Road to the Playoffs Altoona High School

A trip to the 2003 Western Finals will go through the weight room

By Christopher Burlingame
Published: Summer 2003
The 2002 season ended in a blizzard of emotion and snow as the Altoona Mountain Lions fell to the Woodland Hills Wolverines (then ranked number three in the country) in the Western Finals of the Pennsylvania AAAA State Playoffs. Several inches of powder blanketed the usually green turf of Mansion Park, creating a memorable snow globe of a game. The game was a disappointing end for the seniors, but they wished their teammates the best of luck next year, and they also stressed the importance of hard work in making the tradition of Mountain Lion football grow ever stronger.
In 2002 the Mountain Lions accomplished many impressive achievements that correlate directly with the dedication they showed to the strict year-round regimen of the Altoona Ironworks weight room. The 2002 seniors will especially leave their mark at Altoona Area High School. They finished with 31 victories to set a school record for most wins in three consecutive seasons. They have played in 41 out of a possible 45 games, an impressive feat in itself. The 45 games over three seasons are based on the maximum of 15 games a year a team can play in Pennsylvania if it makes it to the state championship game. The 2002 team also set the school single-season scoring record.
Head Coach Phil Riccio has put together an impressive résumé since taking over only four years ago. The Mountain Lions have set a record in the District Six AAAA by obtaining the crown three years in a row, a feat never accomplished in the district’s history. They also won back-to-back Western Conference titles, another first for District Six—not to mention that Altoona has also produced seven all-state players since Coach Riccio arrived.
Much of Altoona’s success can be attributed to Coach Riccio and to the Bigger Faster Stronger weight program and philosophy. The weight program has been integral in reestablishing the proud Mountain Lion roar in central Pennsylvania. This is a football program that has produced ten NFL football players in its storied past.
“As a team, we have gotten bigger, faster and stronger. This year we had 20 guys under 4.9 in the forty as a result of the BFS program. Strength Coach Mike Adams believes in the core lifts of the BFS program to keep driving the kids to work hard and see immediate results,” said Riccio.
Just as impressive as the team’s accomplishments are the individual statistics for the graduating class of 2003. The records and milestones of these players were a result of their being the first class to experience a full regimen of the BFS training program. Joe Kleiner was the first quarterback in Altoona’s history to throw for 2,000 yards in a single season, and his off-season dedication to the standards of constant improvement set by the BFS program allowed him to increase his strength and speed. Fellow senior Thad Mitchell is the first person in the school’s illustrious history to rush for over 1,000 yards in his two consecutive seasons as a starter. And Bron Clouser was a dominating all-state lineman for the Mountain Lions. Along with these outstanding individuals is Brendan Perretta, who was selected as a first-team “Big School” all-state wide receiver. Perretta will play football at Penn State this fall, following up his status as the leading receiver in the state of Pennsylvania, with over 1,500 yards. Perretta is constantly working and improving in the weight room. His attitude and work ethic makes him a true Eleven.
Since implementing the BFS program three years ago, the Mountain Lions have seen an increase in almost every aspect of their football program.
Coach Riccio and the coaching staff of Altoona make sure the weight room is open six days a week. Strength Coach Adams likes the BFS Set-Rep scheme and the fact that it encourages the athletes to constantly break their own records.
“Bigger Faster Stronger is great for high school kids because it encourages hard work without shortcuts. I love the way the program is set up to let athletes see improvement every time they step into the weight room,” said Coach Adams enthusiastically.
The BFS strategy used by Altoona requires athletes not participating in other sports to work out three times a week. However, most of the football players enjoy the workouts and are in the complex working four to five days a week, constantly striving to break their own records.
“We have a lot of players who we need to watch carefully because they want to train every day. We are to the point now where we don’t have to worry about getting kids to lift, but rather we have to make sure they don’t overtrain. I guess that’s not a bad thing to have happen,” said Coach Adams.
“Bigger Faster Stronger is great because the guys can see their own progress. Their competition with themselves is the real fuel to their fire. I have noticed constant improvement in the quality of work the guys are doing. Also, the time in the weight room allows for strong bonds to form between teammates. This dynamic team unity that begins in the weight room carries over to their on- and off-field relationships with each other. I like to think that a lot of our success is formed from the family environment that is initially created in the weight room,” Riccio said.
This off-season the Mountain Lions are once again hard at work in the weight room in hopes of taking that next step of playing for a state championship next year. For two years in a row the Altoona players and coaches have come up one game short. But that’s all the more reason to work that much harder this year. And one area of improvement will be with the in-season weight program.
“I don’t think we’ve done a great job with the in-season program. If we want to win a state championship, I think it’s going to come from not being satisfied with maintaining our strength throughout the season. We need to keep getting stronger, and the BFS in-season program is going to help!” said Adams.
In 2003, the Mountain Lions expect nothing less than a trip to the state championship. And there is reason for their optimism. They have two of the best offensive linemen in the state of Pennsylvania in Sean Shannon and Zack Haulman. Whatever the outcome, the Mountain Lions know the road to the state championship will go through the weight room first.

Zac Apple

Coach Phil Riccio

Thad Mithell (SR,RB) has rushed for over 1000-yds in the last two seasons; first player in school history to do so. Bench 250, 40-yd dash 4.5

Chuck Koch (JR,FB-SS) bench 275, squat 450, VJ 32" 40-yd 4.5, SLJ 10"6', power clean 300. All-Conference Strong Safety

Joe Kleiner (SR,QB) threw for over 2,000 yds as a senior, 40 yd dash 4.8, bench 275

Steve Shaffer (JR DE/TE) All-Conference, squat 425, power clean 265, 40-yard 4.7, bench 300 lbs.

Brendon Perretta (SR WR/DB) 1st Team All-State, Conf. MVP, attending Penn State in fall, 40-yd 4.5, VJ-32", power clean 300 lbs., bench 375, squat 475, SLJ 10'1"

Joey Kleiner doing trap bar deadlifts

Bron Clouser (SR, L) 2nd team All-State, squat 525, power clean 325, bench 375.

Brendon Perretta had over 1500 yards receiving

Joe Kleiner getting psyched up with teammate Chuck Koch during a key game