Friday, August 31, 2012

Video from Wash High/GCC

Here's my postgame interview with Washington RB Shai McKenzie, who ran for 209 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries.

McKenzie had an absolute monster of a game before leaving midway through the third quarter with cramps.

His second quarter score -- which we talk about on here -- was a thing of beauty: started out right, didn't see anything, changed directions and took off. Hands down one of the best runs I've ever seen a high school kid make.

Some early returns on some other awesome rushing performances tonight:

Kolton Kobrys, Fort Cherry -- 30 touches (one reception), 251 yards, two touchdowns during a 31-21 win over Carlynton.

Donnie White, West Greene -- 131 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown in 22-21 overtime win over Bentworth.

Cody Durant, Beth-Center -- Eight carries, 120 yards and three touchdowns during Beth-Center's 40-0 win over Beth-Center.

Mike Minjock, Peters Township -- 247 yards and four touchdowns during a 40-12 win over Baldwin.

Nick Kusich, Avella -- 103 yards and four touchdowns during the Eagles' 65-6 victory over Vincentian.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Week 1 extras: Wash High's OL

Sorry about the absence yesterday everyone. Had to nail down a car … you know, so I could actually get to Greensburg Central Catholic tomorrow night. Ended up getting a Honda CR-V. Definitely pretty happy so far.

Anyway, the important stuff. Week 1. High school football starting. Exciting stuff.

You can read my preview of Wash High/GCC in tomorrow’s Observer-Reporter, which talks a lot about the Little Prexies’ need to beat an elite team.

(Yes, they won eight games last year, but only two of those came against teams with a winning record.)

One item that kind of got short shrift was Wash High’s offensive line, which must replace four starters. I find this interesting because Prexies coach Mike Bosnic was a lineman at Pitt, so I’m guessing these guys will be a little more seasoned than your average group of new starters.

Keep in mind that right tackle Rikwon Moore is the only lineman back from last year, and here’s a look at who’ll you see up front Friday:

LT 68 Pat Ellis, Jr., 6-2, 260
RG 50 Elijah Jones, Sr., 6-0, 220
C 69 Xavier Darden, Jr., 5-10, 192
RG 75 Anthony Byrd, Jr., 6-0, 235
RT 73 Rikwon Moore, Sr., 6-2, 280

I talked to Bosnic about this during training camp, and yesterday I asked him again how things have progressed.

“It’s been about what we expected,” Bosnic said. “We’re a little bit inexperienced up front, but, at the same time, it’s a group that has a lot of potential. They’ve gotten better pretty much every day that we’ve been out there.”

The Prexies have some depth with freshman Thomas Cherry, sophomore Justin Blussick and sophomore Gloady Kiers, but it’s pretty obvious that McKenzie and Kelly won’t pile up too many yards or touchdowns if there’s nowhere to run.

“We feel pretty good about those guys,” Bosnic said. “They’ve been working hard. They’re getting more aggressive. At the beginning they were kind of just feeling around, trying to learn the system. I think we’re going to see an improvement every week with them.”

As promised, I also talked to a fellow writer who covers the Greensburg area, and the rub on GCC goes something like this:

>>Two players were expelled and five starters will be suspended for Friday’s game because of the hazing issue that popped up over the summer, the same one that cost longtime head coach Muzzy Colosimo his job.

>>Seven players left GCC during the offseason – not counting those above – including running back Jordan McCrea, who had 1,218 yards and 17 touchdowns last fall. He’s back at Connellsville, along with kicker Ben Kisiel, who had 30 extra points and three field goals.

>>The Centurions lost their starting quarterback (Bobby Noble) and best receiver (Justin Kempka) to graduation. New starter at QB will be Chase Keller, a 6-3, 185-pound junior. Big-time players are running back Zach Guiser (Akron) and linebacker Nate Stone.

>>Guiser battled a hamstring injury through camp, but he should be OK. Or at least the guy I talked to thinks so.

>>I’ll leave you with one thing this source told me, though I’m pretty sure he didn’t know Wash High is breaking in four new starters: “Where they’re (meaning GCC) weak, and where Washington could take advantage, is along the offensive and defensive lines.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Waynesburg golfer wants record

Waynesburg senior golfer Loren Dukate has a goal.

And a relatively small one, some might say.

Dukate wants to break former Waynesburg standout Robert Rohanna’s match-record score of 27, and he came dangerously close during a Division II Section 8 match yesterday at Rohanna’s Golf Course in Waynesburg, firing a 4-under 29 to lead the Raiders to a 184-212 victory over Charleroi.

“He’s chasing the record,” first-year Waynesburg coach Jeff Coss said. “That’s his goal.”

So far this season, Dukate has shot 32 against Carmichaels, 36 against Fort Cherry and another 36 during a loss to Trinity, helping Waynesburg to a 3-1 record overall, 2-0 in section play.

Dukate also placed second at the Tri-County Championship, held Aug. 17 at Village Green Golf Club in Hickory, with a 34-36-70 – a great score on any other day, though still behind Peters Township senior Tommy Nettles’ 4-under 67.

“He’s not a big guy,” Coss said, likening Dukate to current pro Corey Pavin. “But he’s solid. Every part of his game is good. He’s worked really hard.”

I will be calling Dukate (hopefully) later today to put together something more substantial for an upcoming high school notebook.

Monday, August 27, 2012

From Dugie's desk: Week 1 marching orders

Alright, so it's finally that time, the time to reveal the Observer-Reporter's Week 1 coverage plan for the first Friday night of high school football, "stolen" from the desk of sports editor Chris Dugan.

Not sure if I would expect this to be released so early in the week as the season goes on; in my experience, Week 1 assignments are always way early, then they gradually come closer to Friday as the seasons wears on.

Looks like I'll be grabbing a Grateful Dead disc for my ride to Greensburg:

Mackey: Washington at Greensburg Central Catholic, 7 p.m.
Joe Tuscano: Carmichaels at Jefferson-Morgan, 7 p.m.
Kevin Jacobson (stringer): McGuffey at South Fayette, 7 p.m.
Matt Shetler (stringer): Elizabeth Forward at Trinity, 7 p.m.

My game should be exciting because it pits a Washington team that loaded with skill players and should be very good this season against one of the perennial powers in Class AA.

Carmichaels and Jefferson-Morgan could battle it out for the Tri-County South title considering Monessen is now in the Class A Black Hills. And Jacobson's game is Ed Dalton's first at McGuffey -- good luck with that. Same goes for Ryan Coyle, who's taking Dalton's spot at Trinity and has a little easier task with Elizabeth Forward, though the Warriors did get a talented transfer from West Miffin in JaQuan Moore. Good dual-threat QB to watch.

*Editor's note: Had one small change ... Tuscano will now be covering EF/Trinity. Another stringer, David Floyd, will handle Carmichaels/Jefferson-Morgan.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Trinity's Vankirk OK

Some scary news for the Trinity football team last night, as senior quarterback Jason Vankirk was carried off the field on a stretcher and rushed to the hospital after taking a hit to the upper back/neck during the Hillers' scrimmage at Steel Valley.

Turns out everything is OK. Talked to head coach Ryan Coyle today, and Vankirk was released early this morning. He even attended Trinity's day-after workout to watch films and see his friends. Here's a link to today's story.

Also, posted below is what I just filed for Sunday's paper:

Less than 24 hours after he was carried off the field on a stretcher during the Trinity football team’s scrimmage at Steel Valley, senior quarterback Jason Vankirk was released from the hospital and attended the Hillers’ practice yesterday.

Vankirk was setting up to pass when he was hit in the upper back/neck area, first-year Hillers coach Ryan Coyle said. The hit draw a 15-yard flag.

Vankirk was taken to UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh and held overnight for observation, though he did have movement in his extremities and was responsive.

Vankirk, who was competing for the starting spot along with fellow senior Donnie McWreath, will wear a neck brace for the next couple of weeks, Coyle said. He will also undergo a few additional tests this week.

“Just to see his face and that he was alright, it kind of lifted everybody up a little bit,” said Coyle, who’s in his first year as Trinity’s coach. “It looks like he’s going to be OK, so that’s obviously a good thing.”

Friday, August 24, 2012

Athlete of the week, other notes

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I wanted to make sure to link our Athlete of the Week story – this one on Peters Township's Tom Nettles – seeing as it's the first one of the year.

This is also a reminder to submit nominations. Please, if you read this blog and know of someone doing something great – preferably, in this case anyway, within the confines of a high school sport –shoot me an e-mail and let me know.

The best way to draw attention on someone you know is to submit a nomination.

If you ever have suggestions on how you'd like these done, let me know via e-mail or by commenting on this blog. I know I'm hoping to incorporate some video as we move along this school.

In other news, I had hoped to head down to the Carmichaels-Waynesburg football scrimmage tonight, but I wound up putting together a high school notebook for tomorrow's paper. Make sure you read it.

I had wanted to see Carmichaels quarterback Brandon Lawless, as well as running back/linebacker Brennen McMinn. Perhaps Week 2 vs. Frazier or Week 3 at Beth-Center; the Tri-County title, with Monessen in the Class A Black Hills, should go to one of those three teams. Also wanted to meet Russ Moore, who’s back for a second stint at Waynesburg.

Lastly, thought I'd tease the two weekly features I hope to start next week:

>>From Dugie's Desk ... the sneak peak at our marching orders for Friday night, handed down by sports editor Chris Dugan.

>>View from the Outside … when Washington/Greene teams play opponents from Allegheny or Westmoreland counties, I hope to talk with a writer/friend who covers that team. I know next week I will be covering Washington at Greensburg Central Catholic. Thinking I will track down either Paul Schofield or Dave Mackall, who cover that area for the Tribune-Review.

More TV options for high school football

A day after Root Sports announced its live TV schedule, Comcast countered with its Xfinity On-Demand schedule for 2012.

While only one area game will be shown on Root's Thursday night broadcasts, several will be viewable here, some as part of a 10-minute highlight package.

Here's the schedule:

Aug. 31, Clairton at Chartiers-Houston, full game

Sept. 7, Upper St. Clair at Canon-McMillan, highlights

Sept. 21, Peters Township at Shaler, full game

Sept. 28, South Fayette at Seon La-Salle, full game

Xfinity will also show one WPIAL playoff game for the first three rounds.

Games are available to all Digital Starter customers or above beginning Monday after the game. Choose Get Local/Sports/Football on the On Demand menu.

You can also watch the games online at or via the company's free mobile app.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Root Sports announces TV schedule

Root Sports today announced what high school football games it will broadcast this season.

Within our coverage area -- not going to say Washington and Greene counties because technically it's right over the border -- only one school will have a game television live:

Clairton at Monessen, Sept. 20, 7 p.m.

(I know Monessen is in Westmoreland County, as one e-mail last week pointed out, but it's right over the border and the Greyhounds play plenty of Washington/Greene teams.)

The season-opener Aug. 31 between Clairton and host Chartiers-Houston will be broadcast on tape delay at 9 p.m. on Sept. 1. That game will be shown on PCN.

Here's the link to the complete schedule.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

All in the family at South Fayette

I took a trip to South Fayette today for the next stop on my football camp tour. As I pulled into the parking lot of the football complex – gorgeous, by the way, if you haven’t seen it – I almost expected to see a statue with the names “Challingsworth” and “Brumbaugh” on it.

Have had a few members of those families come through that place lately, no?

Brett Brumbaugh (see my pic above) will start the season at quarterback after being thrust into the lineup late last season because of injuries. It’s the same position that his older brother, Christian, manned so well that he helped the Lions win a WPIAL Class AA title and reach the PIAA Class AA final in 2010 before accepting a scholarship to William & Mary.

If you’re a Challingsworth, chances are you’ve caught passes from a Brumbaugh, which is the case for Tyler and his younger brother, Zach, who’s a senior at South Fayette this season and has given Pitt a verbal commitment.

Both younger siblings, of course, are looking to leave their mark on the program, one that has won at least seven games in seven of the past nine years.

“I always look back to what my brother accomplished and to what Christian accomplished,” Zach Challingsworth said. “You definitely want to make your own name, but just to have the Brumbaugh or Challingsworth name being talked about around South Fayette when football comes up is nice to have.

"It gives you a little bit of an edge because you want to beat out the older brother.”

Zach Challingsworth has certainly established himself as one of the premier receiving threats in the WPIAL, if not the No. 1 guy, by catching 48 passes for 704 yards and nine touchdowns last fall. I’m excited to see Challingsworth, sure, but what will be most interesting to me is whether Brett Brumbaugh can continue to put up impressive numbers, perhaps similar to what Christian did.

Brumbaugh hit on 48 of 76 passes for 606 yards and seven scores after taking over for an injured John Lerda during the final week of the regular season. Brumbaugh, who was only a freshman at the time, admitted to me that his head was spinning when he was trying to digest the Lions' offense for the first time.

(If you haven’t seen South Fayette, it’s not exactly an old fashioned I-formation or the wishbone.)

“I thought it was going to be too overwhelming,” Brumbaugh said. “I saw all these players crossing, going every direction. I remember being on the sidelines as a ballboy thinking, ‘This is going to be so hard to learn.’ But I learned it the first year. It was actually not as hard as I thought it was going to be, although it was still challenging.”

After hearing this I asked Challingsworth whether Brumbaugh was noticeably overwhelmed at first. He said yes, but Brumbaugh obviously didn’t let it show, either in his demeanor or his stats.

“He was pretty confused at the time,” Challingsworth said. “It was a hard transition. You’re out there as a receiver saying, ‘I see it’s cover-2, cover-3, I know what’s going to be open. I hope he understands the reads.

"Brett has come a long way, and he’s still going to get better. I think he can be one of the top quarterbacks in the state, if not the nation, by the time he’s a senior.”

Whether South Fayette can win another WPIAL title, who knows. But Brumbaugh did look awfully impressive in practice this afternoon.

I talked to head coach Joe Rossi, and he said we can expect to see more of the South Fayette offense that we saw in 2010, with Brett's older brother Christian under center.

"Learning our offense is almost like learning a new language," Rossi said. "We do so much. It's very sophisticated. We really feel that [Brett] has picked that up. Last year we kept it simple, but this year we've been able to change a lot of things and open up the playbook."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Start Week 2: Monessen

I drove down to Monessen today to watch the Greyhounds at summer camp and talk with West Virginia recruit Chavas Rawlins, a tall, athletic quarterback who may very well fit the mold of Pat White and Geno Smith, two former Mountaineers who drastically improved their throwing in Morgantown.

I wrote a story for tomorrow’s print edition about this, so make sure to pick a copy of the O-R. For now, here’s a video I shot of Rawlins talking prior to the afternoon practice.

Before I jump into writing the preview tab story on Monessen, here are a couple of notes/impressions from today:

>>Chavas Rawlins will get most of the headlines this season, simply because of the position he plays. But his younger brother, Justice, who was an All-American linebacker as a freshman, is coming back from a torn ACL that wiped out his junior season.

I asked Greyhounds coach Andy Pacak how Justice has looked thus far, and the early returns have evidently been pretty good.

“He looks good,” Pacak said. “He busted his butt doing what he was supposed to do recovery-wise. Saturday [during the team’s scrimmage against Frazier] he was looking at me, and I was looking at him … after his first couple of hits he was back in the groove. I think he’ll be fine.”

Justice Rawlins, along with senior Keith Davis (39 carries, 185 yards, one touchdown) could help out in the offensive backfield, too, where Monessen graduated running back Jalen Madison (115 carries, 665 yards, nine touchdowns).

>>Speaking of Davis, this might be a sleeper – and not because it’s summer camp. He’s 5-foot-4, 140 pounds, but … how do I say this … wears that weight well, if in fact he is only 140 pounds. The kid is built and doesn’t look all that fun to tackle. It will be fun to see how Monessen uses him to complement Chavas Rawlins.

>>I know I’m new to the area, so my impressions are just that, my impressions; others have seen this stuff before. But I really thought Monessen’s football facilities were cool.

Memorial Stadium is situated right on the road, backing up to people’s yards. They have the yardlines painted on the bottom of the stands, and the field itself is sunken way down, allowing the players to walk down steps or two ramps out of the locker room.

It’s one of those places that, if you lived (and covered high school football) somewhere else, really rings of Western Pennsylvania.

Just remind me to stay on the sidelines when I cover a game there. The press box is WAY far away from the field. Not too friendly a walk/sprint on deadline.

>>Monessen moves into a new conference this season. Perennially the angry big brother of the Tri-County South, the Greyhounds get a chance to pick on someone their own size when they join the WPIAL Class A Black Hills Conference alongside 2011 playoff teams Brentwood, Fort Cherry, Chartiers-Houston, Bishop Canevin, Clairton and California.

This will be one of the main aspects of my preview tab story, but I thought I would close with a couple of preview quotes:

Davis: “Everybody’s been talking about us needing to be in a new conference. Time to step it up. We’ll see how it is this year.”

Chavas Rawlins: “We expect every game to be like a playoff game, every week,” Rawlins said. “Last year we blew past some teams, not that much competition. But this year will be different. Every game will be a must-win game.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A few TVL notes

Few things to note:

>>I had originally planned on heading out to South Fayette tomorrow, but a death in the family has forced me to take an unexpected day off. Because of that and the Pony League World Series, we'll get back at the football camp stuff on Monday.

>>Got a call tonight from Canon-Mac AD Guy Montecalvo. The Big Macs' scrimmage Saturday with Brooke (W.Va.) has been moved to Canon-Mac. Montecalvo said because of a soccer scrimmage it will take place at 2 p.m.

>>Burgettstown's Owen Miller won the Century Conference Golf Tournament today at Cedarbrook with a 74 -- 37 out, 37 in. South Fayette's Corey Long was second at 76 (38-38), and McGuffey's Jesse Vensel took third with a 77 (36-41).

South Fayette won the team title with a total of 397. Burgettstown was second at 398. Here's a list of the winners:

1. South Fayette, 397
2. Burgettstown, 398
3. South Park, 441
4. Keystone Oaks, 451
5. Quaker Valley, 456
6. McGuffey, 464
7. Steel Valley, 520

1. Owen Miller, Burgettstown, 74
2. Corey Long, South Fayette, 76
3. Jesse Vensel, McGuffey, 77
4. Drake Hoberek, Burgettstown/Matt Garbara, South Fayette/Anthony Vallelunga, South Fayette, 79
7. Luc Bongiorni, Burgettstown/Hunter Lecker, Burgettstown, 80
9. Jordan Palmer, South Fayette/Mike Scandrol, McGuffey, 81

***These results did not make Friday's paper. We will run them in Saturday's, and I wanted to post them here so they're not ignored. Doubtful I'm going to be posting everybody's results on here all season.

Day 4: Ringgold and the Law brothers

I stopped by the Ringgold football team’s summer camp at Cal U’s Roadman Park today and found out a little more about the Rams, who must replace the Observer-Reporter Player of the Year in quarterback Quad Law.

After what appears to be a one-year platoon with senior Chris Spahr, it looks as though the heir to the throne is Quad Law’s younger brother, Nico, who’s a sophomore and will start at cornerback this season for Ringgold.

Third-year coach Matt Humbert said it’s Spahr’s job to lose – for now – and he has no problem playing both quarterbacks. Long-term, he expects Nico Law to be every bit as good as his older brother. He just doesn’t want to, in the words of Dennis Green, crown him yet.

“Ideally, you want to have one quarterback; it just makes life easier,” Humbert said. “But to me, this is a perfect situation because they have similar skill sets. They’re both smart kids; they know the entire offense that we have in right now, which isn’t an easy thing to do.

“The luxury for me is that if one of them goes down, we don’t skip a beat. It’s not like this kid has a certain package or that one can’t do something. They know everything in the offense. They run the same things.”

And Nico?

“He has all the potential to surpass Quad,” Humbert said.

Now don’t think this is a coach throwing his former player under the bus. According to wide receiver Joey Wall, who’s cousins with the Law brothers, Quad (real name: Percy) Law agrees with Humbert.

“He thinks [Nico] will be better than him,” Wall said. “He thinks he’s going to show him up.”

Should be interesting considering Quad Law, who’s now a wide receiver at NCAA Division II Gannon University, ran for 1,310 yards and 15 touchdowns on 124 carries while completing 28 of 65 passes for 624 yards and three touchdowns.

“And Nico is taller than his brother was, so he can actually see over the line,” Wall joked. “Quad’s 5-foot-7, Nico is 5-10. Nico can actually see me on those fade routes.”

Other notes from Ringgold’s camp:

>>Ringgold should have an experienced and fairly sizable offense line. Check out this group, which averages 6-foot-2, 228 pounds:

Sr. T Jeremy Saternos (6-2, 220)
Sr. T Chase Colucci (6-1, 216)
Sr. G Nygel Vann (5-9, 250)
Jr. G Nick Trocano (6-2, 225)
Sr. C Matt Devenney (5-10, 230)

“Everything goes in cycles,” Humbert said. “This is our line year.”

>>Ringgold, which went 8-3 overall and 6-1 in the WPIAL Class AAA Keystone Conference a season ago, will hope to not lose in the playoffs to Central Valley this year.

After winning their first playoff game since 1999 with a 14-10 victory over Highlands in the WPIAL Class AAA first round, the Rams fell to Central Valley, 44-28, in the quarterfinals. Two years ago, Ringgold lost to the Warriors, 21-13, in the first round, spoiling an undefeated regular season.

>>Running back Demetrious Lewis is one of the more underrated running backs in Class AAA. He ran for 578 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall, but expect those numbers to increase as he steps into a larger role because of Quad Law’s departure.

>>Ringgold’s camp is held at Roadman Park, which is next to Cal U’s Adamson Stadium, the same field where Humbert quarterbacked the Vulcans a number of years ago.

One, this has to be cool for Humbert, to coach at his alma mater for five days. But it also must be a nice reprieve for the players, who get to live at Vulcan Village – the school’s dorm/apartment building down the street – for a week.

“It’s a good thing to get away, but you start to miss it,” Lewis said. “You start to miss home, your bed, your family, some friends at home. But it’s good to get away.”

I asked Lewis whether Humbert tries to block them from technology, specifically Twitter.

“I hope he never does that,” Lewis said, laughing. “I would die without Twitter.”

Many would, Demetrious. Many would.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day 3: Visit to Char-Houston

The third day of Camp Mackey – the 2012 version of Camp Kovak – took me to Chartiers-Houston, where, after a stop at The Gyro Place along West Pike Street in Canonsburg, I watched the afternoon practice. I also talked with head coach Terry Fetsko and a few players.

What I learned goes something like this: With quarterback Danny Lis, who had a team-high 123 carries last fall, gone, the Buccaneers’ spread system will require much more out of two senior running backs in David Kincaid and Jevone Hairston.

Chartiers-Houston should also be bolstered by a defense that returns nine starters, most notably standout middle linebacker Garrett Vulcano, a four-year starter who had 161 tackles and two sacks last season.

Good thing, too, because Chartiers-Houston will play in the WPIAL Class A Black Hills Conference, a brutal league that could give the Class AAA Parkway a run for its money. Check out the 10 teams in the Black Hills: Bishop Canevin, Brentwood, California, Carlynton, Chartiers-Houston, Clairton, Fort Cherry, Imani Christian, Monessen and Serra Catholic.

“Every week is going to be a challenge for us,” Fetsko said. “Like I told the team, there’s going to be three or four traditional playoff teams not make the playoffs this year. Let’s make sure we’re not one of them.”

Almost every coach you talk to will crow about the quality of his/her conference, but I didn’t fault Fetsko. Heck, in this case, he's right.

Of the 10 teams in the Black Hills, seven made the playoffs last year, four reached the quarterfinals, two made the semifinals, and Clairton won a third consecutive PIAA Class A title, its 47th consecutive win.

“Every week there’s a playoff team,” Fetsko said.

Chartiers-Houston runs a spread offense, and last season Lis did it all. He completed 44 of 82 passes for 719 yards and five touchdowns. Those 123 carries – more than twice as much as anybody else – netted 897 yards and eight touchdowns.

Kaleb Susko will replace Lis under center, but he only attempted three passes last season, completing two for 36 yards. I asked Fetsko how the offense would change with Susko under center.

“Kaleb is a little bit different than Danny,” Fetsko said. “Danny was more of a running quarterback, and Kaleb is more of a throwing-type quarterback. He reads things well. He’s still going to run the ball a little bit, but our running game is going to be a little bit more focused on our running backs and our slots.”

In the backfield, here’s a look at what Hairston and Kincaid did last season:

Hairston: 57 carries, 384 yards, 9 TDs
Kincaid: 17 carries, 157 yards, 2 TDs

“David and Jevone … we just switch those two back and forth we get speed and power,” Vulcano said.

Speaking of Vulcano, who led off the full-team portion of practice today with a crushing tackle and later added a pick-six, he’s sporting a rather interesting haircut these days – mohawk down the middle, a half of a star around his left ear, two shaved lines above his right ear.

I’ll leave you with the conversation I had with Vulcano about it.

Me: Why the mohawk?
Vulcano: I just wanted to do it this year. It’s kind of messed up. One star, another outline. But they were crooked, so I had to cut it out.
Me: What’s been the reaction to it?
Vulcano: I gotta wear a hat to the fair … or else I won’t get any girls with my friends.
Me: What about the rides, don’t you have to eventually take it off?
Vulcano: Whenever I ride rides, I’m screwed. Or else I have to take it off, and the carnis look at me weird.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Day 2: A house of Hillers

The second day of my area football camp tour took me to Trinity’s living room. Or was it the Hillers’ dining room? I don’t know. I couldn’t tell.

Trinity is one of the few WPIAL schools to hold an overnight camp at the school. Players sleep on air mattresses in the cafeteria and shower in the locker room. It’s an odd setup that I’ll get to in a bit.

I went to Trinity today for a sit-down interview with head coach Ryan Coyle, who was hired to replace Ed Dalton (now at McGuffey) – despite the fact that he’s just 26 years old and has never been a head coach before.

It will be the main story for our football preview tab, and hopefully I can do it justice; I know Trinity is one of the better programs around here, and hiring a 26-year-old to head your program is, um, an interesting move.

But after my afternoon at Trinity, I see what those hiring saw. Coyle is affable but stern, smart but not arrogant, and he’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met.

(He paid his own college tuition with odd jobs, something I’ll write in more detail about later.)

It was almost funny hearing him talk to players. Some younger coaches have a fairly friendly relationship with their players. Coyle was personable and had no problem communicating, but there was no screwing around; I kept waiting for a smile that never came.

“As a young guy, it’s hard to expect him to be in your face and everything,” senior tight end Jared Deep said of Coyle. “But there’s no messing around with him. It’s all serious, all the time.”

More Coyle stuff can wait. I thought I’d use this post to talk about these living conditions.

Coyle said this is something that his mentor, former Penn Hills and Shaler coach Neil Gordon, always did. And it was something that he told himself he would do when he got his own program. It’s also something that Dalton did at Trinity.

Players purchase their own air mattresses and essentially make a giant bedroom out of half of the cafeteria, a dining and lounge area out of the rest.

Even the coaches get in on it: Four double-bed size air mattresses are wedged into a long, narrow office, with a projector playing overhead.

I asked Deep whether it was a competitive thing to get the best air mattress, and he told me that the biggest status symbol was how close you were to an electrical outlet. That way you could plug in fans and other devices.

“It’s first come first serve … unless a senior kicks someone out,” Deep said. “But that doesn’t really happen because the seniors are here pretty early. The sooner you get here, the better it is for you all week.”

I also talked to wide receiver/defensive back Corey Hunsberger, who admitted that most players don’t think anything of it. It’s something they’ve done their whole lives, and until someone else points out how strange it must be to LIVE AT THE SCHOOL, he hadn’t really thought twice about it.

“From the outside looking in, I’m sure it’s bizarre,” Hunsberger said. “But it’s pretty much all we’ve known as far as football. Everyone looks forward to it – not so much during camp, when you’re drained, but you look forward to coming up and getting to partake in everything, all the traditions and little things that go on.”

I asked whether it was weird waking up together in the morning.

“Waking up in the morning, I don’t think you’ll ever get used to that,” Hunsberger said. “It’s still like, ‘Why am I not sleeping? Why am I getting up? Why’s my coach here? Leave me alone.’ ”

On the field, Trinity returns several skills players, including running back Kyle Dugan, who had 65 carries for 422 yards and five touchdown last season, as well as backfield mate Pat Frey (76 carries, 388 yards, four touchdowns), who missed the second half of last season with a broken leg.

Hunsberger was Trinity’s leading receiver with 13 catches for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Jason Vankirk returns after completing 50 of 100 passes for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns, but Coyle said there’s an open competition between Vankirk and Donnie McWreath, a bigger, pro-style quarterback who played tight end and linebacker last season.

Lineman Xavuer Severns and Evan McWreath will be two of the leaders on defense.

“We do have some guys who have been in the fire before, but maybe just in a little bit different way,” Coyle said.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Camp Mackey: Day 1

The first stop on my tour of area football camps was at Washington High School where head coach Mike Bosnic led the Little Prexies to an 8-3 record and the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals last season.

That record came as a bit of a surprise, but the other night I looked up how the Little Prexies really did: Those eight wins came against only two teams with a winning record, and the three losses came against a group – Clairton, Seton-La Salle and Aliquippa – that went 41-2.

The two “winning teams” were South Fayette (7-4) and Mt. Pleasant (6-4).

Translated, Washington beat the teams it should beat … but didn’t knock off any elite teams. Bosnic, of course, hopes to change that this year.

“I think the guys want to build on the success that we had,” he said. “Maybe take it to the next level.”

Washington lost a decent amount up front on offense and defense, but it does return a group of talented skill guys in quarterback Josh Wise and running backs Shai McKenzie and Jaylin Kelly, a junior and a senior, respectively.

Wise completed 34 of 77 passes for 585 yards. He threw nine touchdowns and eight interceptions and added five rushing touchdowns. McKenzie ran for 1,202 yards and 21 touchdowns on 189 carries. Kelly helped out with 516 yards and three touchdowns on 65 carries.

McKenzie and Kelly are both getting Division I looks, Bosnic said.

Bosnic also pointed me – literally, he walked to the side where I was watching and pointed – toward a pair of seniors in Mijerean Witcher and Jordan Allen, two guys who can play both running back and receiver and two players he expects big things from this season.

One thing that stood out to me during the afternoon offensive session was the throwing of quarterback Josh Wise, who’s known more as an athlete than a gunslinger.

Wise was throwing 15-yard comebacks on the run and to his left – hardly easy throws for a high school kid. He also displayed a nice touch on deep crossing patterns, including one to Allen during skeleton drills (passing plays without a defense).

“Right now he’s throwing the ball really well,” Bosnic said. “He’s definitely a very athletic kid, but right now he’s also throwing the ball well.”

I did more reporting on Wise today, but you’re going to have to wait for our football preview tab for those little nuggets. I will say this: If Wise gives Washington a vertical threat, that will be a huge help to McKenzie and Kelly.

Couple more things to note:

>>Brenton Jones moved into the area from South Carolina over the summer. This is notable because he’s 6-foot-6, 290 pounds … and I can attest, he looks every bit of that. He also a strong candidate to start, Bosnic said. (On the line. Doubtful he’ll supplant McKenzie.)

>>Bosnic was frazzled. In a good, first-day-of-camp way. It’s funny, no matter how many times anybody goes through this stuff, it’s always rough the first day; coaches’ heads are spinning, kids are dead tired. But he did manage to sum things up pretty well with this quote, which I’ll leave you with.

“The first day is always crazy,” Bosnic said. “The chaos here just between practices … I think right now, talking to you the first day, my wheels are turning, and I’m going a thousand different directions.

“Like I said, we have some guys with some experience, some really nice skill players. We’re just hoping to build on the success that we had last year.”

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Camp starts Monday

The cooler weather isn't the only thing pointing us toward fall.

High school sports teams hit the field for fall practice tomorrow morning, and you can read more about the football end of things – how summer camp has evolved – in Monday's Observer-Reporter.

Making sure that the Legend of Mike Kovak never dies, I will be touring several area football camps next week, as well as the week after. So far the schedule looks like this:

Monday: Washington
Tuesday: Trinity
Wednesday: Chartiers-Houston
Thursday: Ringgold
Friday: South Fayette

How, you're probably asking yourself, was this determined? Simple. They're my tab assignments. The second week of camp will start select visits, mostly to the places I deem most interesting.

(Monessen, for instance, because of West Virginia recruit Chavis Rawlins. Or McGuffey, where longtime Trinity coach Ed Dalton is in his first year.)

The stop at Trinity will not only be for tab reporting, but I'm also working on a longer piece about head coach Ryan Coyle, who takes this fall despite being just 26 years old.

All this week, look for extras posted on the blog, observations, extra tidbits and quotes.

Also take a minute to read the piece on how camps have evolved. Really is amazing how different they are these days.

I played at Brentwood from 1998-2001, and never did we have our offense 85 percent – a near-universal estimate by the coaches I talked to – installed by the time we started camp, even after adding seven-on-sevens before the 2000 season.

One coach I talked to for the story, Ringgold's Matt Humbert, is similar in age – 27 – and played high school football about a decade ago at Laurel Highlands.

Humbert, who's in his third year at Ringgold, agreed with me, saying it seems like there's a continuous push to install earlier and earlier.

Here's a quote of his that did not make the paper:

"Nowadays there's a higher level of commitment involved," Humbert said. "I'm not saying that it didn't take place when I played, but I really think with seven-on-sevens being what they are, I think that's why schools start as early as they do."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Germany an interesting entry into PLWS

In Friday's Observer-Reporter you can read about one of the additions to this year's Pony League World Series: the baseball team from Paderborn, Germany, the first European entry into the PLWS.

I stopped by the SpringHill Suites last night to chat with assistant coach Alper Bozkurt -- manager Georg Bull hadn't arrived yet -- to talk a little European baseball.

Turned out to be one of the better conversations I've had in this gig, and I thought I would provide one story that didn't make the print edition.

So Bozkurt was a competetive handball player in Germany and one day, in the late 1980s, went to the movies with about a dozen friends.

The group thought they were seeing what Bozkurt believes was Back to the Future -- would have to be Back to the Future II, as the first one doesn't mesh with the second part of what he told me -- and when the movie started, what came on the screen was Major League.

Or, as he explained to me, "you know, the one with the Cleveland Indians."

They loved it. Ate it up. Went to the commissary -- his word, not mine -- to buy a couple gloves and a couple bats, and the group made four bases ... that they stuck on the local soccer field.

"We watched Major League, got out of the theatre and said, 'We have to try this,' " Bozkurt said. "We just watched it over and over again on VHS, trying to figure out what they were doing."

In the process of learning the game, apparently Bozkurt and his friends had some trouble comprehending the rules.

"We had to invent some of our own rules that turned to be completely ridiculous," Bozkurt said, laughing. "They didn't make any sense."

I asked for an example.

"When you touched a base, the game stopped because the guys wouldn't stop running," Bozkurt said, sounding very much like one of the few who understood the rules. "We'd start throwing the ball around, and you had to find ways to stop them."

It will certainly be interesting to see how Paderborn does in the Pony League World Series, which kicks off today at 5:30 p.m. with a game between Caguas, Puerto Rico and New Bedford, Mass.

Paderborn, which cruised through the European qualifier, will play host Washington at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. All games will be played at Lew Hays Pony Field in Washington Park.

Observer-Reporter sports editor Chris Dugan will be handling early duties, while I'm covering the second game tomorrow between Host Area champion Johnstown and North Zone champion Bay County Red, a Michigan-area team.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I know you Washington

I have never braved scaffolding while covering a high school football game.

But that doesn't mean this blog -- which will soon be up and running at full capacity -- will change.

Hi, there. This is Jason Mackey, the high school sports reporter hired to replace Mike Kovak, who left this joint with a tale about his near-death experience at Beth-Center.

While Mike and I are friends and share a lot of the same views of how high school sports should be covered -- the focus on the athletes, coaches and people involved, not me -- I can't say I have anything to rival the yarn he spun on his way out the door.

We do, however, share the same taste in music, which is reflected in this Grateful Dead song title. (I Know You Rider, more often than not coupled with China Cat Sunflower.)

Kovak set the bar high. He wrote a lot. Reported even more. And he was universally respected by coaches, readers and fellow journalists. I realize replacing him will be a monumental task, but I'm both confident I can do it and excited for the opportunity.

I come to you via the Tribune-Review and Washington Post. At both papers I carved out an interesting niche: essentially a full-time freelancer, someone who was not a staffer, yet worked every bit as much as one.

It's good to finally have a place to call home. (Your suggestions on cool things to do around the area ... always welcome.)

I started at the Observer-Reporter on July 23 and have loved every minute of it. The people are great. The coverage area has proven to be even better -- even though I haven't been able to get one of those white roadside boxes that say "Observer-Reporter" on them. Can't wait to kick it into full gear with the start of the fall sports season.

Some of what you can expect in this space goes like this:

My own views, though I'm not one to criticize high school kids -- only promote them. Of course, those who make high school sports more complicated than they need to be? (There are plenty, believe me.) Fair game, in my opinion.

Mike did an excellent job of keeping this blog updated, and that's something I will continue; regularity, as those reading this can attest, is essential for any successful blog.

Nuggets that I pick up on the reporting trail will land here. Same with predictions, reflections and things to watch during upcoming events. Hopefully breaking news -- hint, hint coaches and ADs, I can be contacted at 412-400-1391 or -- will become a part of the routine, too.

One thing I'm particular excited for is the start of football camp. To travel to various schools much like Mike did for Camp Kovak. I don't want to be completely unoriginal -- you'll notice the blog name hasn't changed -- and keep this as Camp Mackey, so we'll make it our own personal Oklahoma drill to think of something different.

So with that, let's start the climb.