Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Panthers Gearing Up for a Run at the Title despite Preseason Adversity, Upper St. Clair Looking Strong

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Panthers Gearing Up for a Run at the Title despite Preseason Adversity, Upper St. Clair Looking Strong

Article excerpt

Maybe Upper St. Clair should consider changing its nickname from Panthers to Tigers.

"Tiger" is synonymous with long-time success in the golf world and, to a degree, provides a parallel in terms of the great expectations the Panthers have each year in football.

Tiger Woods recently finished off a season in which he did not win a major championship, leading to speculation that he is in a slump -- that despite the fact that he has won four tournaments this year and is still in the running for the PGA's Golfer of the Year award.

Similar expectations have created similar questions with the Upper St. Clair football program. It was routine for Panthers' fans for many years to mark their calendars for late November and a date in the WPIAL championship game. But after a few seasons out of the title contest, questions have arisen about a slump -- despite a run of playoff appearances and last season's 8-2 overall record and tie for the Quad West Conference championship.

The Panthers lost to Franklin Regional in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs, an upset that curdled an otherwise fine season, considering the team had only nine seniors on its roster.

This season, with 26 seniors on the team, many who gained valuable experience last season, USC Coach Jim Render believes he has a group ready to make another run at a WPIAL title.

"We like to think our kids know how to win," Render said. "We're confident we'll have something to say about the WPIAL championship."

The Panthers already have had to face their share of hurdles, and the regular season does not get under way until Aug. 29.

First, Edmund Nelson, the team's leading rusher last season, left the school district to finish his high school career in Florida after he complained he wasn't used properly last year.

Then, a week before training camp opened, Shawn Morton, a former Bethel Park and University of Cincinnati quarterback who was Upper St. Clair's offensive backfield coach, was arrested in connection with a drug possession charge. Morton's status with the team remains unclear pending the resolution of legal issues. He is not with the team at present.

Render said the team has taken those problems in stride and been able to focus on getting ready for what many believe can be a strong season.

"We've had some things that have been difficult to deal with," Render said. "You can't just put them aside. But we had a good [first] week of practice in spite of the problems."

Render could not comment further on the legal issues surrounding Morton, but said his coaching duties were given to a junior high coach who was moved up to the varsity.

"We've had to make some adjustments [given the departures of Morton and Nelson], but I think we will be OK," he said. "We've got another coach handling Shawn's duties and we will go from there. …

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