Friday, August 30, 2013

I hate goodbyes

The last day of any job stinks.

It's awkward. Everybody saying their goodbyes, acting like you're going to some faraway place. People who haven't heard. As a responsible employee, you're still trying to -- using a baseball term -- play out the string.

My predecessor on this beat, Mike Kovak, recalled a funny story about scaling scaffolding to take away some of that awkwardness, but I'm having no such luck thinking of one.

Perhaps because I heeded Mike's advice. On many things.

In any case, Friday is officially my last night at the Observer-Reporter. Come Tuesday I will start a job at the Tribune-Review. The move, though it makes sense (to me anyway) from a professional standpoint, doesn't come without its difficulties.

I've met many great people here, and to the majority simply calling them "great" doesn't do it justice. A lot of great folks, a lot of great memories. Shoot, can't believe all of 'em have been crammed into a 13-month term.

And I truly appreciate you reading, e-mailing, subscribing, following and calling.

It's a slice of life that I know I won't soon forget.

The Observer-Reporter is in the process of hiring my replacement, and, knowing who's involved, I have no doubt they will hire a quality person and writer. Also someone who will keep this blog going.

I'll still be on Twitter (@mackey_jason). Can also e-mail me at

As my idol, Jerry Garcia, sung many years ago ...

And I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Special visitor for McKenzie

Washington running back Shai McKenzie will have some extra motivation Friday night against Greensburg Central Catholic ... then a conundrum come Monday.

McKenzie mother, Misty Nolder, will be visiting from Georgia, and she’ll get to watch her son as the Prexies open their season against GCC at 7 p.m.

On Monday, McKenzie will watch Pitt host Florida State at Heinz Field in a nationally televised game. Both schools are in McKenzie’s top five – and toward the top. Virginia Tech, Arkansas and Georgia Tech complete the list.

“My mom has a good connection with Florida State, and of course living in Georgia she likes Georgia Tech,” McKenzie explained. “On the other hand, my dad’s a Pitt guy, a Virginia Tech guy.

“I hope my mom doesn't go sit on the Florida State side.”

Should be an important moment in the recruiting process for McKenzie, who figures to be on the field for warm-ups, too.

“Last year I went to the game when they played Youngstown State, and we went on the field,” McKenzie said. “Just interacted with some players, talked to some coaches. Usually you’re with other athletes there.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Good news for Chartiers-Houston, California

The two football teams left after Fort Cherry finalized plans for a replacement game may still have hope to replace Imani Christian on their schedules.

Hours after the Rangers signed off on hosting Brockway at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 18, news broke tonight that Rockwood High School would not field a team in District 5.

That creates nine teams looking for games. Conemaugh Township (Sept. 20) and Ferndale (Oct. 4) will be without games the same weeks Chartiers-Houston and California were scheduled to play Imani Christian.

Monessen, the fourth local team in the Black Hills, had already scheduled a game: at Mountain Ridge High School in Frostburg, Md., at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 11.

Trinity's Dobich breaks ankle

The Trinity football team was already young, but it turns out the Hillers lost one of their few players with experience for an extended period of time.

Fullback/linebacker John Dobich missed half of training camp with a concussion, which had cleared up. But, before returning to practice Monday, Dobich broke his ankle over the weekend and will miss an additional six weeks.

Tough break for a team that will be breaking in new starters at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and at several spots along the offensive and defensive lines.

If the six weeks holds true, Dobich could return for Oct. 11, at home, against Uniontown. Games at West Mifflin and home against Ringgold follow the next two Friday nights.

Monday, August 26, 2013

PT's Parker enjoying return

As someone who lost his junior football season to a back injury, I can identify with Peters Township goalkeeper Megan Parker, who's returning from a torn ACL injury that wiped out her junior soccer season.

"It feels awesome," Parker responded when I asked her yesterday afternoon what it felt like to be back. "Coming back with this team ... I love these girls so much."

Thinking back on my own experience, I asked Parker whether she tried to avoid taking the little things for granted, whether even a sprint -- in the past a gigantic pain -- became fun again. Parker smiled.

"You appreciate something when you can't do it," Parker said. "I would rather be running than not. It feels very good to be able to be running and doing those things again."

I have a story in Tuesday's paper about the young group that will carry Peters Township after several losses: nine seniors, including Olivia Roberson, now at Duquesne, and senior Veronica Latsko, who's out for the year with a torn ACL.

Parker figures to be one of those after she moves back into goal and Carly Johns, the keeper as Peters Township won its third consecutive PIAA Class AAA title, moves back to defend. Check out Katie Roupe's photo of Parker from Monday's practice.

Details Comcast On Demand games

Comcast’s XFINITY High School Sports Game of the Week will be available for the first time in high definition during the 2013 season as part of a 12-week WPIAL schedule that includes three playoff games and teams from every WPIAL classification.

All XFINITY TV subscribers with Digital Starter and above packages get free access to the XFINITY High School Sports Game of the Week through the “Get Local” and “Sports” folders on their On Demand menu beginning the day after the game is played.

The schedule starts Aug. 30 with the WPIAL Class AAAA game between Mt. Lebanon and North Allegheny.

Locally, Comcast will broadcast Yough at Washington on Sept. 20 and Seton-La Salle at South Fayette a week later.

Chris Shovlin will be the play-by-play voice, Ellis Cannon on color. Kati Lightholder will work the sidelines. Former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch will join the broadcast team on the playoffs.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Duchi and Frey impress for McGuffey

With all tab responsibilities and Tuesday's sick day behind me, I stopped out at McGuffey tonight to watch the Highlanders scrimmage Uniontown.

The story: James Duchi and Patrick Frey combined to run for 251 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, showing off the backfield of riches that McGuffey figures to have this season.

"It’s good," said Duchi, who ran eight times for 76 yards. "We have a good backfield."

I will examine the Highlanders' backfield situation for Sunday's paper, but here's the short version: Frey transfers from Trinity ... Duchi, who had 1,514 yards and and 13 touchdowns as THE MAN last season must share time ... neither have an issue.

OK, the very short version.

Though I have a tough time believing it, Duchi said he didn't feel threatened at all when Frey, who rushed for 940 yards and 10 touchdowns at Trinity, started taking classes at McGuffey.

I thought it was going to be good, because now we have two great running backs," Duchi told me after McGuffey trounced Uniontown. "If one of us goes down, we still have another one. It’s just better to have two running backs."

Frey, who rushed for 175 yards on eight carries, was a little more candid, offering this:

"I came in a little nervous, I’m not going to lie," said Frey, who transferred to enroll in McGuffey's vocational agriculture program. "He had more yards than me, but I knew they would find a spot for me, even at fullback or wherever it is."

Tonight that was at the Wildcat, the formation where Frey scored both of his touchdowns: a 21-yarder on McGuffey's second possession, a 60-yarder to finish off the third.

>>>Senior kicker Tyler Harris made a 46-yard field goal on McGuffey's third possession. And get this: Harris has never kicked a football -- at least not in a game -- before.

Sure, he scored around 30 goals for the soccer team. But a football player he's most certainly not.

"I don’t think he knows how many points you score on a touchdown," McGuffey coach Ed Dalton said. "He’s a soccer kid. But hopefully he’ll be an end zone kicker by next week. They've gone two and three practices a day, so I’m hoping his leg will bounce back by next week."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Monessen schedules game in Maryland

So I asked Monessen football coach Andy Pacak on Aug. 8 what he planned to do if Imani Christian was not able to fulfill its 2013 schedule.

Nothing, Pacak said.

Probably couldn't find a game, and even if they could, the bye week would be preferable for the Greyhounds.

Here's the exact quote: “We’re going to plan like we have a game that day, until someone tells us that we don’t,” Pacak said. “Not going to West Virginia and Ohio at that point in the season – for us that’s the week before Chartiers-Houston – and having a week off (in Week 7) would not be the not the end of the world.

“If it was our first or second game, I might feel different.”

Asked Pacak again when it was final Imani was done. Same answer: “At this point, we’re not going to find a game,” Pacak said. “Even if we could, we’d rather use that time to rest up.”

So, naturally, Monessen went and found a game: Oct. 11, 7 p.m., at Mountain Ridge High School in Frostburg, Md.

I'll say this for Pacak: He only brought up West Virginia and Ohio; he didn't say anything about Maryland.

Week 2 scrimmage schedule

Here's a list of the Week 2 scrimmage schedule for area high school football teams:

Avella at Serra Catholic, 6 p.m.
Bentworth at California, 6 p.m.
Bishop Canevin at South Fayette, 6 p.m.
Brownsville at Beth-Center, 7 p.m.
Canon-McMillan at Fox Chapel, 6 p.m.
Carlynton at Burgettstown, 6:30 p.m.
Carmichaels at Waynesburg, 7 p.m.
Fort Cherry at Avonworth, 7 p.m.
Jefferson-Morgan at Southmoreland, 6 p.m.
Monessen at Charleroi, 7 p.m.
Ringgold at South Park, 6 p.m.
Steel Valley at Trinity, 6 p.m.
Thomas Jefferson at Peters Township, 6 p.m.
Uniontown at McGuffey, 6 p.m.
Washington at Albert Gallatin, 6 p.m.
West Greene vs. Sto-Rox vs. Chartiers-Houston at Chartiers-Houston, 6 p.m.
Wilkinsburg vs. Geibel vs. Mapletown at Mapletown, 7 p.m.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Camp notes: Ringgold

They bickered like an old, married couple.

"Make sure that goes on the record," Ringgold football coach Matt Humbert shouted at practice this morning. "It's the first time Nico admitted he was wrong."

Junior quarterback Nico Law disagreed, insisting he had been wrong before — and admitted it.

This was only one small instance, and not negative at all, but it gave me a look into the world of Humbert and Law, who operate pretty much like two brothers: coach chides player, player throws it back to coach, so on and so forth.

"We're close," Law explained. "He's an older brother; I wouldn't say he's like another father figure. He's like an older brother because he's a young coach."

That relationship has extended to Sunday diagram sessions, to lifting and conditioning and even a post-practice meeting Friday in Humbert's office. They talk a lot. Humbert, an ex-quarterback himself, wouldn't have it any other way.

"I know Nico might consider me his older brother, and I think the reason is that we're together constantly," Humbert said. "Since January, we've been around each other around four days a week. He's a kid who has all the tools. He can throw the ball well. He can run the ball well. He has a great football IQ."

I didn't get to see a whole heck of a lot down at Ringgold today, mostly just a bunch of walk-through stuff, but Law certainly impressed. After being thrust into a starting role last year, he has bulked up quite a bit and has become more of a leader.

>>Humbert raved about the quality of this camp, pegging it to the amount of competition at several positions. Pretty much every one, save for Law's spot, is up for grabs.

"There are a lot of kids competing for positions, so they're less likely to screw around," Humbert said. "I don't have to allocate 15 minutes of practice every day to punish the kids and run 'em because five kids can't control themselves."

>>Wide receiver/linebacker Dayshore Majors returns and steps into Joey Wall's role. Wall did a little bit of everything last year: four rushing touchdowns, two receiving, two picks, three fumble recoveries and 55 tackles. Look for big things out of Majors.

>>Sophomore Chacar Berry is a first-year varsity player after starting at running back on the JV squad last season. He could lead a talented four-man group taking over for Demetrius Louis.

>>Linebacker Matt Kirby returns after making 62 tackles. Connor Gary is also back inside.

>>Alan Pritchett, who had 50 tackles and two sacks at cornerback last year, moves to safety. He'll split time with Jake Gerard at the outside receiver spot opposite Majors on offense.

>>Majors said this year's camp has been better than any in recent memory, and there's been an interesting reason for the about-face.

"A lot of hitting," Majors told me. "Last year, we didn't hit at all. This year we hit, and I think that's going to make us a better defensive team."

Geibel gone, too?

Heard a rumor -- at least from a reliable source -- that Geibel had to pull out of its three-way scrimmage with Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Serra Catholic Saturday because its team only had nine players on it.

If that's true, and Geibel cannot field a team long term, the coaches in the WPIAL Class A Black Hills Conference probably wouldn't be all that upset. That would be mean they'd have ready-made crossover games against the Tri-County, should they choose to play them.

Here's a hypothetical look at who could be playing whom:

Fort Cherry vs. West Greene, Week 4
*Both had/have home games

Monessen vs. Bentworth, Week 7
*Bentworth was/is supposed to be at home

California vs. Carmichaels, Week 6
*Both had/have home games

Chartiers-Houston vs. Mapletown, Week 4
*Both had/have home games

Other cross-over matchups

Beth-Center vs. Serra Catholic
*Both had/have home games

Jefferson-Morgan vs. Clairton
*Both had/have away games

For those asking, we'll know for sure on Imani come Monday. I'm not aware of any deadline that Geibel faces.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Camp notes: Chartiers-Houston

Chartiers-Houston: the land of no names and coaches who participate in practice.

I spent the early part of the afternoon at Chartiers-Houston and had a great time 
— despite the fact that players don't have numbers on their practice jerseys, which makes it a little tough to know who's who. First, though, let's start with a story.

Defense day, seven-on-seven work. I'm standing near the linemen and notice someone lofting a beautiful ball on a 30-yard, backside post.

It's Bucs head coach Terry Fetsko.

And he's throwing a kid's football.

"You stole that out of your kid's toy bin," senior Miles Williamson accuses Fetsko.

"Yep, he's probably crying right now because he can't find it," Fetsko jokes.

A few seconds later, Fetsko pretends he's hitting Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone to win a Super Bowl.

"Big Ben's in trouble," someone shouts. Fetsko plays along.

Williamson tried to bet that he could throw the ball 80 yards — and if so the Bucs would get out of conditioning for the day. It traveled 73, though it did roll to 81.

Fetsko even participated in running sprints. Cracks me up. He said it's something he does every year, even though his players usually make fun of him. Gotta love that.

Oh, wait, what? Serious stuff? Fine.


Kaleb Susko returns at quarterback, Williamson at receiver — he's 6-4, 192, big and athletic … look for a Recruit Watch thingy — but not much in the way of running backs; Jevone Hairston, David Kincaid and Grant Foster (transfer to Central Catholic), the Bucs' best three from last year, are all gone.

Senior Derek Hull has the lead on the competition, but the simple fact, all agreed, is that Susko and Williamson will have to do more.

"We need to take a look at some things," Fetsko said. "We lost our three leading rushers; you put all of their yards together, they had about 1,500. We had a nice corps of running backs. When you lose all three it makes it difficult.

"We need Kaleb to step up, to be a leader, and we have to have him get the ball in the hands of our skill people. We're getting on him to do a lot more."

Joining Williamson out wide will be senior Doug DiNardo and three juniors: Thomas Wormsley, Wyatt Kincaid and Josh Gray — among others.

Senior Walt Lober, and juniors Tyler Stegenga and Noah Deep return along the offensive and defensive lines.


The three running backs also played linebacker, and Garrett Vulcano, an all-state player now at West Liberty, is also gone.

Hull figures to take Vulcano's spot at middle linebacker, but there's plenty of competition for the other spots, a competition led by sophomore Dylan Briggs.

Defensive backs will be Williamson, Susko, Wyatt, Kincaid and Wormsley.
Safety/wide receiver/punter Alec Ferrari is out at least until early in the regular season, Fetsko said, with "blood clots," giving the Bucs another loss to address.

Good day. Got Ringgold tomorrow morning, then some tab writing in the afternoon and evening.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Camp notes: South Fayette

I spent Wednesday afternoon at South Fayette, checking out the WPIAL Class AA semifinalists from 2012. Plenty is back for coach Joe Rossi's team, and it looks like the Lions have a pretty strong plan in place to address the team's biggest loss: wide receiver Zach Challingsworth.

Where to start with these guys?

Eh, probably where I start with every other team: quarterback.

South Fayette, of course, is loaded at quarterback, with junior Brett Brumbaugh. Brumbaugh threw for 2,823 yards and 37 yards as a sophomore last season, and he only figures to get better. Looked great today, in what little I saw on defense day.

His favorite target -- Challingsworth -- is gone, now at Pitt, but check out this list of returners:

WR Justin Watson, Sr. (28-592-8TD)
WR Conner Beck, Sr. (29-457-4TD)
WR Roman Denson, Jr. (transfer from Gateway)
TE Logan Sharp, Jr. ("This kid could be the most special tight end we've had here," Rossi said.)
WR Hayden Orler, Sr.

And these are just the guys catching passes for Brumbaugh. Four of five linemen return, as well as running back Grant Fetchet, who had 932 yards and 10 touchdowns last fall. No doubt the Lions are gonna be in the Aliquippa-Washington-best-teams-in-Class AA conversation. And deservedly so.

Couple notes from today's afternoon session, which was mostly defense:

>>Former Canon-McMillan coach Tim Sohyda is now at South Fayette as a defensive line coach. Don't think he recognized me as I stood outside the weight room, either.

>>Rossi will take over the defense after Darren Schoppe left to become the head coach at Bishop Canevin. This will be the first time in Rossi's tenure where he didn't call the plays.

>>First play of full team drills, Watson in coverage, jumps and tips the ball to himself, later returning it for a touchdown.

>>Rossi was very impressed with Denson and press-coverage, saying this was something -- picked up at Gateway -- where you could tell he was coached extremely well.

>>Interesting end to practice. Five plays, third and four, five drops to the loser. Turned out 3-1-1 for the starting defense:

1. Brumbaugh, running scout team, offense completes a slant for the first down.
2. Watson pass breakup.
3. Run stopped for two yards.
4. Run for loss of one.
5. Brumbaugh rolling left, would've been sacked in a game, called it a wash.

>>Recruiting stuff: Brumbaugh has offers from Akron and Temple, but Penn State and Virginia Tech has shown an increasing amount of interest. Expecting this to be the beginning of some BCS-level Division I attention.

Watson has been fielding interest from Ivy League, Patriot League and MAC schools. He said he hoped to pick between his top two -- Cornell and Penn -- before the season starts.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Camp notes: Trinity

Was out at Trinity earlier today to talk to Ryan Coyle and check on the Hillers, a team that must replace quite a bit of talent.

First impression: They're going to be just fine.

Trinity's practice -- special teams, then an uptempo, offensive walkthrough -- had a great pace to it, and I saw about a half-dozen guys capable of replacing running back Patrick Frey (now at McGuffey), quarterbacks Jason Vankirk and Don McWreath, tight end Jared Deep and wide receiver Corey Hunsberger.

Not booking Trinity for a trip to Heinz quite yet, but if you think the Hillers were destined for a 2-7 disaster, think again.

Start with quarterback, where junior Forrest Cullings takes over. Cullings looked sharp today. Very sharp. He's young, so I don't think Coyle's going to turn him into Brett Brumbaugh or anything, but he made several nice throws and actually worked through some progressions.

Even hit senior Brandon McGavitt on a post route to highlight some of the deeper passing plays.

Behind Cullings will be running back Robert West, the team's top returner with 81 yards and four touchdowns, as well as Colton Jordan and Rylee Yocca. Gaage Marry will play fullback. McGavitt figures to take on some of Hunsberger's responsibility as a playmaker.

"I think we're going to surprise some people with our offense," Marry said. "Not too many people think we're going to be able to move the ball this year."

>>If you've ever been around Trinity for an extended period of time, you've probably been scared of Coyle. OK, maybe not. But the guy's intense. Practice is broken into tiny segments, and there's never a question who's in charge.

I asked some of the players I talked to today whether they've grown more comfortable with Coyle over the past year.

"Practices are a lot smoother," Marry said. "We know the tempo now."

"You have to take him in small doses," McGavitt joked.
"His bark is worse than his bite," McGavitt added, drawing a laugh from yours truly.

>>Also very impressed with the weight room Trinity created for itself using an old storage space at the middle school, where the Hillers hold camp. New machines. Re-done floors and walls. Just a gorgeous place. And they're apparently the only ones who use it. The school matched the money the team raised, and it shows. Just a top-notch facility.

>>Trinity will very much be defined by its offensive line. The Hillers were hit hard by graduation up front, the top returner being senior Steven Iams. The size, as I saw today, was there. But Coyle -- a former lineman himself, even though he doesn't look the part -- has his work cut out for him in this department, developing some of these big bodies.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Camp notes: Washington

Spent the afternoon at Wash High today, watching the Prexies prep some offense. Here are a few things I noticed from the defending Interstate Conference champions and last year's WPIAL Class AA runner-up.

>>A big story for Washington this season will be replacing Josh Wise's leadership and the stability he gave the Prexies at quarterback. No, Wise wasn't South Fayette's Brett Brumbaugh. Nobody needed him to be. But he gave his team a reliable second source of offense behind running back Shai McKenzie.

Senior Chase Caldwell was supposed to fill that void, but a torn ligament in his right elbow, an injury that occurred during track season, forced Caldwell to move to wide receiver.

Saw a few different players take snaps today, but it looks like the competition will come down to junior Jonathan Spina and senior Quorteze Levy.

>>Funny moment: Caldwell chiding junior DeQuay Isbell for dropping a pass, only to let the next attempt slip through his fingers. "That's not me," Caldwell told me after practice. Ten pushups for both.

>>Encouraging No. 1: While doing skeleton passing drills, Shai McKenzie hauled in one in the flat with one hand. No doubt McKenzie's contributions as a pass-catcher will be warmly welcomed with Spina or Levy under center.

>>Encouraging sign No. 2: First play of team drills. Spina finds tight end Nate Swart running a deep corner route and lofts a beauty. That connection would go a long way toward opening up some running room for McKenzie.

>>Shai McKenzie … the linebacker. McKenzie's supposed to play strong side outside linebacker this season and at one point tried to get reps with a few other starters, as the offensive reserves worked. He was quickly removed from the defensive huddle.

"It was something more for younger guys," McKenzie explained. "I think we're going defensive practice next, so I'll probably be in that series."

McKenzie said he has not played offense and defense in the same game since his freshman year.

>>Levy on replacing Wise, who was the team's vocal leader: "We don't really have that kind of guy anymore, but we're doing well without him. We really can't replace Josh and what he said; he always had something to say."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Recruit watch: Justice Rawlins, Monessen

Fair or not, when many people thought of the Monessen football team last season, the first name that came to mind was quarterback/defensive back Chavas Rawlins — not his younger brother, Justice, a running back and linebacker.

With Chavas Rawlins now at Duquesne, it's the younger Rawlins' time to shine.

And he knows it.

"He was by far the leader of the team last year," Justice Rawlins said of his older brother. "I think this year everybody looks at me to be that type of person. Of course I'm always ready to step up to the plate."

Few question Justice Rawlins' ability as a linebacker. He was a U.S. Air Force Freshman All-American after finishing with 99 tackles, five interceptions and two touchdowns in 2010, helping Monessen go 9-2 and win the WPIAL Class A Tri-County South.

After a torn ACL wiped out his sophomore season, Rawlins' proved he was every bit the player he was with a fantastic junior year, and NCAA Division I college coaches have taken notice.

Just maybe not enough of 'em: Despite having reportedly been offered by such schools as Pitt, Rutgers and Akron, Rawlins (who's highlight video can be seen here) has seen some of those offers disappear because of other commitments — though you'd have to think if Pitt's Todd Thomas doesn't return, that could free up a scholarship.

Rawlins is taking the up-and-down nature of recruiting in stride, insisting it's on him to solidify his status as a BCS-level player.

"I'm out to prove a lot this year," Rawlins said. "I'm out to prove that I can play at any conference in college football and stand out."

Rawlins said he spent six weeks this summer working with a personal trainer in Minnesota, upping his weight to around 245 pounds and dropping his 40-yard dash time to 4.5 seconds — a deadly combination for someone in his position.

Just a few things he did:

***Pushups where he would have to lift his entire body off the ground, others where he'd have to catch himself and continue through.

***Pushups where he would have to rotate 180 degrees while pushing himself off the ground, other exercises where he would hang from a bar and have to flip himself back over it.

***Running-wise he would run a series of 400-meter sprints, twice each lap around the track, 24 reps completed within an hour.

"He's strapping," Monessen coach Andy Pacak said. "And I think that he wants to really show people that, 'OK, here I am.' It's going to be a very interesting season for him.

"Watching him right now, I know he's 110 percent recovered from his knee injury as a sophomore. He made such a commitment to be in shape that I'm actually looking forward to the season, more than I usually do because you get close to kids over a period of time, and I'm in his corner rooting for him to show people that, 'Hey, you made a mistake.' "

Rawlins right now could be a Division I player, but he's using this year to force himself into onto a BCS school's radar for the Class of 2014.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Recruit watch: Zak Dysert, Fort Cherry

Welcome to a new Varsity Letters feature I'll be starting for football camp and the foreseeable future.

Recruit watch will be a random blog feature examining -- you guessed it -- some of the area's top recruits, linking their recruiting videos, talking about what schools have shown interest, etc.

First up is Fort Cherry senior Zak Dysert, a 6-3, 220-pound tight end/linebacker.

TAKE A LOOK: Here's a link to Dysert's offensive highlight film, and here's one to the defensive version -- where he has a sack after fighting through a blocker and a tackle in pursuit at Brentwood, two very nice highlights against my alma mater.

HE'S VERSATILE: Dysert's not just a football guy; he averaged 13.4 points per game for the hoops team and missed medaling in discus at the PIAA Class AA Track and Field Championships by a mere two inches.

NO, NOT THAT GUY: Google Dysert's name, and you'll come across Zac Dysert, who was a quarterback at Miami (OH) and was drafted in the seventh round (No. 234 overall) by the Denver Broncos.

THE SKINNY: I talked to Fort Cherry coach Jim Shiel about Dysert Thursday, and he said Dysert visited Dartmouth and Delaware this summer. He's also been down to Pitt a handful of times.

One interesting note, besides the fact that Dysert has the grades to go pretty much anywhere, is his intended major; Shiel said he wants to study environmental education and maybe one day become a game warden or a parks and recreation officer.

Football-wise, Dysert hauled in 16 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns for a Fort Cherry team that went 3-6 in the WPIAL Class A Black Hills Conference. The Rangers bring back plenty of talent, however, and should fare much better this season, especially in the passing game.

Watch those highlight films and you'll see Dysert's ability to rush the passer; whether he's listed as a linebacker or defensive end, he's going to be coming off the edge, his hand rarely on the ground.

Shiel told me the Ivy League would be a perfect fit for Dysert, but a strong senior season -- especially the beginning of it -- could change all that.

If you think you have someone for Recruit Watch, e-mail me at

Thursday, August 8, 2013

More on potential loss of Imani Christian

Chalk this up to something a few area football coaches and athletic directors would rather not worry about just a handful of days before the start of summer camp.

Sure you heard by now, but there's a very real possibility that Imani Christian, a small, private school in Pittsburgh's East Hills, could not field a football team this fall.

This presents a problem because it would result in an open date on the schedule for the remaining nine teams in the WPIAL Class A Black Hills Conference — locally we're talking about California, Chartiers-Houston, Fort Cherry and Monessen.

I spent the morning calling those four coaches, and here's a sampling of what they had to say. I'll have a more substantial story in Friday's Observer-Reporter.

Chartiers-Houston coach Terry Fetsko: "According to the schedules, everybody is booked. This is the worst time. If it was back in early June, then maybe. But everybody who I checked in Class A, they all have games. I don't know what's going to happen here."

Fetsko also cautioned that nobody wants to play any powerhouses in Class AA or Class AAA, provided that's who they're able to find in West Virginia, Ohio or lower New York.

"The win or loss isn't that big of a deal, but you don't want to finish the season hurt in our rugged conference," Fetsko said. "It's not just getting a team. You have to get someone who's comparable to your size and ability; you don't want to go too far, and I'm sure the other coaches feel the same way."

Chartiers-Houston and California stand to have their home schedules decreased from four home dates to three, a sizable dent in gate and concession monies. Fort Cherry had Imani Christian scheduled for homecoming.

"It's kind of a nightmare that it's happened," Fort Cherry coach Jim Shiel said. "Everybody kind of saw it coming, though."

First-year California coach Bo Teets brought up an interesting point: If Geibel or Vincentian were to also fold, that would create a group of teams within the WPIAL also looking to fill dates.

Monessen coach Andy Pacak said the Greyhounds wouldn't bother trying to replace Imani. Having back-to-back games against Clairton and Bishop Canevin two weeks prior and Chartiers-Houston the week after Imani, they'd be just fine with a little break, especially with it coming in Week 7.

"If you're on a nice roll, you don't want to interrupt that," Pacak said. "Even if we could find a game with someone two weeks before the playoffs, do you want to get in a battle with someone who doesn't count?

"I would probably just shy away from it."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Wash High's Kelly doing well at Youngstown State

Not that anyone who's seen him play had any doubts, but I found this story on former Wash High linebacker Jaylin Kelly rather interesting.

Apparently, according to the Youngstown Vindicator, Kelly has rocketed his way up the depth chart at Youngstown State, climbing all the way to second team in just five days of practice.

Kelly left a little early for YSU -- June 30 -- and it looks like it's been paying off.

>>Reminder that our football tab will publish Tuesday, Aug. 27. Many teams start heat acclimatization activities this week, then camp full bore on Monday. I'll be making my usual rounds, Tweeting, posting plenty of video, blogging, etc.