Imani Christian ready to perform encore after WPIAL runner-up season
Imani Christian’s football program burst onto the scene last year, toppling some heavyweights en route to its first WPIAL Class A championship game.
Performing an encore will require a similar work ethic, plus a tougher mental focus in key spots.
“We’re trying to make sure we get 100 percent effort in everything,” Saints coach Ronnell Heard said. “There were moments we were lackadaisical in certain situations and had lapses. We’re trying to make sure we focus and eliminate those moments.”
The Saints set a program record with 11 wins and tied for the Eastern Conference championship with Jeannette and Clairton. Everything came to a sudden halt when the Jayhawks outlasted Imani Christian, 35-34, in the championship game.
The Saints -- who toppled Clairton during the regular season and ruined California’s perfect season in the WPIAL semifinals -- want to use a balanced effort to navigate another tough slate of games.
“We love competing against the best competition in the state, and they happen to be in our conference,” Heard said. “We want to play the best.”
Imani Christian returns several players with experience to an explosive offense. Quarterback Israel Reed wasn’t the starter last season, but got a lot of work off the bench, passing for 836 yards and 10 touchdowns on 89 attempts.
Ramon Hart Jr., a Ball State recruit who caught 63 passes for 978 yards and 11 touchdowns, will be Reed’s top returning target. Imani Christian was an all-around juggernaut offensively last season, passing for 3,467 yards and rushing for 1,941 more.
Heard believes this team will be well-balanced. Dashawn Wright will be counted on to lock things down in the secondary.
“We are pretty balanced,” Heard said. “Our offensive numbers jump off the page and overshadow our defense.”
Should everything come together again, Imani Christian will be able to push its tradition-laden brethren again for an Eastern Conference title.
The Saints want to show they are here to stay.
“They know success helps the kids,” Heard said. “They come together, and they see as a team they have the ability to accomplish things people didn’t think they were able to do. It gives our kids the confidence to come out and work.”
Coach: Ronnell Heard
2017 record: 11-3, 6-1
All-time record: 22-21-0
Date, Opponent, Time
8.25, Richard Wright Charter, Washington, D.C.+, 11 a.m.
9.1, Springdale*, 1:30 p.m.
9.7, at Jeannette*, 7 p.m.
9.15, Valley, 1:30 p.m.
9.21, at Greensburg C.C.*, 7 p.m.
9.29, Riverview*, 1;30 p.m.
10.5, at Clairton*, 7 p.m.
10.12, at Leechburg*, 7 p.m.
10.20, Beth-Center, 1:30 p.m.
10.27, Chartiers-Houston, 1:30 p.m.
*Class A Eastern Conference game
+Western Pa. vs. Everyone Showcase at Wolvarena
Passing: Tawan Wesley*
170-280, 2,628 yards, 33 TDs
Rushing: Asante Watkins*
153-1,180 yards, 23 TDs
Receiving: Sam Fairley*
70-1,288 yards, 23 TDs