Andrew DiDonato saw the signs.

Maybe they weren’t so understated when the Grove City coach was recruiting then Moon standout linebacker Ben Bladel — a four-year starter and three-time all-state selection who led Moon to the WPIAL Class 5A championship game as a senior in 2021.

“Obviously, when we recruit guys, we look at guys that we believe, a lot of times, hey, these guys could play at multiple levels,” said DiDonato, now in his eighth season coaching the NCAA Division III Wolverines. “I think Ben, in the right situation, certainly, he’s a very talented guy that could play at multiple levels. We are certainly very excited he’s here with us.”

In just his second season as a starter at Grove City, Bladel has been an integral part of a historic season, which has already seen the No. 20 Wolverines (9-0) clinch a Presidents’ Athletic Conference title along with the first national ranking and NCAA Division III playoff bid in school history.

“Personally, I’m doing pretty well,” Bladel said. “You can’t really complain with no losses. There’s nothing to complain about there. It’s just living in what we do every day, week in and week out, and just staying focused on that.”

A 6-foot, 225-pound sophomore, Bladel has recorded a conference-best 11 sacks in 2023, to go along with 38 tackles, 17 for a loss, 4 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery.

Bladel earned PAC Defensive Player of the Week honors two weeks ago when he helped Grove City defeat Bethany, 56-14, by collecting two sacks and five tackles, while also recovering a fumble and returning his own third-quarter blocked punt for a touchdown.

“I had pretty high expectations coming in for myself,” said Bladel, who is second on Grove City’s all-time single-season sack list behind Mark Furgeson, who had 15 in 1998. “I don’t know if other people expected it, but I expect big things for myself.”

So, too, does DiDonato.

As a freshman, Bladel was named first-team All PAC and led Grove City in tackles for a loss, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. He was second on the team in sacks with 6½, which was just behind South Fayette graduate Ryan Fleming’s seven.

That Bladel has already doubled his sack output in his second season at Grove City, while improving upon his overall play, has come as no surprise to DiDonato.

“I think there are a lot of guys who play hard and play with a motor, but with Ben it truly is just at another level,” he said. “He is just playing at a speed — and you see it in everything whether its blitzing or special teams going after a punt — he just has a knack to get to the ball. He’s really explosive.

“Truly, he’s 100% effort every single play and just has football awareness and explosiveness that makes it really hard for anyone to block him in a one-on-one situation.”

For Bladel, his mixture of speed and strength has been critical to his early success at the collegiate level.

“I feel like I’m as strong as some of the linemen I’m playing against, but none of them are really as fast as I am,” he said.

And that has paid dividends for Grove City’s defense.

The Wolverines are tied with Carnegie Mellon for first in the PAC in team sacks with 27 and is third in the conference with an average of 276 yards allowed per contest.

“We’re pretty good,” Bladel said. “We don’t have a let-down position. There were a couple injuries early on and kids stepped up and filled in and I think that’s the biggest thing.”

After a Week 10 bye, Grove City will now close out its regular season in the annual battle for “The Mercer Cup” against Thiel at 1 p.m. Saturday at Alumni Stadium in Greenville.

DiDonato said he is excited to see what Bladel and his defense can achieve Saturday and in the Division III playoffs.

“We are so impressed with just his discipline, his effort and everything, academics, football and, really, just his maturity,” DiDonato said. “We’ve seen that in his first two years here, just a very disciplined, mature player that is 100% effort every time. That’s how he attacks football, academics and everything he does.”

And could there be another Bladel on the way?

Ben’s younger brother, Josh, is a senior running back at Moon. He rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers’ WPIAL Class 5A playoff victory against Gateway Friday night.

Ben Bladel said he has been able to get back to see several of his brother’s games this season. He added that he may be rooting for Josh to attend Grove City.

“We’re working on it,” Ben said of Josh’s college selection. “He hasn’t made a decision yet, but we’re getting close to making one.”

Bladel said he’s excited to see what Moon can do over the rest of its WPIAL playoff run.  The No. 5 seed Tigers will face top-seeded Peters Township at 7 p.m. Friday night at South Fayette.

“They lost to Peters … they’ve got one more and they’ve got to beat them and then they’re back in the same position we were two years ago,” Bladel said. “Hopefully they can have a different outcome than we did.”

 In the meantime, Bladel said he will be focusing on finishing the regular season strong before making a Division III playoff run.

“We’re just going to take it week by week and go 1-0 each week and eventually make it to the championship and win that,” Bladel said.

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

John Santa

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