Tucked away behind Westinghouse High School in Homewood, surrounded by a sea of forestry and hidden from the public eye, lies a field known affectionately as “The Graveyard” to those who call it home.
Don’t let the intimidating name scare you away, though. In early August, this all-natural field with the tranquil backdrop serves as one of the most picturesque landscapes you’ll find for any preseason practice in all of Western Pennsylvania — a bona fide football sanctuary. But come November, when the temperature drops fast and the sun goes down early while the practices run late, this is where the “Midnight Dawgs” of Westinghouse are forged — and this year’s Bulldogs appear hungrier than ever.
With 2022 PUP high school football Coach of the Year Donta Green entering his fifth season at the helm of his alma mater, the bar is set higher than ever before for the city’s most prestigious program. Not only did Westinghouse capture its third City League crown in four years and 38th overall, the Bulldogs finished 14-1 overall while reaching the state championship game for the first time in school history. Westinghouse dominated every foe it faced en route to the PIAA Class 2A final before losing a memorable 37-22 slugfest against six-time defending state champion Southern Columbia.
Although many of the big names from last year are gone, Green said most of the tone-setters and those responsible for the team’s “violent” style of play are back in the fold this fall. And with a brand-new, state-of-the-art weight room facility located at the school, complete with a fueling and recovery station, these Bulldogs should have no problem building enough strength and endurance to continue playing their ultra-physical brand of football in 2023 and beyond.
Green said the team’s own fundraising efforts covered the costs for the new facility, so when the school received a $75,000 grant from Dick’s Sporting Goods last offseason as part of its 75 for 75 program, Green instead chose to use the grant money to fund a new postsecondary education program that provides financial support to Westinghouse alumni playing at the college level, provided they meet the academic requirements — and there is no shortage of Bulldogs going on to play big-time college ball.
Despite plenty of question marks and new faces at key positions going into the season, Green and his coaching staff are booming with confidence while aiming to outdo the historic 2022 campaign.
“I think we have the ability to be a state contender again this year,” Green said. “It’s just going to look a little bit different than it did the previous year.”
Still, the questions facing Westinghouse in 2023 aren’t without merit. After all, you simply can’t expect to replace such a vital core of impact players like quarterback Keyshawn Morsillo, running back Khalil Taylor, wide receiver Sincere Smith and linemen Donte Taylor and Terel Searcy without going through some bumps in the road.
But as Green is quick to point out, this isn’t the first time the Bulldogs have heard the doubters wondering how they will replace a certain star player — the name Dayon Hayes ring a bell? — and all they’ve done is get better and better in each passing year since he took over in 2019.
“We’re used to it now,” Green said. “Every year, they say we’re going to fall off, but our staff does a really good job of developing young players, and that’s what we’re going to rely on. We believe in the training of our young kids to be able to come up and fill in those spots and not miss a beat.”
If Westinghouse hopes to continue its trend of upward progression from year to year, the only logical step up from here would be to win the PIAA Class 2A title. But even getting back there will be no easy task, let alone winning the whole thing. The Bulldogs have a new starter under center in junior quarterback Khalil Green (5-9, 175), and the dual-threat QB knows he has some big shoes to fill in place of Morsillo, a three-year starter and one of the best quarterbacks in program history.
Although he learned a lot from Morsillo from playing alongside him while growing up in Garfield to then watching him the past two years at Westinghouse, Green is a completely different player who brings a different set of tools to the table. Rather than trying to emulate Morsillo or play up to his standard, he said he plans on leaving his own mark on the program while also carrying on his predecessor’s success.
“They keep doubting us. They think we’re not the same team,” Khalil Green said. “It doesn’t matter who we lost or we don’t [have]. We’re going to show them.”
Elsewhere, the Bulldogs feature a big-time Power Five recruit in sophomore Kyshawn Robinson, an electric running back-defensive back who started on defense as a freshman and already holds scholarship offers from Pitt, Penn State, Florida, Nebraska and Syracuse. Robinson (5-10, 175) will take over for Taylor as the team’s primary ball carrier while continuing to enhance his reputation as a lockdown defender at corner.
“I told him, the more offers he gets, the harder he has to work,” Donta Green said. “He looked at me and was like, ‘I already know, coach.’ He’s one of those kids who you never have to tell to go harder or pick up the pace. He’s one of the hardest-working kids on the field and in the weight room.”
The reliability of Smith and Davon Jones will be sorely missed at wideout, but Westinghouse is far from lacking in speed and explosiveness in its receiving corps. Senior receiver-defensive back Taymir O’Neal (5-11, 170) is back to lead the way after showcasing his big-play ability on both sides of the ball as a sophomore and junior, and junior receiver-defensive back Lloyd Penn (5-10, 190) is also primed for a breakout season after injuries cost him most of his sophomore campaign.
“I’m just stepping into that role, being another coach on the field and leading the young guys,” O’Neal said. “Whatever coach [Green] has in store for us, whatever happens, happens. We just want to win. … It’s not like we’re overlooking the city [championship], but we have bigger dreams and ambitions.
“We know what we want to do, and we know where we want to be, and we know what it takes to get there again.”
Although the Bulldogs boasted a high-octane offense in 2022 while racking up 640 points in 15 games (42.7 ppg), their calling card was their ferocious defense. Only four of their 15 foes managed to score more than 8 points against them last fall, and points will likely be at a premium for their opponents once again in 2023.
Senior defensive end Mike Richardson (6-1, 195) and senior defensive tackle Sincere Shannon (6-2, 250) are both returning all-city selections on the defensive line, and they’ll be joined by junior Byron Lewis (6-4, 260) and sophomore Josiah Collins to form what should be a fearsome defensive front. Green tabbed Collins (6-2, 220) as a potential star in the making at defensive end, and he said his older brother, Jakai, should have a bigger role on offense at wide receiver while also playing some H-back along with Richardson.
“Defense is a big part of our team, and I take that very seriously. Defense is everything,” Richardson said. “I’m putting everything on the line [this year]. That’s all I can say.”
At inside linebacker, senior Tyjuan Abram (5-10, 185) is a four-year starter who will be counted on as a leader in the middle of the Westinghouse defense while also seeing an increase in carries at running back. On the back end, senior Musa Bangura and junior Shane Carter will help fill out a talented secondary along with Robinson, O’Neal and Penn.
There may be a couple of holes left to fill on both sides of the ball, but this is a team loaded with playmakers and unsung stars waiting to emerge. And you can bet the Bulldogs hear the noise from all the naysayers, all the chatter about being a “one-year wonder” and how schools from the City League “don’t belong” with the cream of the crop in Pennsylvania.
Yes, it took 25 years for a City League team to reach the state finals since Perry last made it in 1997, but if Green and his players have anything to say about it, the wait won’t be very long until it happens again. And if Westinghouse is able to make a return trip to the PIAA championship game this December, the foundation will have been laid on these hot summer nights at “The Graveyard” — long before the Bulldogs shine under the Friday night lights.
“I know just by others’ confidence — they don’t say our name, but we know they’re referring to us. They think they have the team to knock us off,” Donta Green said. “It’s a good place to be, it’s a fun place to be, but it can also be a tad bit stressful, having that bull’s-eye on your back. But that bull’s-eye is earned, and our kids have earned it.”
Editor Rick Davis
Reporters Brad Everett, Steve Rotstein, John Santa, Rob Joesbury, Saul Berrios-Thomas
Photographers Emily Matthews, Steve Mellon
Art designer Jennifer Kundrach
Web designer Tyler Pecyna