Blairsville had a lot of promise last year, but couldn't quite put it all together. The 2014 version of the Bobcats should be able to figure things out, and compete for a conference and district final. Back for his third year as the starting quarterback is Scott Thompson. The senior play caller has thrown for 20 touchdowns in his first two years, but a breakout year could be coming in 2014. The emergence of Deion Robinson last season allows for the Bobcats to have a balanced offensive attack. Robinson averaged 113 yards a game on the ground last season. Cameron Livingston led the team in receiving last year. The defense returns some experienced guys. Deion Robinson was a big part of the defense last year, along with Tyler Lenhardt and Rahdezz Henderson. Livingston also is a solid defensive back.
Bottom line - Overall, Blairsville returns plenty of talent and experience across the board. Scott Thompson will be at his best this season, and Robinson is a dynamic runner. Defensively, they have return plenty of guys to make for a good unit. I think the Bobcats struggled a bit in Rick Artley's debut, but with a year of getting comfortable, I look for this team to click on all cylinders. The Heritage is a tough league this year, but I think Blairsville will shine above the rest.
2. Homer Center
KEY Players - Aaron Berezansky (QB) Ean Lee (RB/LB) Matt McAdoo (RB/LB)Homer Center is coming off their best season in quite some time. The Wildcats took down Bishop Guilfoyle in the District Six class A championship, and took the Heritage Conference trophy home outright along the way. Gone are some very important pieces, but they have enough in the tank to be in the discussion among the favorites for the Heritage Conference. Aaron Berezansky is a good running quarterback, and operates this offense at a high level. Ean Lee was one half of a dangerous running tandem last season with Mike Newhosue, and he will be primed for a big season. The line is a big question, but if they can get it worked out, this offense will be tough once again. The defense also needs re-tooled, but guys like Matt McAdoo and Lee should be able to carry the load.
Bottom line - The defending champions will not take the step back that some are expecting. Homer is a well coached team with some of the better players this league has to offer, the Wildcats will be candidates to compete for a league championship and for a berth in the class A playoffs.
3. Ligonier ValleyKEY Players - Collin Smith (QB) Jordan Jones (WR) Elijah Parrish (LB)
Ligonier had a tough go at it in 2013. After a few dominating seasons, the Rams were humbled with a 6-5 record. Many key contributors from the past few years are gone, including Connecticut recruit, Alec Bloom. Still, there are some promising pieces in the program for Ligonier to make a comeback. Collin Smith appears to be next in line to be a star for the Ligonier offense. As just a freshmen, he posted 500 rushing yards, and will be the focal point of the offense in 2014 as likely the starting quarterback. He will have a big target to go to with Jordan Jones, a 6"4 wide receiver. The defense will be anchored by another sophomore, Elijah Parrish. He along with Ray Marsh and Collin Smith make for a strong nucleus on that side of the ball.
Bottom line - Ligonier has plenty of question marks, and they could be a year away. Still, the Rams posses some talented players and they could be ready to make their move in 2014. Collin Smith could be the next big thing in the Heritage Conference, watch for him all season long.
4. Penns Manor
KEY Players - Bailey Mumau (RB) Nathan Dumm (WR) Clayton Stupic (QB)
Penns Manor has turned itself into one of the most consistent programs in the district. The Comets have averaged 10 wins a season over the past three years, and there is a good chance they can keep this run going in 2014. Clayton Stupic appears to be next in line to be the quarterback, and posted pretty good numbers in limited action last season. Bailey Mumau has been held under wraps the past few years with some depth around him, but should emerge as the team's top back this season. Nathan Dumm will also be a key figure on offense doing a little bit of everything. The defense will lose some important figures like Steven Dumm, but they still have some key players hanging around. Andrew Somogyi and Brandon Alter are both very good players on defense, and will make up one of the best defensive lines in the league.
Bottom line - Penns Manor has made itself a very good program in recent years, and they aren't going away either. Despite some big losses, this team is well equipped to make a run at a Heritage Conference title. Stupic's development at quarterback will be key for this team, because maybe more so than other teams, the QB for Penns Manor is asked to do a lot, as we've seen over the past few years.
5. Purchase Line
KEY Players - Grant Syster (RB) Hunter Rice (RB) Sam Stanford (QB/S)
There is some warranted optimism around the Purchase Line football team this season. They have a powerful running game headed by one of the league's most exciting players and they are coming off a solid 5-5 season. Still, some off-season troubles surrounding the school and some decisions definitely have brought doubt to this team, but once the pads are on things should be OK again. Grant Syser rushed for 1,593 yards in 2013 with 14 scores, and he should be set for another big year. In a reserve role, Hunter Rice was able to compliment Syster's stats with 450 yards and 6 touchdowns himself. The duo should make for one of the best offenses in the league. Finding a quarterback will be key, but it looks like Sam Stanford could have a leg up on the race. Stanford is one of the key players on defense after pulling in three interceptions last season. Quentin Woods will also be a big player on the D.
Bottom line - Purchase certainly has some talent, and they have plenty to build on from last year. Syster is one of the league's most electrifying players and he could carry this offense to new heights in 2014. They have the ability to finish even higher than fifth, and maybe could make a run at the District Six A playoffs.
KEY Players - Tyler Frassenei (WR) Frankie Plowman (QB) Tanner Yard (RB)
Saltsburg only graduated five players from last season, so the Trojans definitely have some experience. Frankie Plowman threw for over 1,000 yards as a freshmen, and he will only continue to get better. Plowman's emergence allowed for Tyler Frassenei to evolve into more of a playmaker. Frasenei led the team in receiving and also saw some carries as a running back, his role will continue to grow in 2013. The Trojans have nearly their entire line in tact, and should be able to provide solid support in the running game. Ryan Shindledecker saw some carries last year, and could see more touches this time around, as could Tanner Yard who provided to be a good receiving threat.
Bottom Line - Coming off a 2-8 season with plenty of starters back, Saltsburg could surprise some people this season. The Trojans definitely have a promising young offense with some key pieces, it is all a matter of how some of the younger guys take on their roles.
7. Northern Cambria
KEY Players - Tyler Pershing (QB) Adam Weiland (RB) Joey Olish (WR)
Graduating 18 seniors from a 5-5 team can go either way. It could allow for some talented younger guys to get their chance, or it leaves a team without experience. It will be interesting to see how Northern Cambria deals with their turnover this season. They will have a talented junior quarterback starting in Tyler Pershing. He tossed for 460 yards last season, but may need to do a little more with Northern Cambria losing their top four leading rushers from last season. Adam Weiland actually led the team with a 7.27 yards per carry average, but he only had 22 attempts, he will have a bigger responsibility in 2014. Joey Olish led the team in receiving in 2013, and he should have a good connection with Pershing in the passing game. All in all, Northern Cambria should have a good offense, the defense could be a different story. In fact, 9 of their top 10 tackles from last season are gone. Weiland is the main anchor for the defense, and will have to lead a young and inexperienced group.
Bottom line - Northern Cambria is down, but not out. The Colts have some young guys they can bring along and make for a competitive team, but it could take a few weeks. Look for the offense to be a pretty good one, while the defense is a work in progress.
KEY Players - Tyler Oliver (RB/LB) Andrew Deitman (OL/DT) Matt Dill (QB)
United is coming off an 0-10 season, and their recent struggles continue. The Lions will look to turn things around in 2014, but it won't be easy. The offense will likely center around senior Fullback, Tyler Oliver. Oliver lead the team in rushing last season, and has the strength to be the workhorse for United this season. Matt Dill should end up taking the majority of snaps at quarterback, after he showed some success last season. United only completed 29% of their pass attempts last season, so any improvement there would be a welcomed one. The Lions have some solid pieces on defense including, Andrew Deitman. Deitman is one of the better lineman in the league, and led United in tackles last season. Oliver also doubles up as one of the team's better defensive players.
Bottom line - The Heritage is a deep league, and despite United being ranked eighth, that does not mean anything. They have a big line and a powerful back and they could figure a way to get back on the winning track. Being 0-10 last year can be discouraging, but United usually has a strong and proud program, and these kids will look to get them back to respectability.
KEY Players - Blake Orr (QB) Colton Fairman (RB) Zach Edwards (RB/LB)
Marion Center is coming off a 2-8 season, and it's hard to see a big improvement coming this season. The offense will have to rely heavily on their passing game as they have one of the better quarterbacks the league has to offer. Blake Orr is an experienced QB that needs to limit his mistakes, after throwing 9 interceptions to just 3 touchdowns last season. The Stingers' running game managed only 118 rushing yards a game last season, but with Colton Fairman and Zach Edwards back, perhaps it could pick up a little. Marion Center's running game could pick up with a very big and imposing sophomore class. The Marion Center line held it's own last season, and it could be a strength this season.
Bottom line - Many of the problems around Marion Center are self inflicted, with things like a -8 turnover margin. If they can limit mistakes and build up the running game, things could work out a lot better than a ninth place finish in the league. Blake Orr is a talented quarterback, and he could take a big step forward, thus potentially making Marion Center a surprise team in the Heritage.