For the second consecutive year the Pittsburgh City League is set with just six teams.
A few coaches throughout the league, however, believe the playing field has taken a step closer to becoming fairly even.
"The league is wide open this year and that's a good thing for our league," longtime Perry Traditional Academy coach Bill Gallagher said. "We don't know what the future holds, so we have to keep tweaking, adjusting and rocking and rolling for each new season."
The City League, which had 13 teams and two sections back in 1972, lost four teams -- Schenley, Langley, Peabody and Oliver -- and added one -- the "merger" team of Obama Academy, University Prep and Science & Technology -- in the past two years following school closings and openings by the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
"The good thing is no more schools closed," Gallagher said. "Allderdice should be strong. Brashear should be strong. University Prep should be strong. Westinghouse continues to put the time in to get better and Carrick is rebuilding with a new coach [Craig Aguglia]."
Perry returned to the top of the heap last season after winning its second league title in three years. the Commodores have won nine league crowns since 1997.
University Prep returned to the title game for the second consecutive season last year where it lost to Perry. The Wildcats, nonetheless, represented the league in three preliminary-round Class AAA state playoff games last fall before losing to Selinsgrove in the main bracket the PIAA playoffs.
"This year, more than any other year, is wide open," Westinghouse coach Monte Robinson said. "In my opinion, that's a good thing for the league and especially a great thing for us. Even though we're the smallest team, we feel we should be able to compete this year."
Perry Traditional Academy
The defending league champion Commodores graduated a strong core of skill-position players from last season, including star quarterback Ahmed Turner and fullback Curtis Edmunds.
Gallagher, however, still remains confident that his youngsters will step up and succeed in their new roles.
"We're excited and pleased with the progress these guys made during the offseason," said Gallagher, who enters his 13th season at Perry. "I've been impressed with the intensity of these guys."
Junior Desean McGhee (6-1, 185), a younger brother of former Perry quarterback Greg McGhee, as well as sophomore Shawn Rutherford (6-0, 205), who is a cousin of former Perry and Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford, and senior Mondo Hardy (6-0, 180) entered camp as Gallagher's three candidates to take over the starting quarterback position.
The Commodores will have veteran offensive weapons in Kevin Griffin (5-9, 175, Sr., WR/DB), Jajuan Byrd (6-1, 190, Sr., WR/DB), Gary Reid (5-9, 175, Sr., RB/LB) and Chandler Houston (5-11, 210, Jr., FB/LB).
Defensively, Gallagher returns senior experience in Aaron Brown (6-1, 205, TE/LB) and Kip Humphreys (6-3, 250, OL/DB).
Last season, with the addition of players from Oliver's defunct program, Perry captured its second league crown in three years. The Commodores went 5-0 in the regular season and finished 8-3 overall after losing to Erie McDowell in a preliminary-round game of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs.
"We have to get better every snap and every repetition," Gallagher said. "If we do that we'll be OK. Because of our inexperience, we have to make progress every time we step on the practice field.
"We have a good solid core team this year. We have the talent."