Can quarterback Jordan Brown (middle, black shirt) and Seneca Valley challenge North Allegheny for the Northern Eight crown?
By Mike White Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Team to beat
North Allegheny -- The Tigers are good enough to become the first team in WPIAL history to win three consecutive Class AAAA titles. The Tigers return a talented quarterback, most of their other skill-position players and senior Pat Kugler, a University of Michigan recruit who is ranked among the top offensive linemen in the country. Senior quarterback Mack Leftwich threw for more than 2,000 yards last season and also led the team in rushing. Senior Jeremy Gonzales is another talented lineman. Senior Alex DeCiantis rushed for more than 800 yards while seniors Brendan Coniker and Gregg Garrity return at receiver. Junior WR-DB Elijah Zeise recently was offered a scholarship by Pitt.
Central Catholic -- The Vikings, who moved from the Big East Conference, must replace a number of key players who graduated and only four starters return on both offense and defense. Senior Leo Loughery will be one of the conference's top linebackers. Junior Luigi Lista-Brinza was the team's second-leading rusher. Other top returnees are WR-LB David Urso, WR-DB Garrett Vrbanic and linemen Zack Troy, Zack DeLuca and Steve Wood.
Seneca Valley -- Seven starters return on offense and six on defense from a team that won a WPIAL playoff game for the first time since 2002. Senior quarterback Jordan Brown led the WPIAL in passing yardage in the regular season while senior Forrest Barnes had more than 1,000 yards rushing. Nick Dahlstrom is a top lineman.
North Hills -- After missing the playoffs last year for the first time since '98, things are looking up for the Indians, who return six starters on offense and seven on defense. The team's three leading rushers are back for their senior years -- Tyler Reddick (650 yards), Jordan Blackmon (306) and Josh Hulbert (227). Blackmon is a slotback who averaged 13.9 yards a carry and 18.2 yards on 19 catches. Senior linebacker Anthony Danko will lead the defense.
Pine-Richland -- The Rams finished last season on a three-game winning streak and hope to carry the momentum into this year. Senior Brock Baranowski is a versatile running back (1,079 yards rushing and 25 receptions in '11) who was first-team all-conference last year. Senior receiver Luke Merhaut and senior tight end C.J. Jackson could help make for a good passing game.
Fox Chapel -- The Foxes made the playoffs in the Big East Conference last year. Second-year coach Eric Ravotti has two returning all-conference players in junior defensive back Nigel Garnett and junior linebacker Renny Holloman. Garnett also plays running back.
Shaler -- New coach Chris Siegle (former Shaler quarterback) inherits a team decimated by graduation. Offensive tackle Rodd Budziszewski and nose tackle Jesse Elrick are the only returning starters.
Butler -- Butler has gone five consecutive seasons without a conference win and the team's last playoff appearance was '98. Four starters return on offense and five on defense. Senior RB-LB Bob Vernick is a three-year starter who led the team in rushing last year.