By Chris Dugan
CANONSBURG – The Canon-McMillan High School football program can be compared to a guy who tries to cross a river on a raft and stops at a tiny island in the middle of the water. He’s happy to be where he’s at, and proud of how much he’s accomplished, but there’s still plenty of distance left to cover before reaching the ultimate goal.
Canon-McMillan knows where it wants to go – to the top of the Class 6A Quad County Conference – but getting there has been difficult. The Big Macs went 3-3 in the shortened 2020 season and missed qualifying for the postseason by one win.
“We go 3-3 and two of the losses were to North Allegheny and Central Catholic, two traditional powers,” head coach Mike Evans is quick to point out. “If we could have played a 10-game schedule, I think we would have proven to be one of the best teams we’ve had in the recent years. There were times when we were able to hang with those teams but because of depth haven’t been able to play four quarters.
“We were a good football team last year. We were solid. We lost some guys who were very good football players but these guys saw that they can compete. They want to win football games. They want to go to the playoffs. The standard has started to be raised.”
Canon-McMillan was the middle of the Class 6A river. In the Big Macs’ three wins, they outscored their opponents 104-38. In the three losses, they were outscored 111-34.
To get to the postseason, C-M will need another big season from running back Ryan Angott and production from an improved group of wide receivers.
Angott rushed for 896 yards as a sophomore, then had another big season as a junior, rushing for 672 yards (7.2 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns in five games. Angott’s best performance was when he ran for 262 yards and scored five touchdowns in a little more than two quarters against Hempfield.
Evans likes his receivers, led by seniors Chris Davis, a 4.5 speedster, and Deuce Lyons, a converted quarterback.
Junior Anthony Finney also figures to be a player the Big Macs will utilize at receiver or running back.
“He’s a guy we should have gotten the ball to more last year,” Evans admits.
The Big Macs return three starters on the offensive line, seniors Sean Lesnock (6-1, 270) and Julius Pruss (5-11, 235) and sophomore Nick Casella (6-1, 255).
The quarterback will be either junior Ben Urso or sophomore Mike Evans, the coach’s son.
“Skill-wise, we could be there,” Coach Evans said. “Our biggest concern is the defensive front. We lost four starters there. We’ll be OK on the offensive front. We have some experience and size there, but playing defensive line takes a different skillset. There are not a lot of natural defensive linemen.”
Kent McMahon, however, is a natural linebacker. The junior has been a starter since his freshman year. Angott also will play linebacker and Evans likes the potential of senior Brayden Underwood and sophomore Geno Calgero.
The secondary is loaded with Davis and Lyons at the corners, Finney at safety or corner and senior Braden Africa, a three-year starter at safety.
“This is the best receiving and defensive back corps we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Evans said. “They are fast, they’ve been in the weight room, they’ve worked hard and they’re experienced.
“Two years ago, we played a lot of sophomores and we knew it would be rough, but we also anticipated there would be a payoff down the road. A lot of these kids have been playing for three years. That has to be an advantage.
“I really like this team,” he continued. “They’re a bunch of good kids. There are no problem kids. We have good chemistry. There’s not one kid with an attitude problem. They’re a bunch of kids who are passionate about football, and I think we’re going to be a good football team.”