Column: 2021 season further proof that Mike Warfield is perfect man for Quips' job

·5 min read

PITTSBURGH — Nearly 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 as the head coach of the Quips' football program.

In 21 seasons, the Beaver County Hall of Famer coached his team to a record of 237-36, winning 6 WPIAL titles and a 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 come and gone since the Aliquippa native was given a shot to replace a legend. In his first year on the job, he led the Quips to a state championship. The following two years his team reached the WPIAL title game.

All doubts on if Warfield could fill his predecessor's big shoes have been all but eliminated. Aliquippa has its guy. And this fall was the cherry on top.

Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield hugs his players after winning Saturday's WPIAL Class 4A championship game at Heinz Field.
Aliquippa coach Mike Warfield hugs his players after winning Saturday's WPIAL Class 4A championship game at Heinz Field.

One would be hard-pressed to find a head coach that inherited more challenges than Warfield over the past six months. In May, one of his top players — Antonyo "Sunny" Anderson — was tragically shot and suffered critical injuries that he continues to recover from.

It was also around that time that the Quips' projected starting quarterback moved away to Georgia, putting a sophomore with no varsity experience in line to take over.

Just days before the season, Aliquippa was handed another tough blow, losing star linebacker Isaiah Gilbert for the season due to a knee injury. Another key player, Nate Lindsey, then went down in the playoffs with a broken collar bone.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that the Quips went through all of this and more while playing in Class 4A, despite being a school that graduated just 39 kids last year?

It seems impossible for any group to overcome those odds. Warfield proved otherwise, leading the Quips to the program's 18th WPIAL championship on Saturday afternoon in a 28-13 win over top-seeded Belle Vernon at Heinz Field.

How in the world did the Quips do it? How could Warfield and his team from one of the smallest districts in the WPIAL pull off the improbable?

Sure, they've got talent, but so do their opponents. Aliquippa has always been known to have stars on the gridiron. The difference with Warfield, people say, is the collective buy-in throughout the entire locker room.

Aliquippa head coach Mike Warfield on the sidelines against Belle Vernon in the WPIAL 4A Championship Saturday at Heinz Field.[Lucy Schaly/For BCT]
Aliquippa head coach Mike Warfield on the sidelines against Belle Vernon in the WPIAL 4A Championship Saturday at Heinz Field.[Lucy Schaly/For BCT]

"Mike Warfield has brought Aliquippa to what Aliquippa should be," Mayor Dwan Walker told the Beaver County Times on Saturday night. "He knows the kids need the village and the village needs the kids. He opened his doors to the community. When you do that, it's a beautiful thing. They're all in. We're all in."

Knowing that the man leading you understands your personal struggles can go far. From four-year starters to underclassmen at the end of the bench, those within the Quips' program claim the head coach goes out of his way to let his players know that they're loved and that they matter.

"He's kind of just like us," senior captain Cyair Clark said. "We know, no matter football or no football, he will always be there for us."

According to some, the testament listed above has rung true years before Warfield was the main man.

"My freshman through junior year, he was the quarterbacks coach," said former Aliquippa standout Darrien Fields, now an assistant coach at Marietta College. "I can't tell you how many times he brought me to his house. I ate food that his wife cooked, and it was amazing.

"The one thing that he does best is relating to these players. He's done it before. He's been in our shoes and he knows how to get through to them. He knew how to get through to me, and he did it way before I was the starting quarterback."

Fields' younger brother, Quentin Goode, is the sophomore quarterback who was forced to step up this season after the original starter moved away. Fields says he knew that with Warfield's guidance, his little bro would be all right.

Today, Warfield's approach is echoed by the entire Quips staff. He's taken a program where winning was the main objective and brought real life into the equation. It's not because he knows it will lead to more success on the field, but rather victories in life for the young men he's responsible for.

Aliquippa players celebrate with head coach Mike Warfield after they beat Belle Vernon 28-13 in WPIAL 4A Championship Saturday at Heinz Field.[Lucy Schaly/For BCT]
Aliquippa players celebrate with head coach Mike Warfield after they beat Belle Vernon 28-13 in WPIAL 4A Championship Saturday at Heinz Field.[Lucy Schaly/For BCT]

"We have challenges where a lot of days, it's more than Xs and Os," said offensive coordinator and Warfield's right-hand man Shelton Colbert. "Mike and our staff genuinely care about these young men. They know they can pick up the phone and call us at any time. Whatever they need, whatever they're into, we're going to help them solve it. And that starts with him. That'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 that he was proud. He also reminded them that the job wasn't done, as a matchup against District 4 champion Jersey Shore in the PIAA semifinals awaits them next weekend.

Once the team prayer was over and everyone was ready to begin the celebration, Warfield paused everything to issue one quick reminder:

"Remember, everything you say and do comes back to us. It comes back to this program. You represent Aliquippa football. You represent the community of Aliquippa. Represent it well."

All his players need to do is follow the lead of the man who gave the command. Five years ago, the Quips were led by a Beaver County Hall of Famer. Four years ago, the Aliquippa High School football team found the perfect man for the job.

Contact Noah Hiles at nhiles@gannett.com. Follow him on twitter @_NoahHiles.

This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: 2021 season further proof that Mike Warfield is perfect man for Quips head coaching job

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