PREP FOOTBALL Vestal reflects on title season

The Boardman High graduate coached Hopewell High to the PIAA Class AAA championship.
HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- The impact of what David Vestal and his team accomplished wasn't felt until he stepped away and reflected on a championship season.
In just his second year as head coach of the Hopewell High football team, Vestal, a Boardman native, led the Vikings to Pennsylvania's Class AAA title.
"I didn't have the opportunity to think about what we accomplished until I was on vacation. It all hit so fast," said Vestal, 34, a 1986 Boardman High graduate. "I'm just trying to enjoy it a little bit."
Happy New Year
Vestal and his family vacationed in Orlando, Fla., over the new year. It was there that he began to truly appreciate Hopewell's 21-10 victory over Strath Haven, capping a 14-1 season that produced the school's first state football championship.
"To play 15 games and win 14 of them, a lot of things have to go your way," said Vestal, whose team's only blemish was a loss to New Castle.
In his first year as head coach, Vestal directed Hopewell to an 11-2 record; it finished as the WPIAL runner-up, losing to eventual state champion West Allegheny.
If the Vikings were to make a run at the 2002 state title, they wouldn't sneak up on anybody.
"We had a target on our back the whole season," Vestal said. "We were picked No. 1 in the WPIAL. People were out to get you, playing their 'A game' each week.
"It was tougher this year," he added, "but it made it more special."
Hopewell, which plays in the Parkway Conference, was a close-knit team that thrived on its running game.
"Control the ball, control the clock and play great defense. That was our game plan," Vestal said.
"A lot of teams are starting to go to spread offenses," he added. "We're old fashioned. We line up and run the ball at you. It's what our kids believed in."
Getting started
Vestal's football history is notable. He didn't play in high school, instead choosing to play trumpet in the Boardman band.
"I was a little bit undersized in high school," he said, "but I always wanted to play football."
So that's what he did, walking on at Division I Miami (Ohio) and playing strong safety. Although Vestal was never a starter at that position, he played on special teams and earned practice player of the year honors.
Vestal later received his teaching certificate at Youngstown State.
Before landing a job in Hopewell, he spent two years each as an assistant coach at Boardman, under Bill Bohren, and Lakewood.
In 1995, he was hired at Hopewell and became the defensive coordinator. When then head coach Andy Robertson resigned following the 2000 season, Vestal was promoted.
"I knew Western Pennsylvania had a great tradition in football, just like Ohio does," said Vestal, who, as a child, attended Pennsylvania games with his radio broadcasting father, Ted. "I just always wanted to settle in this area."
Vestal and his wife, Leah, live in Imperial, Pa.
"I always said that winning a state championship has to be the ultimate goal. It's pretty neat that it happened in my second year," Vestal said. "It was special. I will never forget this group of kids."

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