Wednesday, June 25, 2014

2014 WestPac Football Preview

1. Portage

KEY Players - Caleb Kephart (RB/LB)  Luke Dividock (RB/LB)  Michael Bryja (QB)

Coming off a 9 win campaign with plenty of talent returning, saying the expectations are high would be an understatement. Portage had another successful run under coach Gary Gouse in 2013, and this season they will have revenge on their minds. The Mustangs' season came to a screeching halt by the hands of Bishop Guilfoyle in 2013, and this group would love nothing more than another shot this year. The offense will likely be explosive. Caleb Kephart has been a mainstay in this backfield for the past two seasons, and will be looking for his third 1,000 yard season in his career. Luke Dividock is the second back, and will be entering his junior season with 1,500 career yards himself.  The running game is in good hands, and it looks like the passing game can be a real factor as well. Michael Bryja is not your average Portage Mustang quarterback, as he stands in at an imposing 6"4 and has a strong arm to go with his frame. He should be able to build upon his 1,066 yard 12 touchdown season in 2013. The Portage line will be a strength as they have tons of experience coming back, highlighted by Brandon Vocco. The defense will also be tough, and Kephart and Dividock were the two leading tacklers from last season. Kyle Davis is another name to watch on that side of the ball.

Bottom line - There aren't many secrets about this football squad. They have a deep and experienced team with the potential to have a great offense. They really will not see a ton of resistance in the WestPac, but they have an idea of what they need to improve on when facing some of the better teams in the district playoffs. Depending on how the bracket shakes out, Portage will have as good of a shot as any to take their season to Mansion Park for championship weekend.

2. Berlin

KEY Players - Braden Fochtman (RB) Tyler DeArmitt (WR/DB) Taylor Cahill (LB)

Berlin was able to make their way back to the District 5 championship game, but they were not able to defend their title. Redemption is on their minds in 2014. The offense for Berlin is paced by the league's most exciting player. Braden Fochtman put up prolific numbers as a sophomore, and we may have not seen the best of him yet. Only a junior, Fochtman has rushed for over 2,500 yards in his young career. Finding a quarterback will be key, and there are many candidates. Perhaps most likely to take a hold of the job will be junior, Brentson Harding. Outside of Fochtman, Berlin should have an array of athletes to make plays. Tyler DeArmitt stands out most, but Bryce Fochtman and Cole Booth should also see touches. The offensive line brings back plenty of experience also. Taylor Cahill had a big impact season last season, and should be the anchor of the D this year. Dante Paul is coming off a solid campaign with 7.5 sacks. Bryce Fochtman is also an impact player on defense. 

Bottom line - Berlin has the makeup of a District championship team. Also, they could be in line to win the Westpac. Fochtman gave Portage fits last season, and could do it again this year.  The quarterback situation needs to be addressed, but Berlin has one of the strongest coaching staffs in the area, and they will make due with what they have. Look for the Mountaineers to be playing late into the season. 

3. North Star

KEY Players - Zac Maluchnik (RB/LB)  Stephen Mort (QB)  Justin Holcomb (WR/DB)

North Star had a bit of a down year by their standards, but things could improve in 2014. Sure the Cougars lose some impact players, but they still have some promising athletes on their roster. Stephen Mort attempted the most passes for North Star in 2013, and should have a better grasp on the position this year. Zac Maluchnik returns after rushing for five touchdowns last year. Shawn Costas once ran for 800 yards as a sophomore, and should be back as a senior to aid in the running game. Justin Holcomb, Gus Strasisier, and Tevin Mostoller all return to form a very solid receiving trio. Maluchnik, Kyle Supanick, and Paul Tretter should form a good nucleus on the defensive side of the ball.

Bottom line - North Star has an intriguing team, and could work their way higher into the standings. The Cougars have some experience under their belt, and could make some noise under new coach, Jim Livingston. 

4. Windber

KEY Players - Jared Maurizio (RB/LB)  Jake Podrasky (QB)  Zach Toth (DE/TE)

The Ramblers lose a ton from their team in 2013, but it's Windber, they always find a way.  Windber is one of the more consistent programs in the area, and it seems they always have a "next man up" mentality. 2014 will be no different.  Jake Podrasky will be this year's starting quarterback. He is a senior with some limited experience under his belt, but it should be his team in 2014. Jared Maurizio is set to be the featured running back this year. The defensive standout is a gamer, and should be an instant impact on offense. Shadoe Smith should also see some carries on offense. Muarizio is also one of the best linebackers in the area, and should lead that side of the ball for the Ramblers.  Zach Toth is an imposing defensive end, and will also be a force on D.

Bottom line - Windber always fields a competitive team, and it should be no different in 2014.  They lose so much of their firepower from last year, but have some promising players ready to fill the void. Look for Windber to quietly surprise some people this year.

5. Shade

KEY Players - Logan Glessner (RB)  Mike Manges (WR/LB)  Baily Blackburn (RB)

After a pair of 6 win seasons, their is optimism for the Shade football program. The Panthers have a talented group returning, and another trip to the district five playoffs not only seems reasonable, but expected. Shade will turn to Chase Kiser for their quarterback this year to replace Nash Walker. Preston Broncoski could also see some snaps at quarterback, but at the very least should be another weapon in the running game. The ground game will be strong, Logan Glessner rushed for over 500 yards as the second back last season. Baily Blackburn should see his role grow, after rushing for 200 yards in a reserve role. Joe Hudak is a talented athlete, and will be the top option at receiver. Shade only loses five seniors from the 2013 team, and  talent and experience will be all over the field for the Panthers.

Bottom line - There is a lot to like about this Shade team, and they could exceed that 6 win total they have plateaued at for the past two seasons.  Shade will have a powerful running game, and they will be a very aggressive team on offense.  Look for Shade to return to the district five playoffs, and perhaps could be a team that makes some noise while there. 

6. Meyersdale

KEY Players - Riley Christner (QB)  Tim Garlitz (TE/LB) Ty Hoover (RB)

The Red Raiders had a big run in 2013 with a trip to the playoffs and a 9-3 record, and it will be tough to duplicate that success again. Meyersdale lost some key seniors from that run, and it will be an adjusting period without them. Riley Christner is back at quarterback after leading the team as a freshman. Ty Hoover and Jason Ritchey saw some carries last season, and should split the majority of them this year. Conner Christner will be the top threat on the outside after leading the team in receptions in 2013. The defense can be a strength as they return big Tim Garlitz to lead the way. He posted four sacks last year, and was second in tackles. Jason Ritchey and Ty Smith also return after having productive campaigns in 2014.

Bottom line - Ranking Meyersdale sixth could be too low for this team. They absolutely have some stud players, and could work their way into the top half of the conference. Still, they have plenty of question marks in some key places. If they can answer some of them early on, look for Meyersdale to finish higher and make a return trip to the playoffs. 

7. Conemaugh Township

KEY Players - Austin Myers (RB/DB) Makenzie Teeter (LB) Luke Maurer (WR/S)

Conemaugh Township is coming off two uncharacteristically bad seasons, and they will look to turn things around in 2014. The Indians will likely turn to sophomore, Jeff Tresnicky, for the quarterbacking duties.  He only attempted five passes last year, and will have big shoes to fill for Bruno Rosa. Austin Myers will assume the role of primary running back, after rushing for 474 yards last season. Look for Luke Maurer to be the top target in the passing attack. The Indians lose a lot up front, and will need to develop some strength in the trenches right away.  Myers is also a featured player on defense as he led Township in tackles last year. Makenzie Teeter and Trenton Troxell are also players to watch on that side of the ball. 

Bottome line - Conemaugh Township is coming off consecutive 3-7 campaigns, and a lot will have to happen to break this current streak. The Indians have had less depth and numbers than they typically do, and it is showing in their recent results.  Township has a few promising players in the program, and perhaps they can turn things around and get themselves back into district playoff contention. 

8. Ferndale

KEY Players - Taylor Kinsey (QB) Malik Ream (WR/CB) David Budash (FB/LB)

Ferndale struggled mightily last year in Chip Ryan's first season as head coach. Numbers were down, and it caused the Yellow Jackets to forfeit a game, and even end a game early at halftime. Numbers appear to be up this season, and some younger guys gained valuable experience last year and there is some optimism surrounding the team this year.  Taylor Kinsey is an athletic senior quarterback that can operate the offense efficiently. David Budash and Brad Boring are two physical blockers, but could get a chance to carry the ball this season.  Malik Ream is an athletic playmaker, and could be primed for a big year. The Yellow Jackets have good size in the trenches, and could help the offense make more of a positive impact in 2014.

Bottom line - Ferndale has more depth this season and some intriguing talent.  They should certainly improve, and Chip Ryan's coaching will show through this season.  He is giving this program more offensive innovation than in year's past and he may have the weapons this season to perhaps steal a few wins. 

9. Blacklick Valley 

KEY Players - Isaiah Scott (RB)  Nathan Smith (RB/LB)  Luke Galko (FB/LB)

Blacklick Valley is a young team, and they may take some lumps this season after only winning two games in 2013.  The Vikings should boast a solid ground game with Isaiah Scott and Nathan Smith who are both capable ball carriers. Isaac Wurm will assume the quarterbacking duties after attempting only seven passes in 2013. Derek Cesarz could be the top receiving option in 2013. Luke Galko should anchor a defense that is returning some experience. Rayce Lazendorfer and Cory Villa are also names to watch on that side of the ball. 

Bottom line - Blacklick Valley loses some key players from last season, but they still have some solid players that could make some noise. It is hard to gauge the difference between Ferndale, Conemaugh Valley, and Blacklick. All three teams appear to be at an level, and could make for some competitive games. 

10. Conemaugh Valley

KEY Players - Brandon Galasso (RB/LB)  Anthony Hutzell (RB/CB)  Kevin Roles (LB)

Conemaugh Valley struggles as much as anyone with depth and numbers, and this year will be no different. The Blue Jays are looking for their first winning season since the 2005 season, and it will be an uphill battle to get there. Conemaugh Valley can look to two veteran backs to front the offensive attack.  Brandon Galasso led Valley in rushing last year with 665 yard. Anthony Hutzell is a speed back, and can do a variety of things and will look to build upon his 258 yard junior season. Tristan Burke appears to be in line to take over as quarterback, and he is just a sophomore with one pass attempt in his career. Valley only loses four seniors from 2013, and they return all of their line on both sides of the ball.  

Bottom line - Valley has some skilled players, but again, depth will play a role for them. As I mentioned before, there is not a lot of separation between these bottom three teams and they can all play with one another. It will be hard for the Blue Jays to exceed the 2-3 win mark, but it is not impossible. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

2014 LHAC Football Preview

Section I

1. Bishop Guilfoyle

KEY Players - Brandon Chadbourn (QB/S) Sam McCloskey (RB) DJ Kitt (RB)

Bishop Guilfoyle returns plenty of weapons from their ten win team in 2013. Justin Wheeler's squad has really turned things around in the previous two years, but a District title has still eluded them. I think this is a year when BG can take home a championship on their home field, and perhaps make a run beyond the district. Back is their dynamic quarterback,  Brandon Chadbourn. Chadbourn is a dangerous open field runner, and is arguably one of the league's best runners from his quarterback position. Sam McCloskey is back after rushing for 862 yards and scoring 13 total touchdowns in a variety of ways. DJ Kitt is another capable back that gives Guilfoyle another weapon. Tight End, Matt Gormley, is back after leading the team in every receiving category last year. Andrew Berger should be one of the anchors on defense after recording eight sacks last year. Owen Wolf should lead the linebackers, while Kitt, Chadbourn, and McCloskey anchor the defensive backfield much the same as they do with the offensive one.

Bottom line - Bishop Guilfoyle has a dynamic offense with 8 starters back, and a tough defense with 7 starters returning. The Marauders have everything it takes to win this league, and win a District Six championship. Look for some college recruiters to track Brandon Chadbourn's season closely as he will have this team on the state radar all season long. 

2. Forest Hills

KEY Players - Joe Donoughe (QB) Shareef Blough (RB/DB) Ian Wiecorek (FB/LB)

After a 7-5 record last year, Forest Hills should improve and be on the short list of favorites for the District Six AA championship. The offense will center around senior quarterback,   Joe Donoughe. Donoughe will be in his third season as the Forest Hills starting quarterback, and it looks to be his best one yet. Don Bailey has produced some of the better quarterbacks this league has seen throughout his tenure, and a third year under his tutelage will do Donoughe well. Perhaps the best weapon in the Rangers' arsenal is Shareef Blough. The junior athlete had a breakout season last year with 631 rushing yards and 528 receiving yards, and is a threat to score from anywhere. Ian Wieczorek will be returning as a physical runner for this offense, and a reliable tight end, Logan Madison, is also returning to sure up of what can be a potent offense. Wieczorek could be looking at a breakout year on defense. Ian Shugars will also be returning at linebacker, and has plenty of potential.  Blough was equally as dangerous on defense, leading Forest Hills with seven interceptions. Forest Hills returns a few of their players on the line also.

Bottom line - Forest Hills needs to establish a more reliable running game beyond Donoughe's scrambling and Blough playing out of position. Don Bailey's offense has always been most effective when he has a healthy balance between the run and pass, and I think they have the personnel to get there. Forest Hills had their ups and downs last year, but I think they are ready to take a step forward and join the conference's elite once again.

3. Central Cambria

KEY Players - Will Seymour (QB) Kerry Kirsch (RB) Trevor Zearing (S)

Central Cambria had such a promising start to the 2013 season, only to fade late in the year. The Red Devils lost four of their last five games with a first round exit in the District Six playoffs. Central Cambria has enough talent to build off some of their early season success from last year, and translate it into a full season in 2014. Will Seymour is back to lead the offense once again. Seymour is a quarterback that can run you right over as good as any fullback you will see. Seymour improved his passing game, and the belief is there that he can be even better as a senior. Central Cambria also features a productive, yet small back. Kerry Kirsch provided 52 yards per game on the ground, and should have a growing role as a junior. Central Cambria has plenty of experience back on the offensive line, and that should be a strength moving forward this season. Trevor Zearing is the most notable player back on defense, as he returns as the team's leading tackler, along with three interceptions.

Bottom line - Central Cambria has one of the league's marquee players with Will Seymour, and he can have them competing in any game.  There are still question marks around this team. Who will Seymour throw the ball to on offense? How will the respond by losing some of their top defensive players? Can they put it together for a whole season? Some of those will be answered early on, but I think this team can improve a little upon their 6-5 mark from last season, and perhaps compete in the District Six AA race.

4. Penn Cambria

KEY Players - Jake Hurley (WR/DB)  Tyler Strasser (RB)  Mark Mardula (QB/DB)

Penn Cambria only finished with two wins in 2013, but they have some tools that they can build on, and improve for 2014. The main problem with Penn Cambria recently has been their lack of scoring. Simply put, this offense has seriously struggled in recent seasons, but a trio of seniors could help turn things around this year. Mark Mardula should be able to provide athleticism at the quarterback position. Tyler Strasser returns after leading the team in rushing last year with 463 yards. Mike Eckenrode led the team with four touchdowns last season, and he is also returning. Jake Hurley is a dynamic player on defense, and the offense will need him to do more this season.

Bottom line - Penn Cambria seemingly always has a physical team that plays great defense, and can run the ball. Ideally, that is the brand they want to play, but they need to prove they can do it. Penn Cambria mustered 14 touchdowns of any kind last season, and there is just no way a team can survive with that little of offensive production. Penn Cambria may need to be more creative on offense to have a successful 2014 season.

5. Cambria Heights

KEY Players - Eddie Link (QB) Dennis Link (RB) Clayton Schinkle (DB)

Cambria Heights will look to rebound after a two win season in 2013. The Highlanders actually played better than their record would indicate, as they played in plenty of tight games that did not go their way. The offense will center around two players with the last name, Link.  Eddie Link will assume the role of quarterback full-time. Link played some last year, and his 211 passing yards led the team. Dennis Link will take over as the featured back. He rushed for five touchdowns last season, and will get more opportunities this season as a full-time starter. The defense will rely on the play of a few of their returning starters, Clayton Schinkle leads the way in that department. Schinkle is the returning leader in tackles. Angelo Snyder should lead the way on the defensive line after leading the team in sacks in 2013. 

Bottom line - Cambria Heights has to replace quite a bit from last season. They definitely have a strong junior class, and it may take a while for them to come into their own. Heights will rely on the development of the two Link's on offense, if they can compete at a high level, they may surprise some people.

6. Bishop Carroll

KEY Players - Dane Woo (QB) Alex Keim (RB/LB) Zach Mock (DL)

Bishop Carroll had a solid season last year, without the expectations to go with it. The expectations are still not there, but they may have trouble overcoming that this season. Joe Ridgely takes over the program in a transition year, as the Huskies lose nearly every player that gained any sort of substantial yardage last season. Dane Woo should get the nod at QB. Woo took a few snaps last year, and also was able to show off some speed in the return game.Alex Keim may be the next in line to be the running back for the Huskies, as his 57 yards leads all returnees for this season. The defense may be the strength of this team while the offense tries to figure it out. Keim is one of the better linebackers in the league, and will be the anchor for the unit.

Bottom line - So many questions are surrounding this team. First of all, the new coach is walking into a team that loses just about everything. A new coach and a roster little experience is typically not the recipe for success. Carroll surprised a lot of us last year, but it will be a huge shock if they can compete at that level again this year.

Section II
1.. Somerset

KEY Players - Dylan Barnes (QB)  Bryce Mostoller (TE/DE) Raven Beeman (RB/WR)

Somerset had a 10 win season in 2014, but they have enough in place that they can perhaps make another run at a AAA sub-region championship. The lone bright spot of losing Tanner Stull to injury for a few weeks last season was that it gave an opportunity to a very talented quarterback-in-waiting, Dylan Barnes.  Barnes ran with his opportunity last season, and had a very productive sophomore season. He led the Golden Eagles in passing with 732 yards, while rushing for 572 yards on the ground. Raven Beeman's role in this offense should grow significantly. Beeman is a capable runner and receiver, and should continue to do a little of both, but in a higher volume. He is one of the league's fastest players, and could be poised for a big season. Bryce Mostoller is back after leading the team in receiving from his tight end position. Mostoller is a very good tight end, but his defensive performance garnered all state recognition last year. Somerset has another all state caliber defender in Logan Eller. Eller led the team in tackles and recorded four sacks for his linebacker spot. He along with Michael VanLenten form one of the toughest linebacker duos this league has to offer. 

Bottom line - Somerset has more than enough firepower to win this section, and the league overall. Dylan Barnes is a gamer, and really performed well in a spot starter role last year. He should be able to lead a very good Somerset offense. Eller and Mostoller form a great 1-2 punch on defense. They have some questions regarding the line, and with the receivers/backs, but nothing too serious. Somerset has really revived their program recently, and they'll keep it going this season. 

2. Bedford

KEY Players - Austin Montgomery (QB)  Jeremiah Bingham (RB/LB) Zach Shaffer (WR/DB)

Bedford won eight games last season with the help of some high level of production from some underclassmen. The expectations are that the underclassmen can take another step forward this year, and compete for and win a conference and district title. Austin Montgomery had a breakout year last year at quarterback. Montgomery threw for 1,306 yards and 9 touchdowns, while rushing for 520 yards and another 14 touchdowns. His versatility really sets the tone for an impressive ground game for the Bison. The leading rusher from last season, Jeremiah Bingham, is also back after a 719 yard 10 touchdown season. August Cook also returns after having rushed for 359 yards a 6 scores. The speedy Zach Shaffer is back to the lead the receivers. Shaffer hauled in 24 receptions for 542 yards and 6 touchdowns. Bedford returns Cook and Matthew Kline at linebacker, and they should be the anchors for the defense. Zach Shaffer, August Cook, and Dylan Downs combined for 11 interceptions last year, and their experience should be a strength for the secondary. 

Bottom line - Bedford had a very successful year with a lot of sophomores in key spots, and I think they can really keep it going in 2014. Montgomery is already one of the conference's elite players, and he has multiple weapons on offense to keep defense's guessing. With Richland losing so much, it may be Bedford's time to take a hold of section II supremacy.

3. Johnstown

KEY Players - Kareem Gibson (WR/CB)  Jeremy Updyke (QB)   Terrell Jones (RB/LB)

Johnstown is 6-15 over the past years, and its time for the Trojans to step it up in 2014. Johnstown has a very good quarterback in Jeremy Updyke. The multi-sport star took reigns of the QB job last season and responded by throwing for 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns. Updyke's progression is key for this team, but his varsity game experience in not only football, but also basketball and baseball bodes well for this team. Terrell Jones is another very talented junior for the Trojans. Jones looks the part of a very good running back, and saw significant game action over the course of the past two seasons. The Trojans have three starting receivers returning, and it will give Updyke multiple weapons in the passing game. Willie Robinson led Johnstown with 535 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2013, Kevin Brandon hauled in 19 passes, and Kareem Gibson may be ready to put a full season in on offense. Gibson was hampered by an injury at times last year, and focused most of the year on defense, but the area's top college prospect can be dangerous on offense.  

Bottom line - Johnstown can put together a very potent offense, as they certainly have loads of talent in that regard, but they still have big question marks around the offensive line and their defense. If Johnstown cannot establish a solid game up front, the offense can falter much the same like last year. Gibson, Updyke, and Jones are very good talents, but they need contributions from the whole team. 

4. Richland

KEY Players - Dominic Farina (RB) Killian Snopko (OL/DT) Linnie Joy (TE)

You would have to go back to October 28, 2011 for the last time Richland lost a conference game. The two time defending league champions lose their best group in school history, and will look to start to rebuild in 2014. Richland loses 8 starters on offense, and 9 on defense, but they have some talent that was stuck behind that senior class.The fall from the league's elite may be short-lived, and won't be as hard as some think. Johnny Kutchman is likely next in line to take the reigns of the quarterback spot. Richland will have a pair of dynamic backs that are capable of making big plays. Dominic Farina averaged nine yards a carry in 2013, and will take on a bigger role this year. Colby Warshel played sparingly, but looked very solid when he touched the ball. The Rams have two talented tight ends with Linnie Joy and Ryan Ball. Richland has to replace nine starters on defense, the lone starters coming back are Killian Snopko at defensive tackle, and Colby Washel in the secondary.

Bottom line - Richland has to replace a lot of their production on both sides of the ball, but that's not to say the talent is not there. Richland has some intriguing players, and they may take a little time piecing it together. It is hard to imagine they can fend off Somerset and Bedford to regain their section supremacy, but it's hard to doubt this coaching staff and the incredible run they have been on lately.

5. Bishop McCort

KEY Players - Levi Cook (QB/DE)   Marc Smith (RB/LB) Eric Johncola (OL/DT)

Bishop McCort is coming off their worst season in a long time, and they usher in a new era in 2014. Jerry Davitch takes off the helms of the program, and will look to get things back on track. The first order of business for the newly appointed coach will be to develop a very talented quarterback. Levi Cook did not look like an ordinary freshman, and has the potential to a special player for the Crushers. He came on strong late in the year at quarterback, and was strong enough to start at defensive end as a freshman. The running game will turn to Marc Smith, as he is the team's leading rusher. The offensive line could be a strength as they have multiple players back with starting experience.  The defense had its up and downs and Eric Johncola and Marc Smith are the featured players returning. 

Bottom line - McCort has some exciting younger players, but building consistency is the key. Jerry Davitch is a proven coach, and should be able to make a positive impact. McCort has a lot of loose ends and questions marks with a lot of key positions, and its hard to imagine they can all be answered in time to be a factor in the section II race.

6. Westmont

KEY Players - Kyler Pyshnik (RB/DB)  Jon Boyle (TE)  Ian Valente (RB)

After an 0-10 campaign last season, it can only go up for a struggling Westmont program. Still, things will be difficult for this young team, because they did rely on many seniors in 2013. A start would be is to find a quarterback. Westmont employs a run heavy offense, and actually two guys in the shotgun rotate taking the snaps. So in that sense, they can turn to Kyler Pyshnik and Ian Valente, the two leading returning rushers, to stand in the backfield to operate the offense. Pyshnik looks like a capable athlete, and will be a featured player for coach Pat Barron.  Jon Boyle is a returnee at tight end, and could develop a bigger role this season. Westmont has some size and experience coming back on the offensive line. The defense really struggled last season, as they allowed 30 or more points in every game. Pyshnik, Boyle, and Marty Dean are the top returning tacklers for the Hilltoppers. 

Bottom line - Westmont really struggled last season, and it will be tough to change things overnight. Westmont has some playmakers, and the offense can definitely continue to grow, but the defense needs to improve if they want any chance to win a game or two this season.