The atmosphere at South Fayette Stadium is all business. The Lions lost seven starters on both sides of the ball after winning the state title, but do return a ton of talent.
Of course, Brett Brumbaugh is back. The WPIAL’s most accurate passer is ready to lead a team that lost Justin Watson and Conner Beck from last season. Those two were incredible down the stretch for the Lions and replacing that production won’t be easy.
Tight end Logan Sharp returns, which is huge for Brumbaugh and the offensive line, which lost three starters. Sharp caught 30 passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. The top two receivers will likely be senior Roman Denson and senior Ryan Schmider.
Denson was expected to get more reps on offense last season, but lingering injuries prevented him from making an impact as a receiver. He is a prolific kick returner and is one of the top five defensive backs in the WPIAL. Denson is recovering from a serious ankle injury, but should be 100 percent by Aug. 29.
Meanwhile, Schmider caught 12 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown last season. Preparing the two for the spotlight is one of Rossi’s main goals as camp progresses.
“Fortunately, we have the trigger man to get it done,” Rossi said. “You know the ball is going to be put in a place where it can be caught so it’s just a matter of teaching them how to run routes and we’ve seen some good things on film from the group so far. For our offense, those guys need to come on. Game experience will be key and we’ll go from there.”
Sharp will help ease a transition on the offensive line. Senior Anthony Davidson is the anchor with Zack Radinick and Jeremy Carter being the other helping to replace Zach Walker, Ben Berkovitz and Spencer Girman.
“We’ve got guys learning the system and the play calls,” Davidson said. “That’s where conditioning comes in. Even though we’re bigger, we have to get those guys in shape because we do no-huddle.”
The defense should be exceptional once again. J.J. Walker, the team’s leading tackler, returns at linebacker and Schmider will be on the outside. That leaves two spots open and the secondary is led by Denson and junior Hunter Hayes.
Denson missed the state title game with the ankle injury and Hayes stepped up in a big way. That bodes well as the team will have two solid corners to work with and a pass rush that will help create some turnovers.
“We aren’t the biggest kids, but we love to hit,” Walker said of the defense. “We’re physical. Everyone is in on the ball on every play. Everyone does their part. We play smart and everyone is always attacking to the ball. We fly to it.”
The Lions open the season Aug. 29 at home against East Allegheny. Can they avoid the hangover that looms over championship teams with a target on their back?
“Nothing is given, we have to earn everything,” Davidson said. “Every team is going to be coming for us and if we don’t go out there with the mentality to crush every team we face and not let anyone in the game, we can find ourselves struggling because there are some tough teams in our conference this year. We can’t have the state champ hangover.”