The Thomas Jefferson football program has reached dynasty status in the WPIAL.
The Jaguars have placed among the top four teams in Class AAA for 11 consecutive years. Bill Cherpak and his staff have led Thomas Jefferson to six consecutive appearances in the WPIAL title game, winning titles in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2008. The Jaguars have also won back-to-back PIAA titles. If they can win the WPIAL crown again this year, they'll match old Braddock High School as the only schools to win four in a row.
"Our expectations are high all the time," Cherpak said. "Our goal every year is to win WPIAL and PIAA titles. We lost 24 talented players to graduation, but expect the new kids to step in and take over where the graduates left off."
Thomas Jefferson has 10 starters back from last year's squad, including a pair of two-way starters: wide receiver/safety Jim Giansante (6-2, 195), and wide receiver/linebacker Ed Hasis (6-1, 185). Giansante caught 24 passes for 521 yards last season, while Hasis accumulated 156 yards on 12 receptions.
"We have a nice nucleus of returning starters back, and a hungry group of kids who have been waiting for their chance to start," Cherpak said. "The key is to stay healthy."
Cherpak must find a replacement for tailback Brian Baldrige (2,156 yards and 36 TDs), quarterback Tyler Wehner (2,493 yards and 30 TDs), and tight end Dan Virgin (37 catches and 15 TDs).
"We have four kids battling for the quarterback spot," said Cherpak. "Who we pick will also determine which offense we use, a pro-style or the spread."
Sophomore Ryan Ruffing (5-11, 185) will try to fill the shoes of Baldrige.
"We're looking for big things from Ryan," Cherpak said.
The other two starters returning on offense are linemen, tackles Shane McNally (6-3, 235) and Dustin Vissari (5-11, 275). Placekicker Matt Sauter (6-1, 160) is also back.
"Our offensive and defensive lines will be solid," Cherpak said. "We have two starters back on each line and a strong group of linemen to fill holes."
Hasis and Giansante are two of six returing starters on defense. Dan Pastore (6-4, 245) and Chris Heim (6-1, 230) are back at the tackle spots. Anthony Greives (6-1, 205) returns at linebacker and Steve Licht (6-2, 180) is back at cornerback.
The Hillers have made four consecutive WPIAL playoff appearances, the past three while competing in the Class AAA Big Seven Conference. They posted a 5-5 record last year and tied for fourth place in the Big Seven.
"We have a lot of returning starters," said Trinity coach Ed Dalton, referring to the Hillers' 16 returning starters. "Our success will depend on how fast we can develop some star power on offense."
Quarterback/linebacker Andrew Steratore (5-10, 185) completed 51 of 111 passes for 625 yards and three touchdowns last season. Steratore's favorite target is Joe Havrilak (6-0, 175), who recorded 342 yards on 24 receptions.
Steratore will be joined in the backfield by tailbacks Dan Miller (5-9, 185) and Mike Preston (5-8, 155), flanker Dusty Aviolo (5-10, 180) and fullback Kyle McWreath (6-0, 215). Miller led the Hillers with 430 yards on 71 carries, but missed the last six games with an injury. Preston accumulated 334 yards on 74 carries. Aviolo gained 290 yards on 73 carries, while McWreath added 147 yards on just 16 carries.
Also back on offense for Trinity are tackles Ben Brownlee (6-5, 225) and Ryan Moore (6-4, 275) and guard Hunter Landock (6-2, 305).
The defense also has eight starters returning. Havrilak, Miller and Preston return in the defensive backfield along with safety Tyler Grimm (5-9, 170). McWreath returns at linebacker along with Mike Wall (6-0, 210). End Ken Wilkins (6-4, 245) and nose guard Lashawn Bryant (5-10, 245) are the other two returnees. Wilkins has verbally committed to Michigan.
The Colts have made six consecutive WPIAL playoff appearances. They placed second in the Big Seven Conference last year and finished the season with a 7-3 record after losing to Mars, 15-6, in the first round of the playoffs.
"We have a good nucleus of starters returning from last year's squad," Colts coach Chris Saluga said. "They will provide the leadership our younger kids need. Our goal every year is to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs, and this team has the talent required to reach that goal."
Saluga has six starters returning on each side of the ball, including three two-way starters, running back/cornerback Beau Carson (6-0, 175), center/defensive tackle Cory Rekasie (6-2, 255) and guard/defensive tackle Dylan Croftcheck (6-0, 215).
Carson rushed for 439 yards on 68 carries and led the Colts with 22 receptions and 334 yards.
The other three returning starters on offense are quarterback Wayne Capers Jr. (6-1, 175), wingback Sean Lapsevic (5-7, 165) and split end Rob LaMonde (5-9, 170). Capers completed 26 of 48 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns in three starts.
The other three returning starters on defense are linebackers Zack Mulvihill (5-11, 175) and Chris Barrett (6-1, 205) and end Tyler Wilps (5-10, 175).
"Our biggest concern on offense is to replace three linemen," Saluga said. "Our biggest concern on defense is filling holes in the defensive backfield."
The Warriors went winless (0-10) in Garry Cathell's debut in 2007, but showed significant improvement with last year's 5-4 record. Cathell enters his third season with hopes of improving on last year's record.
"Elizabeth Forward hasn't been to the WPIAL playoffs since 2005," Cathell said. "We want to end that draught this year."
The Warriors fell one win short of earning a Big Seven Conference playoff berth last season. Cathell has 10 starters returning, with seven back on offense, including the entire backfield.
"We have five seniors who have started since their sophomore years," Cathell said. "We've built the team around these five players."
The five three-year starters are fullback/linebacker Greg Sotereanos (6-4, 255), tailback Gerald Johnson (5-11, 190), quarterback Corey Sevcik (6-0, 145), wingback/defensive back/punter Josh Pomilio (5-10, 175), and two-way tackle Ben Hoover (6-1, 275).
Sotereanos rushed for 574 yards and six touchdowns last season. Johnson has rushed for 935 yards over the past two seasons. Sevcik threw for 564 yards and rushed for 157 last year. Pomilio rushed for 247 yards last year.
"Greg will most likely sign with an Ivy League school," Cathell said. "He's visited almost every Ivy League school."
The other two starters back on offense are center Tyler Herchelroath (5-10, 250) and guard Riley Kern (6-0, 235). Kern was a tight end last year, but has been moved to guard.
The only returning starters on defense are Sotereanos, Pomilio and Hoover.
The Titans have been absent from the WPIAL playoffs the past three years, after a streak of seven consecutive appearances before that. Coach Tim Brennan enters his third season with hopes of ending that streak. West Mifflin had a 2-7 record last season, which included a 1-5 mark in the Big Seven Conference.
"This is the best group of kids I've had since I took over," Brennan said. "They understand the expectations of the coaching staff and had a very good offseason. They have a really good attitude and have worked very hard to make this a successful season."
The Titans have five starters back on offense, including a pair of quarterbacks, Imir Sanders (5-11, 170) and Ricky Olasz (6-1, 170). Olasz started the first three games last season and threw for 201 yards and rushed for 144. Sanders started the last six and threw for 478 yards and four touchdowns, and ran for 330 yards.
"Both are working at quarterback during training camp, but I don't plan to rotate them," Brennan said. "One will take the snaps and the other will line up as a wide receiver. Both throw well, but Imir is a little quicker."
The other returning starters on offense are wide receiver Ryan Jones (6-0, 186) and linemen Beau Miller (6-0, 245) and Mark Centofanti (6-1, 225).
Seven starters return on defense, including Sanders and Olasz in the backfield, Centofanti at linebacker and Miller on the line. The other three are linebackers Joe Opferman (5-10, 197) and Trey Cherry (5-10, 188), and defensive back Will Moody (5-11, 175).
Aaron Krepps makes his head coaching debut at his alma mater. Krepps replaces Lou Rood, who had a 14-16 record in three seasons at the helm.
"We as a staff expect to field a physical ballclub that will be ready to compete every week of the season," Krepps said. "The players have committed themselves to the program and worked hard to improve everyday.
"We take a week by week approach to ensure that the players are grasping the new concepts. We want the players prepared each week so when they take the field, they expect to win."
Belle Vernon had a 4-6 record last season, including a 1-5 mark in the Big Seven Conference. Fifteen starters return from that squad, including eight on offense.
The Leopards will be led offensively by the Williams twins, Cory and Cody, and Matt Green. Cory Williams (5-11, 180) is a running back/linebacker who rushed for 793 yards on 103 carries. Cody Williams (5-9, 160) is a wide receiver/defensive back who rushed for 211 yards on 37 carries. He also threw for 162 yards in five games last season. Green (6-1, 185) is a running back/defensive back who rushed for 384 yards on 69 carries.
Four linemen return with starting experience, Tyler Sellew (6-2, 300), Andrew Spate (6-1, 275), Jared Pawlak (6-3, 240) and Grant Curran (6-1, 185). All four will be playing on both sides of the ball.
The other two returning starters are fullback/linebacker Spencer Lynn (6-1, 210) and tight end/linebacker Michael Thayer (6-3, 210). Brandon Dilmore (6-0, 190) is expected to take over at quarterback.
Rookie coach Lloyd Price has the challenging task of taking over a team that has only one returning starter.
"We have a small senior class," said Price, who also serves at Ringgold's athletic director. "We only have five seniors on the football team. We've got a very inexperienced team. Not a lot of guys who have been there before. Leadership can be hard to come by with a team this young."
Price was an assistant to Jeff Petrucci last season.
"Jeff resigned in January and I was named interim coach," said Price, who originally thought it would be a temporary position. "I took over the offseason conditioning program and built a rapport with the kids. They responded very well to what I wanted to do with the program. I applied for the job on the last day and the district hired me."
Guard Bill Marnich (6-2, 206) is the only returning starter. "We might need Bill on the defensive line, since we're pretty thin on the lines," Price said.
Dylan Patch (5-10, 183) and Josh Burnisky (6-1, 169) are vying for the starting spot at quarterback.
"Both are juniors and both will see significant playing time," Price said. "The competition will bring out the best in both."
Newcomers to watch are wide reciever/cornerback Derrick Fiore (5-10, 175), running back/linebacker Dom Affinito (5-8, 218), running back/safety Bob Bracken (5-10, 192), center/linebacker Neal Rands (6-1, 189), lineman Nick DePalma (5-11, 239), flanker Alfon Cook (5-8, 152) and flanker/cornerback Quad Law (5-6, 146).