You can’t help but feel the buzz around the Mt. Lebanon High School football program. A newfound excitement is here in the form of Bob Palko. His credentials speak for themselves: Eight WPIAL Championships and one state title while at West Allegheny.
Next, Palko attempts to take a reputable Mt. Lebanon program to the next level. “Obviously, it’s a new atmosphere and new scenery,” says Palko. “For me it’s something special, as a little kid growing up, going to visit my grandmother here. I’m very proud to represent Mt. Lebanon and this community. It’s been pedal to the metal since February when I got here.”
The Blue Devils were a playoff team in 2018. They defeated Canon-McMillan in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs, but fell to the hands of Pine Richland in the next round, the eventual state runner-up in 6A. “My expectation levels are high, I don’t mean that in an arrogant way or cocky way,” says Palko. “We have high expectations and that’s to win a championship. I don’t know how to do it any other way. That’s the DNA here.”
Palko’s predecessor, Mike Melnyk, led the Blue Devils fairly regularly to the playoffs, but the program demanded more than just a win here or a one-and-done appearance there. When it was announced that Melnyk and the school district would part ways, there was some uncertainty as to who be looked upon to take over the position. When Palko came out of a three-month retirement and officially got the nod, the players felt some serious excitement.
“Hell yeah, there was,” says Mason Ventrone, Senior RB/WR/LB. “My friends and I were sitting in my house and we saw on Twitter, New Mt. Lebanon head coach Bob Palko. He brought in a great staff. They know about every position. And they have put in a lot of time with us. A lot of time.”
“It was really exciting for all of us,” says Sam Rolfsen, Senior FB/RB/LB. “We saw the success he had at West Allegheny with the eight WPIAL Championships. We know we had someone with experience and could win at a high level. We couldn’t wait for him to come in and get rolling.”
For Palko, he had to quickly learn his team and personalities. However, one thing he didn’t have to learn is the ongoing rivalry with neighbor Upper St. Clair, a non-conference game set for October 4 on the Panthers’ home field via a short ride south on Washington Road.
“I do know the rivalry,” says Palko. “I think it is a unique one and a healthy one. I just hope that we can move that to the season opener on a regular basis. You know, kind of like a Backyard Brawl or a Michigan-Ohio State type thing. We would welcome that and I think that would be great for both communities.”
“Even as a young kid, in little league football USC was our biggest rivalry,” says Rolfsen. “Unfortunately, last year’s loss (28-7) kind of left a sour taste in our mouth. So, this year we are excited to prove that we have a better team and that we’re ready to play.”
Palko and his staff bring a different coaching style. The way that they challenge this year’s group of Blue Devils appears to be different and it’s catching on in a positive wave with the players.
“These coaches will get in your face,” says Ventrone. “Then two minutes later, you do something right and they are giving you a hug. There’s that and plus, everything is more organized for sure.”
“We coach them hard during the week. I mean hard,” says Palko. “On game days though, I tell them to go out and have fun. The kids have been awesome. It’s time to go see what we have. We will make adjustments and we just need to keep getting better and better and better.”
The answers to many questions will be unveiled this Friday night as the Blue Devils travel to Gateway to kick off the regular season. Mt. Lebanon fans will like the new look of Palko donning their cherished blue and gold.
2019 Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils Football Schedule
August 23 – at Gateway 7 P.M.
August 30 – at Canon-McMillan* 7 P.M.
September 6 – BUTLER* 7:30 P.M.
September 13 – SENECA VALLEY* 7:30 P.M.
September 20 – at North Allegheny* 7:30 P.M.
September 27 – HEMPFIELD* 7:30 P.M.
October 4 – at Upper St. Clair 7:30 P.M.
October 11 – PINE RICHLAND* 7:30 P.M.
October 18 – at Norwin* 7 P.M.
October 25 – CENTRAL CATHOLIC* 7:30 P.M.
HOME GAMES LISTED IN BOLD
*Denotes WPIAL 6A Quad County Conference Game