Entering his eighth season as football coach at Beaver Falls, Ryan Matsook has coached a number of players who have gone on to play college football at the NCAA Division I level.
Matsook, though, has never had a senior class quite like this.
In just the past few weeks, three Beaver Falls seniors gave verbal commitments to Division I schools -- defensive lineman Brock Boxen and wide receiver Elijah Cottrill to Akron, and linebacker Sage Curry to West Virginia.
"We've had a couple [of Division I-bound players] on the same team, but not this many in the same class," Matsook said.
Beaver Falls fielded an excellent junior class last season, and the group is attracting even more attention a year later.
"I think we just worked hard for it," Boxen said. "[Matsook] pulled us all up our freshman year. Some of the kids haven't been starting since freshman year, but we started earning respect then."
Added Curry: "We work really well together. I think there's going to be a couple more guys go Division I, too."
Among them could be quarterback Dan Stratton, who threw for 1,454 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Stratton does not have any Division I offers so far, but Matsook said that could change this fall.
Boxen, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound two-way tackle, is the only player to have started as a freshman in Matsook's tenure. Boxen is not only big, but also has excellent athleticism. He has run a 4.7-second 40-yard dash.
"[Coming into ninth grade] we knew he had a lot of size and ability," Matsook said. "It was just a case of refining his skills. The biggest thing with Brock is he can move. He has quickness and speed."
Boxen chose Akron over Pitt. He said he also had a lot of interest in Penn State, but due to the school's limited amount of scholarships because of NCAA sanctions, he knew that getting an offer might not be in the cards. Boxen said Akron likes him as a defensive end or tackle.
"They made me feel at home," Boxen said. "A lot of the people I've talked to, they said that when you [visit] a college and it's the right one, you just feel it. I liked the program and where it's headed."
Cottrill's commitment came as a bit of a surprise. Cottrill, who starred on Beaver Falls' basketball team that won the PIAA Class AA title in March, was being recruited by Division I schools in both sports. Creighton offered him in basketball, and schools such as West Virginia and Seton Hall were showing heavy interest. Matsook said Cottrill will keep his basketball options open.
Cottrill, who is 6-2, 180 pounds, led Beaver Falls with 26 catches last season and scored nine touchdowns. In addition to wide receiver, Cottrill plays defensive back for the Tigers.
Boxen and Cottrill became the second and third seniors from Beaver County to select Akron. Blackhawk quarterback Chandler Kincade also pledged to the Zips.
Curry (6-1, 200) has been a starter at linebacker since his sophomore year. As a junior, he played tight end and averaged 38.3 yards on his 14 catches. Curry, who has run a 4.5 in the 40, will move into the backfield this season, giving Beaver Falls another running threat to go along with senior Damian Rawl, who rushed for 1,163 yards last season.
"As far as Sage goes, his versatility [is excellent]," Matsook said. "People want to compare him to [former Beaver Falls star and current Pitt starter] Todd Thomas, but I think that [Curry's] skill set is more refined than Todd's was."
West Virginia was the only Division I school to offer Curry but several others were showing interest. It's possible he could attend a prep school for a year before enrolling at West Virginia.
Beaver Falls hopes it can make a run at the WPIAL Class AA Midwestern Conference title. The Tigers finished 8-3 and advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals last season. Conference rival Aliquippa is the defending WPIAL champion.
"Until someone takes their crown, [Aliquippa] is the favorite," Matsook said. "We feel good about what we have coming back. We think we'll be better than last year."