with the 20-year anniversary of the last championship team that featured several of his assistants. Any plans for a reunion or celebration?
“We’re trying,” he said. “They need to be recognized for what they accomplished as well as the things they’re continuing to do for the team and the community.”
Around the Area
Aside from Pottstown, three other local programs notched their first wins of 2022 on Friday night.
Norristown captured a much-needed 20-13 win over previously unbeaten Pottsgrove. The combination of running back Jamal Griffin (118 yards, two TDs) and a late goal-line stand provided the difference. The Eagles collide with Pottstown this week as one team gets a chance to build a winning streak.
Tyler Weil-Kaspar’s breakout game (127 yards, two TDs) gave Methacton a hard-fought 18-8 win over Wissahickon to move the Warriors into the win column. The hard-charging running game brought the Warriors back from an early deficit while a stingy defense held Wissahickon scoreless in the second half.
Ethan Kryman had the area’s top rushing performance, breaking through for 171 yards and a trio of touchdowns as Daniel Boone got their first win, 39-15 over Muhlenberg. The Blazers reached 266 yards rushing on the evening.
Elsewhere, Perkiomen Valley and Pope John Paul II took similar paths to maintaining their undefeated starts. The Vikings turned to sophomore quarterback Patrick MacDonald in the absence of Danny Koehler, and MacDonald led the Vikings to a 35-25 win over Cheltenham, going 8-for-10 for 220 yards and three scores through the air.
PJP’s Luke Terlesky lit it up through the air as well with 294 yards passing and three scoring strikes in a 48-28 win over Berks Catholic. Boyd Skarbek did it all with 183 total yards (93 rushing, 90 receiving) and three touchdowns as the Golden Panthers improved to 3-0.
Owen J. Roberts’ defense might have turned in the most impressive statistical performance of the weekend. The ‘Cats held Avon Grove to 21 yards of offense, recording five sacks and three turnovers in a 21-0 victory. Hunter Rhoads eclipsed 100 yards (135) rushing for the second consecutive week.
Cole Yesavage expanded his hold on the area’s rushing lead with 141 yards and two scores, but Boyertown fell to Governor Mifflin 17-14 on a late field goal. Spring-Ford hung tough against District 3’s Cumberland Valley – now ranked No. 4 in Pennsylvania 6A football by MaxPreps – before falling 28-16.
Chester broke a tight game open after halftime, cruising past Phoenixville 47-10, while Upper Perkiomen had few answers for Fleetwood in a 35-3 loss.
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