PITTSBURGH – Almost four years ago, in the winter of 2018, the Aliquippa School Board shocked high school football fans across the state by voting to remove the legendary Mike Zmijanac from the head coach of the Quips football program.
In 21 seasons, the Beaver County Hall of Fame coached their team to a 237-36 record, winning 6 WPIAL titles and one state championship in 2003. The question soon became, who in the world could do. a better job than that?
The answer: Mike Warfield.
Four seasons have passed since the Aliquippa native had the chance to replace a legend. In his first year on the job, he led the Quips to a state championship. The next two years, his team achieved the WPIAL title.
All doubts as to whether Warfield could fit the great shoes of its predecessor have been all but eliminated. Aliquippa has her boyfriend. And this fall was the icing on the cake.
It would be hard to find a head coach who has inherited more challenges than Warfield in the past six months. In May, one of his best players – Antonyo “Sunny” Anderson – was tragically shot and suffered serious injuries from which he continues to recover.
It was also around this time that the Quips planned for the starting quarterback to move to Georgia, putting a sophomore with no college experience online to take over.
Just days before the season, Aliquippa received another heavy blow, losing star linebacker Isaiah Gilbert for the season to a knee injury. Another key player, Nate Lindsey, then went down in the playoffs with a broken collarbone.
Oh yeah, and did I mention that the Quips went through all of this and more playing in Class 4A, despite being a school that only graduated 39 kids last year?
It seems impossible for a group to overcome these obstacles. Warfield proved otherwise, leading the Quips to the 18th WPIAL Championship on Saturday afternoon in a 28-13 victory over Belle Vernon at Heinz Field.
How the hell did the Quips do this? How did Warfield and his team from one of WPIAL’s smaller districts pull off the unlikely?
Of course, the roster has talent, but so do their opponents. Aliquippa has always been known to have stars on the grill. The difference with Warfield, people say, is the collective membership throughout the locker room.
“Mike Warfield brought Aliquippa to where it should be,” Mayor Dwan Walker told The Times on Saturday night. “He knows that the children need the village and that the village needs the children. He has opened its doors to the community. When you do that, it’s a beautiful thing. They are all in it. We are all in it. “
Knowing that the man in charge understands your personal struggles can go a long way. From four-year-old rookies to sub-classes at the end of the bench, members of the Quips program say the head coach goes out of his way to let his players know they are loved and that they matter.
“He’s a bit like us,” said senior captain Cyair Clark. “We know, it doesn’t matter whether football or not football, he will always be there for us.”
According to some, the will listed above lasted for years before Warfield was the lead man.
“My freshman through junior year, he was the quarterback coach,” said former Aliquippa star Darrien Fields, who is now an assistant coach at Marietta College. “I can’t tell you how many times he took me to his house. I ate dishes his wife cooked, and it was amazing.
“The only thing he does best is relate to these players. He’s already done that. He’s been in our shoes and he knows how to reach them. He knew how to reach me, and he does. did well before me. was the starting quarterback. ”
Fields’ younger brother Quentin Goode is the second-year quarterback who has been forced to step up this season following the departure of the original starter. Fields says he knew that with Warfield’s guidance his little brother would be fine.
Today, Warfield’s approach is taken up by all Quips staff. He went through a program where winning was the main focus and brought real life to the equation. It is not because he knows that it will lead to more success on the pitch, but rather victories in life for the young people for whom he is responsible.
“We have challenges where a lot of days is more than X’s and O’s,” said offensive coordinator Shelton Colbert, Warfield’s right-hand man. “Mike and our staff really care about these young men. They know they can pick up the phone and call us anytime. Whatever their needs, whatever their activities, we’ll help them solve the problem. And it starts with him. It’s just who Mike is. ”
After the Quips’ big win on Saturday night, Warfield spoke to his team with a mixture of pride and emotion. He let them know he was proud. He also reminded them that the job is not done, as a clash against District 4 champion Jersey Shore in the PIAA semi-finals awaits them next weekend.
After the team prayer was over and everyone was ready to begin the celebration, Warfield paused everything to issue a quick reminder:
“Remember, everything you say and do comes back to us. It comes down to this program. You represent Aliquippa’s football. You represent the Aliquippa community. Represent it well.”
All his players have to do is follow the lead of the man in charge. Five years ago, the Quips were led by a member of the Beaver County Hall of Fame. Four years ago, the Aliquippa High School football team found the perfect man for the job.