In 32 years as head coach of the Bellwood-Antis High School football program, John Hayes has seen five different men lead Tyrone onto the field - including Tom Miller on two separate occasions - and this year will bring a sixth in Steve Guthoff.
The Backyard Brawl, though, remains just as important a game for both schools and their fans.
"Actually, I think the rivalry has grown better," Hayes, a Tyrone assistant before taking over the Blue Devils, said. "We have people living here that work in the Tyrone area and vice versa. The kids work together at places like DelGrosso Park. The desire to win has never changed or diluted any."
Mirror file photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Trey Campbell returns for the Bellwood-Antis Blue Devils this season.
Both Tyrone and Bellwood are coming off seasons in which they played for District 6 championships - Tyrone even reached the PIAA final - and both have realistic aspirations of winning league and district championships this season.
While a loss in this year's 78th renewal of the series, which kicks off at 7 p.m. tonight at Tyrone's Gray-Veterans Memorial Field, wouldn't derail those goals - the teams play in different conferences and different enrollment classes - a win certainly could be a powerful springboard toward them.
"There's a lot more benefit to winning than to losing. Because we've both been so successful, the winner gets a pretty good push in points as far as district playoffs," Hayes said. "Winning the game is big from that standpoint, but what's bigger is the feeling the kids have coming out of that game: the confidence that you have or, on the other side, the couple of days you have to take to rebuild."
Game: Bellwood-Antis Blue Devils (10-2) vs. Tyrone Golden Eagles (14-2) n
Where: Gray-Veterans Memorial Field, Tyrone
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
The coaches: Bellwood-Antis - John Hayes (266-88-2, 33rd year); Tyrone - Steve Guthoff (19-50, eighth year)
Series record: Tyrone, 50-26-1
Last meeting: Tyrone, 17-6
n - records from 2011
A New York City native who laughed thinking back that his high school archrival at Holy Cross was St. Francis Prep, Guthoff isn't uninitiated to the northern Blair County rivalry. He's had two stints as an assistant coach with the Golden Eagles, coming back last year to help John Franco after his head coaching job at Lewistown was cut in a merger of schools.
"It's almost like two seasons. The first season is Bellwood. After Bellwood becomes your second season," Guthoff said. "It's a really fun thing to look forward to during the monotonous, grueling weeks of conditioning and preseason camp right off the bat."
For sure. And a win would go a long way to easing the minds of Eagle fans wondering what the program will be like post-Franco. Guthoff has been a head coach before at Philipsburg-Osceola and Bellefonte in addition to Lewistown, but none of the those schools had won 600 games, been to three state finals in the previous 17 years or won nine district championships.
"It's totally different situation than any job I've had before as head coach because the bar is set so high at Tyrone," Guthoff said. "There are standards and expectations that players have and the community has, so it does make a difference."
On the surface, Guthoff looks like he'll have his work cut out for him to maintain that level of success. The Eagles graduated quarterback Steve Franco, an Akron recruit who was the Class AA state and Altoona Mirror player of the year, along with all-state wideout Nick Patton, the area's leading rusher, Christian Getz, and all-area lineman Nick Wolfe.
Appearances can be deceiving, though. The Eagles have a strong, proven group on the offensive line led by Ryan Fink and Maverick Mills, while Ben Makdad, Seth Welch and Corey Snyder might give Tyrone the best trio of linebackers in the area.
It's also worth noting that some of Tyrone's emerging skill players, like returnee Charles Wilson-Adams, first-year starting quarterback Erik Wagner and explosive new tailback James Oliver may not have shined simply because talented and more-experienced players were ahead of them.
"Probably James would have played for a lot of high school football teams last year," Guthoff said. "Erik has all of the physical tools. We just have to be careful not to overwhelm him."
Hayes also must replace some pretty productive players in tailback Andrew DeGol and quarterback Ryan Stuby. However, Bellwood has a few more known commodities stepping into those shoes. Casey Gray rushed for almost 500 yards in a supporting role as a sophomore in 2011. Seth Worthing takes over under center, and, although he didn't play much there last year, his athletic ability is evident after he qualified for state track in four events and brought home two medals.
"It's going to come out. It came out in our scrimmages, and a lot of it is going to be spontaneous," Hayes said of the dimension Worthing adds as a runner. "He's an athlete, and he's going to do a lot of things based on what he sees. And we encourage that."
Two starters also return on the front line for Bellwood, along with fullback Tyler Campbell and all-state tight end Ian O'Shea.
"First and foremost, the battle up front [will be key]," Guthoff said. "I feel good about our offensive line, but, watching their defensive line, they look very, very tough and physical. Bellwood, offensively always executes so well. You have to be very disciplined to beat them, because they don't beat themselves."