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Saturday April 18 2015
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Family Affair

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Art Walker grew up observing his father's experiences as a high school football coach at Mt. Lebanon and Shady Side Academy. He saw the wins, the down times and how his father—also named Art—handled coaching responsibilities off the field. Now the head coach at North Allegheny,

Walker still uses his father as a sounding board and said the knowledge he took in at an early age, mostly without even realizing it, has given him an advantage. 


Walker, who graduated from Clarion University as a four-year letter winner, has coached several players who had a similar opportunity to watch their fathers as coaches or players. That list includes quarterback Mack Leftwich (son of former Pitt offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich), offensive lineman Pat Kugler (son of Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler), offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk (son of late Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strezelczyk), tight end/defensive lineman Trace Rickets (son of former Pitt and Steelers offensive lineman Tom Rickets), wide receiver Greg Garrity (son of former Penn State and Steelers wide receiver Greg Garrity) and tight end/line backer Jason Gildon (son of former Steelers linebacker Jason Gildon).


Walker said that sometimes a player's previous connection to football is significant, while other times it's just background information. The sons of coaches usually have a greater understanding of the game, he added.


"If they grow up around it and seeing it … for a long period of time when they are young, they pick up on things basically because they are around them," Walker said. "That has more of an impact than just saying you've been around someone who has played. If you're the son of someone in coaching, I think it makes a drastic difference."


Walker has been the head coach at North Allegheny since 2005, leading the Tigers to several conference titles. Before arriving at North Allegheny, he served as the head coach at Pittsburgh Central Catholic for nine seasons and won the PIAA Quad-A state title in 2004. His father finished his 26 seasons as a head coach with an overall record of 207-78-6 and won six total WPIAL titles.


At times, Walker said that the sons of coaches and players make his job easier. 


"They understand the expectations," he said. "They understand the responsibilities and I think they have a greater respect of what we do as coaches because they've watched maybe their father do it or a relative. I think there is just a deeper understanding of the game and I think there are times when you can do more from an intellectual standpoint."


Leftwich said that being raised by a coach gave him a mental edge, because he's been around the game so long and grew up at football practices. He's learned how to keep his composure and handle situations that arise on the football field.


"I think it puts me a step ahead of some others mentally," Leftwich said. "I had my dad around to talk to about football stuff."


Being raised by a coach also helped turn Leftwich into a capable leader.


"Being a coach's kid, being around the locker room, I learned how to be a leader," he said. "I learned not to be one kind of leader, but to lead people in different ways."


Walker said the challenges stem from players' parents who want to assert that they know more than the coaches, but added that's usually not the case. Most of the time, his experience with parents who are ex-coaches, ex-players or current coaches has been positive.


"You get some who are going to be 100 percent supportive and think you are doing the best job you can and then you are going to get those who think they might have done something better or might have done something a bit differently," he said. "I think as long as there is a mutual respect with who's doing the job and the time that we're putting in and things like that, there's usually no problems."


Most of the parents have a deep knowledge of the game and understand what goes into game preparation, Walker said, and they trust the coaches to prepare and develop their sons.


"Most football guys know what it takes and know the work ethic that the coaches have to put in along with the players," he said. "Most of them are supportive more than anything else."


Walker said that while disagreements hardly ever arise, when they do its usually opinion based. He keeps an open door policy so that if someone ever wants to pursue an issue further, he can come discuss it.


"I trust the ability of my coaching staff, what we're doing and the decisions that we make," Walker said. "I don't think there's going to be anybody that's going to work harder than we do. I'd be willing to explain what we do and why we do it."


Leftwich said that while his dad is more than happy to answer any of his football-related questions, Spencer Leftwich is an offensive line coach and Mack is a quarterback.  He's one dad who's happy to let Walker coach.

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