|South Fayette's Brett Brumbaugh|
The WPIAL basketball season has drawn to an end and with it, football players are flooding their high school’s weight rooms to begin preparations for the 2014 football seasons. Realignment has changed the landscape and have created intriguing matchups, but it is the athletes that draw attention to WPIAL football.
Here are a few players to watch entering 2014.
Brett Brumbaugh, senior quarterback, South Fayette
A list of players to watch for 2014 would not be relevant without mentioning the PIAA Class AA Player of the Year, Brett Brumbaugh. Brumbaugh set a WPIAL single-season record in 2013 with 3,897 passing yards and added 41 touchdowns to lead South Fayette to its first football state title.
You would think he would have little to prove entering his season, but after losing three starting offensive linemen (Zach Walker, Ben Berkovitz and Spencer Girman), many will be looking to see the 6-3 signal caller avoid a set back in his final season with the Lions. Don’t hold your breath waiting for him to regress. His lack of big time scholarship offers is the largest slight in recruiting circles heading into the spring and I expect that to change soon.
A lot of programs will shy away from Brumbaugh because of his lack of mobility, but when you talk to opposing coaches, the consensus is that he can make every throw – short, intermediate and deep. Look for him to possibly become the WPIAL’s all-time leading passer. He already has 7,326 career passing yards.
Roman Denson, senior defensive back/wide receiver, South Fayette
Denson captured everybody’s attention in the WPIAL title game against Aliquippa when he was matched up against the Quips’ Patrick Anderson, who has several Division I offers. Denson had a key interception, was a force on special teams for the Lions and will be looked at to provide Brumbaugh with an additional weapon in 2014.
It was devastating to see him injure his ankle on the opening kickoff of the WPIAL semifinal game against Hickory. Denson was forced to watch his team capture the state title at Hershey, which will make him hungry in 2014. Don’t be mistaken, Denson can play and I expect him to have a chip on his shoulder this fall.
|Wash High's Malik Wells|
Malik Wells, senior running back, Wash High
Wells burst onto the scene in 2013 after star tailback Shai McKenzie’s knee injury ended his season. Wells, who stands at 5-8, rushed for 605 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged over seven yards per carry and was a major reason the Prexies’ offense did not lag without McKenzie in the line-up.
Wells makes cuts flawlessly and has the on-field vision that coaches desperately search for. Also a stand out at safety for head coach Mike Bosnic, Wells will have the luxury of running behind a stout offensive line in 2014. Look for him to put up big numbers for a Wash High team destined for another playoff appearance.
Zack Blystone, senior offensive lineman, Wash High
Blystone’s junior season was evaporated at the hands of WPIAL and PIAA officials after he transferred from Charleroi. The conversation of his transfer and ensuing inelgibilty has overshadowed what Blystone is capable on the football field. Standing at 6-2 and weighing 278 pounds, Blystone has attracted the attention of college recruits after his recent performance at the U.S. Army National Combine in San Antonio, Texas, in early January, where he benched 185 pounds 28 times, ran the 40-yard dash in 5.16 seconds, the shuttle in 4.4.
The performance has led to interest from Pitt, Virginia Tech and Boston College, who will certainly have an eye on Blystone when Wash High opens its season. He will be a major aspect of the Prexies’ multiple-I offense in 2014. Look for him to quickly become one of the best offensive linemen in Western Pennsylvania.
Forest Cullings, senior quarterback, Trinity
Cullings’s first season as the starting quarterback for the Hillers was a major learning curve. Standing at 6-3, Cullings will be a major part of head coach Ryan Coyle’s pro-style offense in 2014.
He has the size that everyone looks for at the quarterback position and is capable of making nice throws. With the tough competition he will face, his obstacle will be working through his progressions and making improvements in aspects of the game that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
James Duchi, senior running back, McGuffey
The Highlanders’ season ended in 2013 with a record of 5-5 and as the last snap was taken, running back Patrick Frey’s high school career came to an end. Frey rushed for 991 yards and 16 touchdowns in head coach Ed Dalton’s read-option offense.
While the talk surrounded Frey, who is bound for Mercyhurst College, Duchi added 852 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Duchi is a workhourse running back that will be ready to carry the load for McGuffey in 2014. With the Highlanders’ moving to a new conference, Duchi will play a pivotal role. I could easily see Duchi eclipsing 1,000 yards and may reach the 20-touchdown plateau. He is one of the most underrated prospects in the area.
Cory Owen, senior quarterback, Peters Township
Owen only threw one touchdown pass for the Indians in 2013, but his ability to escape the pass rush and find the open receiver has caught the attention of college coaches. He picked up his first offer from Toledo and several other schools are keeping their eye on Owen.
After rushing for 762 yards and 10 touchdowns, as well as throwing for 500 more yards, Owen makes Peters Township an intriguing team to watch in 2014. Some players in his position would be frustrated by not being able to display their throwing ability, but Owen does not mind. His eye is set on another playoff appearance and it will be his improvement in running the offense that colleges will be paying attention to.
|Ringgold's Nico Law|
Nico Law, senior quarterback, Ringgold
Other than Brumbaugh, Law is by far my favorite returning player to watch on the football field. He is an incredible talent that will quickly grab the attention of college coaches once the 2014 season begins. Law passed for 1,494 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, while adding 1,110 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground.
Law will likely be commanding a new offensive scheme as a senior after Matt Humbert departed for the Belle Vernon head coaching job. I don’t see it playing a part in his development. Standing at 6-0, Law is a student of the game who spends his spare time in the weight room and watching film. I have seen some "recruiting websites" list Law as an athlete, but if you have watched him in person, it's not difficult to see that he is a polished, dual threat quarterback.
Look for him to continue putting up big numbers in 2014.