In steel town going through tough time, football team is tougher

In Aliquippa, Penn., where it used to be all steel mills and football, they're now down to just football. Unemployment here is close to 10 percent. Drugs and crime are rampant.

But if Aliquippa's streets provide temptation, its "pit" provides hope. That's what they call the field where the Aliquippa High School Quips play on Friday nights.

"They call it sacred ground," said Darrien Fields. "Nothing bad happens here. You come here, it's your safe haven because we call care for each other here. We're all here for the same cause. Friday nights, everyone's here to watch the Quips win."

Aliquippa, Penn., was once held together by steel, but now it is held together by its high school football team. CBS News

Undefeated for the last five regular seasons, on Friday night the Quips will make their 20th consecutive appearance in the state playoffs.

"And I've had teachers ask me, 'Well, how do you do that,' " said Mike Zmijanac, who has been head coach for 18 years. "And the answer is you insist. Whether you're a teacher or a coach or -- or whatever -- or a parent. You insist that they behave. I've found that most kids will listen, if they think you care."

Kids here grow up hearing about Ty Law, Sean Gilbert, Darelle Revis. All went on to star in the NFL. But those aren't the former Quips Coach Z calls upon to motivate his players.

"When we go out in the field before a game it's: You're playing for your grandfathers, your cousins, your uncles, your brothers and the guys that came before you. So don't forget who you are."

While senior running back Anthony Barton knows tomorrow night could be his last game, he'll always be a Quip.

He says the things he learned playing for Aliquippa are transferrable to life. "Do it right, the first way they tell you or you don't do it at all," Barton said.

Zmijanac is dealing with a group of kids who have every reason in the world to have given up hope. And yet, he asks them to come out and buy in 100 percent.

"And they do," he said. "Which is an amazing thing."

Maybe NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka -- Aliquippa High School Class of 1957 -- put it best: "Tough times don't last. Tough people do."

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.