In high school football, programs are faced annually with the task of replacing talented players who have graduated.
Some voids are more difficult to fill than others, especially in the lower classifications, but a few local teams lost talent and have already found a capable replacement. Through three weeks, there have been some surprises, while a few of these players were expected to have big seasons.
Here’s a quick list of how the mostly new faces are leading their teams through three weeks.
Wash High senior wide receiver DeQuay Isbell
There weren't many question marks surrounding the Prexies entering the season and Isbell was not one of them, but his emergence as a top target for senior quarterback Jonathan Spina will help Wash High down the stretch.
The Prexies lost Quorteze Levy and Chase Caldwell from last season. The duo combined for nine touchdowns and helped in the secondary, but Isbell has stepped in and filled the void.
Through three games, Isbell has caught seven passes for 204 yards and four touchdowns. He has also returned two punts for touchdowns.
Isbell is the perfect target for Spina. His combination of size and speed makes him a match up nightmare for opponents. Waynesburg put two corners on Isbell, but all it took was a pump fake from Spina to freeze the two players as Isbell broke away to catch a 55-yard touchdown pass in last week’s win.
There is room to improve on defense, but on offense and special teams, Isbell has been incredible for Wash High. He leads the team in scoring and opponents are going to stop punting to him.
South Fayette senior wide receiver Roman Denson, senior tight end Logan Sharp and junior wide receiver Nick Ponikvar
Count me as one of the people who thought it would be nearly impossible for the Lions to replace Justin Watson and Conner Beck. Those two were unstoppable during South Fayette’s state championship run, but these three have made things easy for senior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh.
Denson has caught six passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns. Sharp has a team-high 11 receptions for 193 yards and four touchdowns. Ponikvar has added 86 yards on eight catches with one touchdown.
This group is only going to improve and Sharp is arguably the best tight end in the WPIAL, while Denson is one of the top corner backs. The three have moved into a large role on offense without any hiccups for the Lions. With the team’s passing game excelling and Hunter Hayes averaging almost nine yards per carry with seven touchdowns, I don’t see any team in Class AA beating SF.
Monessen junior running back Demond Jordan
Jordan has the biggest shoes to fill of any player in the area. Okay, that may be a stretch, but replacing Clintell Gillaspie is a tall task. Gillaspie finished second in the WPIAL in scoring and was an all-state selection as a defensive back.
So far, Jordan has led the Greyhounds to wins over Riverview and Serra Catholic with 166 yards and four touchdowns.
It will be a long time before Monessen has a senior class like last year’s, which also included Justice Rawlins and Javon Brown, but the school has a reputation for developing athletes and they rarely rebuild.
This is one of those rebuilding years, but Jordan will be a player to watch.
McGuffey senior running back James Duchi
Well, no one is surprised by this. Duchi was part of a two-pronged attack with Pat Frey for McGuffey the past two seasons. He had to wait for Frey to graduate to gain the bulk of the carries, but it only took nine carries for him to gain 248 yards and score six touchdowns in a 56-6 win over Mohawk last week.
Duchi is one of the most talented backs in the area and is already halfway to the 1,000-yard mark on the season with nine touchdowns. With senior quarterback Nathan Whipkey and Duchi, McGuffey is a tough team to stop.