Tim Bukowski didn’t know Ty Keffer before last fall.

The second-year Southmoreland head football coach, whose career over the past two decades includes stints as an assistant at California University of Pennsylvania, Charleroi, Clairton and Ringgold, does know, however, what he likes in an offense.

“In our offense, I like to have a tall X receiver,” said Bukowski, who was the offensive coordinator under head coach Tom Nola at Clairton from 2006-12 when the Bears won six WPIAL and four PIAA championships and a state-record 66 consecutive games. “I’m real comfortable if I have a big guy over there.”

There is no doubt Bukowski was quite comfortable last season.

Bukowski said he talked Keffer, then a basketball and baseball standout, into stepping onto the gridiron last fall for the first time in his high school career.

“After a couple weeks of practice, we kind of knew he was going to be special,” Bukowski said. “You could just see his ball skills. He dropped one pass in a game that I can remember last year.

“Even at practice, he rarely drops a pass,” he added. “He just has soft hands and looks it in real good. We’re not afraid to go to him ever. It could be fourth-and-1 and I’ll throw it to him. I trust him.”

Keffer made the most of his first season of high school football, recording a WPIAL-best 73 receptions for 1,009 yards and 18 touchdowns, while leading Southmoreland to a playoff berth for the third time in four seasons.

“I didn’t know him before last year,” Bukowski said. “I know he didn’t play junior high or high school. Midget league was his last year until last year and he led the WPIAL with 73 receptions. That shouldn’t happen.”

Now a senior, Keffer is hoping to take another step this season, and lead Southmoreland to its first WPIAL playoff victory in school history.

“That would mean everything,” the 6-foot-4, 212-pound receiver said.

Despite not playing football for quite some time, Keffer said his friendship with classmate and Southmoreland quarterback Kadin Keefer was critical to his success last season and moving forward.

“It was amazing,” Keffer said. “We pass every time we get the chance. It’s not really like a connection. It’s just like he throws it, I get it.”

Keefer completed 132 of 237 passes as a junior for 1,586 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while also rushing for 76 yards and three scores. He said, like Bukowski, he was pleased Keffer returned to football.

“It just started out when we were young,” said Keefer of his connection with his receiver. “When he quit, I was kind of bummed, but when he came back it was just like we never let off.”

Southmoreland senior receiver Ty Keffer, left, and quarterback Kadin Keefer became one of the WPIAL’s top passing tandems last season and are attempting to lead the Scotties to their first district playoff victory this fall. (John Santa/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Keefer said Keffer quickly developed into his favorite receiver. He completed 55% of his passes to his old friend and Scotties basketball teammate last season.

 “It took me a while to get used to his height and knowing that I could throw the jump ball and have him get it,” said Keefer of Keffer who is also a 1,000-point scorer on the hardwood. “It did take me a while to get back used to him, but it worked out well in the end.”

Keffer said his jumping ability is his most valuable asset on the football field.

“When the ball is up in the air, I mostly get it,” he said.

Bukowski said he was pleased to see Keffer and Keefer play so well together last season, but he wasn’t surprised.  

“Keefer trusts him,” Bukowski said. “I think he feels even if he’s covered he’s not. The other receivers will say, ‘Keefer is throwing it to Ty no matter what.’ There are times he probably shouldn’t, but Ty makes the catch. It usually works out.

Class previews

“Obviously, they’re friends off the field, and that helps,” he added. “They’ll put in the extra work before and after practice throwing to each other and getting their timing down. Kadin trusts Ty. So if he’s going to let it go, he’s going to look that way in most cases.”

Bukowski, however, has seen major growth in Keffer in the run up to his second season. He said Keffer’s height, size and strength will carry over as strengths for his receiver this season, but his growth as a leader and route runner as a senior should have him remain as one of the WPIAL’s top targets in the passing game in 2023.

“I can see the differences,” Bukowski said. “In every route he runs, he’s got double moves. I expect him to do much the same.”

Keefer couldn’t agree more.

“If I know what routes he’s running, I know where he’ll be on that route and where he’ll be open,” he said. “I’ve just got to read the defense and know what defense and just know where he’ll be open.”

An addition to the Scotties running game should also be beneficial to Bukowski’s offense and passing game as well.

Running back Das’jon Craggette was ruled eligible for postseason play by the WPIAL after he transferred from Greensburg Central Catholic to Geibel, which has a co-op with Southmoreland.

Craggette rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Centurions last season.

“We’re definitely going to run the ball more with Das’jon coming in,” Keffer said. “I think we’ll still be passing still.”

Class Focus

In fact, Bukowski said the frequent double-team coverage Keffer was subject to last year may now be a thing of the past with Craggette providing more of a threat in the running game for the Scotties.

“He may not get as many attempts, but it’s not like we are ever going to forget about him,” said Bukowski of Keffer. “When you have a guy that can catch like he does or has a miss match out there, we are going to get him the football.  All my years of coaching, no matter where I’ve been, I know you’ve got to get the ball in your best athlete’s hands.”

And doing so may also put an end to a dubious distinction for Southmoreland.

“They had a big drought before we got here of not making the playoffs for 40 years,” Bukowski said. “We’ve made it three of the last four. The goal is 100% to win the first playoff game in school history.

“To be able to do that, you’ve got to have a good regular season,” Bukowski said. “We’ve been coming in third or fourth and getting a tough draw right out of the gate. Our goal is to finish higher and get a better seed so that we can accomplish those goals.”

Keffer is definitely on the same page.

“We can go pretty far,” said Keffer of his team’s chances in the WPIAL postseason. “We are going to try and get one. If we can get one, we are going to try and get two. They want it. Ask any senior on the team, they want it.”

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at jsanta@unionprogress.com.

John Santa

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at jsanta@unionprogress.com.