Friday, February 7, 2014

Realignment creates intrigue in WPIAL football

The WPIAL’s realignment of the high school football landscape reintroduced old rivalries and made some conferences incredibly intriguing. With a plethora of talent returning in 2014, some teams are on the rise while others are forced to rebuild. Here is an early look at the realignment with question marks surrounding some teams.
Peters Township QB Cory Owen

Class AAAA
Bethel Park
Penn Hills
Peters Township
Upper St. Clair
Woodland Hills

Upper St. Clair, Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon lost a ton of talent to graduation, which leaves their roster uncertain in 2014. While it is unknown if these teams have talent to replace a wide range of skill players and offensive linemen, it’s rare that they have a lack of talent. Canon-McMillan’s rocky 2013 season under Ron Coder won’t be replicated. The Big Macs have a ton of talent coming back, including Pitt commit Alex Paulina on the offensive line. Look for them to take a step forward. Quarterback Jordan Smith is returning, who led Canon-McMillan’s run-heavy offense

Peters Township quarterback Cory Owen received his first Division I offer from Toledo last week and while the Indians lost running back Marcus Ubinger and tight end Max Augenstein, the play-making 6-2 signal caller is dynamic enough to change a game with one play. Like the Big Macs, expect a dramatic improvement for Peters Township in 2014.
As usual, Woodland Hills will be the pick to win the Southeastern with a ton of returning talent.
Ringgold QB Nico Law

Class AAA
Big Nine
Albert Gallatin
Belle Vernon
Elizabeth Forward

Laurel Highlands
Thomas Jefferson
West Mifflin

The Big Nine did not change one bit. Elizabeth Forward and Thomas Jefferson are still the class of the conference, but do not overlook Ringgold. Nico Law will have one more year of experience under his belt and a playoff appearance. The season did not end to the Rams’ liking and Law lost his top target, Dayshore Majors. It does not matter. Law could very well be Western Pennsylvania’s most talented dual threat quarterback returning in 2014. College recruiters will be flooding Ringgold head coach Matt Humbert with phone calls soon, if they have not started already.

Class AA
East Allegheny
Keystone Oaks
Quaker Valley
Seton-La Salle
South Allegheny
South Fayette
South Park
Steel Valley

The Century Conference received a dramatic makeover with the addition of Carlynton, East Allegheny and Sto-Rox. Carlynton and Sto-Rox moved up from Class A, which always raises question marks about how a team will respond to bigger teams and tougher talent. They also have the disadvantage of joining a stout conference featuring the Class AA PIAA Champions, South Fayette. The Lions did lose contributors on both side of the ball (Justin Watson, Grant Fetchet, Zach Walker, Ben Berkovitz, Conner Beck and Spencer Girman). The void will be most apparent on the line of scrimmage, but South Fayette is returning Class AA Player of the Year, QB Brett Brumbaugh, along with offensive weapons that were overlooked in 2013.

Returning to help Brumbaugh is Roman Denson, who came on strong during the Lions’ playoff run before suffering an ankle injury in the PIAA semifinals, and tight end Logan Sharp. Denson is a shut down cornerback for South Fayette on defense and Sharp was often used as a crutch for Brumbaugh when Watson or Beck were well-covered by opposing teams. Look for South Fayette to take the conference and make another strong run for a WPIAL Championship.

Wash High RB Malik Wells
Mount Pleasant

The Interstate Conference added Burgettstown, which ignites a long standing rivalry with Wash High and McGuffey. The Highlanders also moved over from the Century Conference, which gives McGuffey natural rivals and a chance to immediately compete for a conference title. Senior James Duchi is one of the area’s most overlooked returning players in 2014, while his combination of size and speed makes him a perfect fit for McGuffey’s read-option offense.

A new season and new look for the conference offers the chance of a fresh start for Wash High. Losing a running back like Shai McKenzie would lead one to conclude a rebuilding year is in store for the Prexies, but that is not the case. Malik Wells emerged last season as an every down back for head coach Mike Bosnic, while Jonathan Spina returns as Wash High’s starting quarterback.

The x-factor for the Prexies is on the offensive line where Zack Blystone will finally be able to make an impact for Wash High. Look for the Prexies to win the conference with a much-anticipated matchup with McGuffey to finish the season. That game will play a major role in both teams’ playoff hopes.

Class A
Tri-County South
West Green

The Tri-County South is completely up for grabs. Almost every team is replacing a large amount of talent from graduation, including Avella, Beth-Center, Frazier and Carmichaels. The Eagles return quarterback Santino Paris, who led the Eagles to a historic playoff appearance, but numbers are an issue for Avella’s program.

Beth-Center is constantly forced to endure turnover, but head coach Ed Woods is a great developer of talent. Losing quarterback/defensive end Gino Faieta hurts, but players to watch are running backs Anthony Welsh and Nico Brown.

The Bulldogs are the favorite to take home the Tri-County South with Jefferson-Morgan not far behind. The Rockets return Rece Henneman at quarterback, who threw for 467 yards and five touchdowns in 2013.

Eastern Conference

Clairton’s underclassmen have been touted as the best in the state and while the Bears’ streak of four-straight state titles was broken last year, the Bears will be back on track in 2014. Much talk has circulated of head coach Tom Nola applying for other jobs, but with an extremely talented roster returning, I would be surprised to see Nola jump ship. If he does return, expect Clairton to reclaim their place as the best in Class A.

Monessen will be a curious team to watch. The Greyhounds are forced to replace Clintell Gillaspie, Justice Rawlins, Javon Brown, Kayne Jackson and several offensive linemen. The return of quarterback Noah Rullo and wide receiver Lavelle Rush will help ease the sting Class A's powerhouse conference.

Ohio Valley
Bishop Canevin
Fort Cherry
North Catholic
Our Lady of Sacred Heart

Chartiers-Houston and Fort Cherry are both in the situation of replacing talent on offense. Add playing against the Class A defending state champions to their list of headaches. North Catholic was moved into the Ohio Valley Conference, which shuffles the geographic landscape of the conference, but adds an incredibly intriguing opponent for the Bucs and Rangers.

Chartiers-Houston lost quarterback Kaleb Susko, wide receiver Miles Williamson and running back Derek Hull. The void will be felt, but the Bucs do have a large group of receivers returning and sophomore T.J. Johnston will probably take over for Susko.

The Rangers’ record-setting offense will not return in tact. Koltan Kobrys and Matt Heslin are graduating, as well as tight end Zak Dysert. Fort Cherry will turn to an influx of young talent and wide receiver Alex Babirad, who was a key cog for the Rangers’ offense last season.

North Catholic is the top team in the conference but Chartiers-Houston and Fort Cherry will have the chance to separate themselves from the rest of the group if young players rise to the occasion.

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