Mike Blainefield remembers when the Monessen High School football roster was nearly double the size it is today, when fans packed Memorial Stadium and the Greyhounds competed for conference championships.
It’s part of Blainfield’s memory because he was a part of it.
The second-year coach – a 2004 Monessen graduate – was a four-year starter and two-year All-Tri-County South Conference selection for the Greyhounds. In his junior and senior seasons, Monessen went 10-1 and 7-3, respectively, qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs both years.
“I was around during the time when we had 50 kids (on the team) and were playing in front of a packed house,” Blainefield said. “I remember how glorious Friday nights used to be here.”
Blainefield is out to recapture those glory days for a program that had fallen on difficult times. Monessen snuck into the postseason last year, winning only three games and barely finishing with enough players to field a team. That ended a four-year playoff drought.
Even 2017 seems like ancient history for this young Monessen (2-0, 3-0) team. The Greyhounds upended California, the prohibitive preseason favorite in the Tri-County South, then hammered Springdale and Jefferson-Morgan to find themselves alone in second place.
“The support we’ve gotten from our community has had a significant impact,” Blainefield said. “It has made the kids want to participate and give a better effort. It’s been three things: One, getting more participation from kids in school than we had in the past. Two, getting the kids active in the offseason. And three was being able to get that community support. Once all those things come together, you start to have something.”
Now, the Greyhounds are readying for one of their most important games in several years, a first-place conference showdown at West Greene (3-0, 3-1) Friday at 7 p.m.
The game could determine a conference champion and gives the winner an inside track to the Class A playoffs, which have reduced to eight teams this season. The top two teams in each conference and two wild-card teams qualify for the postseason.
“Each week there has been a new challenge presented to us,” Blainefield said. “This week will be our biggest test. Aside from West Greene being talented, it is well coached. They are disciplined and rarely out of position.”
When Blainefield was hired to lead the program in January 2017, he said it was “fulfilling a legacy” after spending several years as an assistant under former head coaches Andy Pacak and Joe Salvino.
The Greyhounds settled on speed as a good place to start the rebuild.
“Our game is speed,” Blainefield said. “Defensively, we fly to the ball. Offensively, we just beat people with speed. (Our players) have heard about the success in the past. They’ve gotten a little taste of it at our home games. It becomes addicting.”