WPIAL Class A football has been a model of stability for nearly the past half-decade.
Since 2008 only 10 different teams have won even a share of one of the four conference titles in WPIAL Class A.
Rochester has won seven of the past eight Big Seven Conference titles. Clairton has won conference titles seven of the past eight years, a span covering its time in the Eastern and Black Hills Conference.
The trend goes all the way back to 2005 when Rochester shared a title with Farrell and Clairton shared it with Duquesne. Farrell is no longer in the WPIAL and Duquesne High School has closed.
Beth-Center has won three of the past five Tri-County South Conference titles. The one conference with the most balance is the Eastern Conference. Since Clairton's departure after the 2007 season, Avonworth, Bishop Canevin, North Catholic and Springdale have all at least shared a conference title.
All this says nothing about the stability at the very top of Class A. Clairton has won five consecutive WPIAL Class A titles and four consecutive PIAA Class A titles. It has three consecutive perfect seasons and the Bears boast the country's longest active winning streak at 63 games.
Here's a team-by-team look at Class A programs in the PG 's South Xtra circulation area:
It will be an uphill climb for coach Bob Niziol.
In his second season with the Bearcats, Niziol will try to turn around a team that went 2-7 last season and he must do so with a roster of 23 of which only about half have played football before.
The Bearcats have three returning starters back on offense and four on defense. A lot will ride on Angelo Rios-Lopez (5-8, 160, Jr.). Rios-Lopez was the team's top wide receiver last season, but he will move to quarterback this season to take over for the graduated Dante Sicchitano. Rios-Lopez was a backup to Sicchitano last season.
"[Rios-Lopez] was probably the best receiver on the team last season," Niziol said. "He will help the team more at quarterback. He can run a little bit, he has a decent arm and he has really good hands, too."
The other returning starters on offense are senior offensive lineman Mason Shumaker (5-10, 240) and sophomore running back Ethan Tush (5-5, 130).
In the Bentworth 4-3 defense, Shumaker is a returning starter at defensive tackle. The secondary is experienced with Tush returning at safety and Rios-Lopez and junior Rudy Davila (5-6, 133) back at cornerback.
After 45 years at the helm, Bob Jacoby retired as Bishop Canevin football coach in January of 2013. He will be replaced by Darren Schoppe, a 1991 Bishop Canevin graduate. Schoppe was a defensive coordinator at South Fayette last year. Schoppe inherits a program that has become a perennial Class A contender under Jacoby.
The Crusaders return five starters on offense and six on defense but they must replace the bulk of their offensive production with the graduation of quarterback Nico DiPaolo, leading receiver Mike Tambellini and leading rusher Jim Tersak.
Returning at running back are Giovanni DeMarzo (5-9, 160, Jr.) and Tyler Reddy (5-11, 185, Sr.). The duo had similar 2012 production. DeMarzo rushed for 422 yards and 109 receiving yards while Reddy rushed for 360 yards and 179 receiving yards.
On the offensive line, Tanner Richardson (6-1, 230, Sr.) and John Reddy (5-11, 205, Soph.) are returning starters.
Richardson, a two-way lineman, will start on the defensive front alongside junior defensive end Aaron Alke (6-0, 190).
Defensively DeMarzo and junior Reed Relosky (6-0, 170) are returning starers in the secondary and Tyler Reddy is a returning starter at outside linebacker.
Brentwood returns one of the top backs in WPIAL Class A this season in senior Justin Vickless and Vickless, a 1,500-yard rusher a year ago, will have some new ground to cover. Brentwood has installed a new turf field this season to replace its former natural grass surface.
On the former Brentwood field that would quickly turn to dirt and mud midway through the season, Vickless (5-10, 172) still managed to run for nearly 3,000 career yards and 53 touchdowns and that "slower track.".
"He is the key to our team," coach Kevin Kissel said. "He is looking good and moving good. We have had good teams in the past and we have been competitive, but we haven't had that outstanding, outstanding player, which I think we have now. Justin is a superstar on our team."
Brentwood will have to replace quarterback Chris Shortley who graduated after passing for 1,050 yards last season. Junior quarterback Connor McWilliams (6-2, 185) will start this season.
"Connor is more of a drop-back passer, we don't need him to run as much with Justin back there," Kissel said. "Connor can throw the ball well."
Other weapons in the Spartans offense are wide receivers Patrick Carr (5-8, 140, Soph.) and Bill Madeja (5-11, 185, Jr.) and fullback Ryan Shortley (6-0, 185, Sr.), the younger brother of Chris Shortley. On the offensive line, tackle Josh Gallagher (6-2, 235, Sr.), center Jeremy Cenci (5-11, 190, Sr.) and guard Tyler Stadelman (5-9, 205, Sr.) all return.
Defensively, Cenci and Ryan Shortley return at linebacker while Jack Murano (5-7, 150, Sr.) and Vickless are returning starters in the secondary.
Brentwood will have to rebuild its defensive line after the graduation of both defensive ends, a defensive tackle and a nose guard. Brendan Mulholland (5-11, 210, Jr.), Jeremy Redlinger (6-0, 140, Sr.) and Gallagher will start on the defensive line.
First-year coach Bo Teets will try to lead California back to the playoffs after a 2-7 season.
Teets takes over for Brady Barbero who was head coach at the program for the past four years. Barbero guided California to the postseason as recently as 2011.
Teets will build his offensive attack around senior running back Cory Adams (6-0, 208), who led the Trojans in scoring last season with seven touchdowns. Adams also plays linebacker.
Senior wide receiver/defensive back Nate Harris (6-2, 207), who scored three touchdowns last season, also returns.
The Trojans also feature some good size on their lines, most notably, senior two-way lineman Jared Magruda (6-5, 302).
California opens its season on Aug. 30 when it plays host to Monessen in a Black Hills Conference game.
Chartiers-Houston may rely more heavily on the passing game this year than in the past with returning starters back at quarterback and wide receiver and a need to rebuild an entire running back corps.
Quarterback Kaleb Susko (5-8, 145, Sr.) returns after passing for 966 yards last season. His favorite target, four-year starting wide receiver Miles Williamson (6-4, 175, Sr.), also returns. Williamson caught 24 passes for 357 yards last season.
The Buccaneers will have to replace their three top backs, David Kincaid and Javone Hairston both topped 500 yards last season but have since graduated and third-leading rusher Grant Foster transferred to Central Catholic. The players currently in the mix to fill the holes at running back are Derek Hull (5-9, 185, Sr.), Tug Tatano (5-9, 140, Jr.) and Spencer Terling (5-10, 160, Fr.).
Coach Terry Fetsko returns six starters on offense. Along with Susko and Williamson, the other returners are wide receiver Alec Ferrari (5-10, 145, Jr.) and offensive linemen Walter Lober (5-11, 210, Sr.), Tyler Stegenda (5-10, 230, Jr.) and Noah Deep (5-11, 230, Jr.). Ferrari will be out until about the fourth week of the season with an injury.
On defense Hull is an All-Black Hills Conference nose tackle, Lober is a returning starter at defensive tackle and Williamson is the lone returning starter in the secondary after the transfer of Foster, who was a starting cornerback.
Kicker Mike Kushma (5-5, 120, Soph.) returns as well.
On one hand, Clairton coach Tom Nola finds himself in a familiar position, his team entered preseason camp as defending WPIAL and PIAA Class A champions riding a long winning streak.
On the other hand, Nola is in an unfamiliar position.
In years past, skill positions were established entering preseason camp with proven talent and the biggest holes to fill were on the offensive and defensive lines. This year the Bears have more experience on the lines with players such as Vance Gibson (5-10, 205, Jr.), Israel Melvin (6-2, 250, Sr.), Will Hampton (6-1, 260, Soph.) and Jojuan Bray (6-2, 175, Sr.) all returning.
The skill positions are where the questions are with the likes of Tyler Boyd, Armani Ford, Terrish Webb and Titus Howard all graduating after last season.
The offensive line should afford the young backfield plenty of time to grow. Gibson at center, Melvin and Hampton at tackles and Bray at tight end, give the Bears a foundation up front.
They will be blocking for the likes of Aaron Mathews (6-5, 165, Soph.), Lamont Wade (5-11, 190, Fr.) and Ryan Williams (5-10, 160, Jr.). Mathews and Williams are vying for the starting quarterback job. Mathews will start at wide receiver if he is not at quarterback. Wade will be a starting running back.
On defense Mathews will start at safety, Gibson returns at linebacker, Melvin and Hampton are back at defensive tackle, while Bray is a returning all-conference defensive lineman.
Monessen will have to replace a majority of its offensive production from last season with the graduation of dual-threat quarterback Chavas Rawlins, but the Greyhounds do return a majority of starters on both sides of the ball. Rawlins passed for 1,382 yards last season and was the team's second leading rusher with 613 rushing yards. At quarterback, Monessen will now turn to junior Noah Rullo (5-10, 160).
"He is not the type of dual-threat runner and thrower like Chavas, but he is going to get done what you need to get done," coach Any Pacak said.
Rullo will be helped out by the return of leading rusher and receiver Clintell Gillaspie (5-11, 222, Sr.). Gillaspie combined for more than 1,200 yards of total offense last season.
The other returning starters on offense are wide receivers Irvin Green (5-10, 166, Jr.) and Lavelle Rush (5-10, 136, Soph.), running backs Gillaspie and Javon Brown (5-8, 140, Sr.), H-back Justice Rawlins (6-0, 223) and linemen Justice Tartt (6-2, 215, Sr.), Jonathan Kravets (5-11, 245, Sr.) and Raealo Davis (6-0, 185, Sr.).
Justice Rawlins, Chavas' younger brother, is also a backup quarterback.
On defense Brown, Green and Rush return in the secondary and Gillaspie and Justice Rawlins are returning starters at linebacker. Tartt, Kravets and Davis, are two-way linemen.
"A lot of the kids who are seniors this year have been starting for three years," Pacak said. "We have some high expectations for those guys and they have worked awfully hard in the offseason."
The last time Serra was rebuilt from a conference doormat to a WPIAL title contender, the spread offense was at the center of the transformation. Rich Bowen implemented a spread offense when he arrived at Serra in 2005 and turned a 2-7 team into a 15-1 WPIAL championship, PIAA runner-up team by 2007.
The 2007 Eagles offense scored 44 points per game.
First-year coach Tony St. Angelo inherits a program that was winless last season and scored a total of 60 points. Much like Bowen did in 2005, St. Angelo brings with him a spread offense, replacing the flexbone offense that had been in place the past three seasons.
This type of spread offense should look very familiar to Serra followers, St. Angelo learned it from coach Mike LeDonne with whom he coached at South Allegheny, Clairton, McKeesport and Elizabeth Forward and LeDonne learned it from Bowen.
The leaders of this spread offense will be quarterback Zac Quattrone (5-10, 152, Jr.), running backs Hamdan Wyatt (6-1, 180, Jr.) and Jake Alfer (5-8, 150, Soph.) and wide receivers Brad Delo (5-9, 162, Sr.), Grant Perry (5-9, 165, Sr.), Steve Derewicz (5-7, 141, Sr.) and Joe Satira (6-1, 170, Jr.). Delo will also see time at running back while Satira could be one of the biggest weapons on the offense. Satira, a standout on the basketball team, left the football team midway through last season. He had three catches including a 60-yard touchdown reception in Serra's first scrimmage of preseason camp.
The offensive line will be anchored by left guard Rudy Fetzko (6-1, 201, Jr.) and right guard Anthony Bernick (6-0, 195, Sr.). Derewicz and Martin Slovonic (5-9, 163, Jr.) are returning starters in the defensive secondary, Fetzko is a returner on the defensive line, Alfer is back at linebacker and Perry is a returning starter at defensive end.
By Brad Everett
At 6 feet 4, South Fayette quarterback Brett Brumbaugh possesses the size colleges look for when recruiting players at his position.
But Brumbaugh hasn't always been a quarterback.
In his first three years -- fifth through seventh grade -- Brumbaugh was, of all things, an offensive lineman.
"He was always too big to carry the ball," South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said.
Years later, South Fayette will rely on Brumbaugh's arm to carry the team to a WPIAL Class AA title.
Brumbaugh is one of the top junior quarterbacks in the state. He is coming off a breakout sophomore season that saw him complete 154 of 245 passes for 2,823 yards and 37 touchdowns. Only North Allegheny's Mack Leftwich passed for more yards (3,331) and touchdowns (45), and he played four more games than Brumbaugh.
This is an important season for Brumbaugh in regards to his college future. Akron and Temple are the only schools to have offered so far, but that list could skyrocket should Brumbaugh keep improving. Pitt, Penn State and Virginia Tech are among the schools showing heavy interest.
"He knows what he has to work on," Rossi said. "He has to have that thing that wows you. Right now, that's his size. He's working on his arm strength. He's going to have to throw the ball well. He understands the game and he has the will to win."
Brumbaugh is 13-2 as a starter, with those losses coming in the WPIAL playoffs. The most recent defeat came in last season's semifinals, when then-undefeated South Fayette fell to Washington, 26-14. Brumbaugh was 11 of 27 for 240 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Washington rushed for more than 450 yards.
South Fayette graduated star receiver Zach Challingsworth, but the Lions return their leading rusher -- senior Grant Fetchet -- and No. 2 and 3 receivers seniors Justin Watson and Conner Beck. Rossi expects junior tight end Logan Sharp to play a big role and the Lions gained a Division I prospect when junior receiver/defensive back Roman Denson transferred from Gateway.
Brumbaugh said he expects the offense to be just as potent as last year when it averaged 46 points per game and scored more than 50 six times. Additionally, Brumbaugh entered last season having started just three games, so having a full year of action has carried him into a different role.
"I have much more experience now," he said. "We have some new starters, so I kind of have to lead them through camp. I have to help chemistry-wise and with a leadership role. I have to be the one who sets the tone."
He could also be the one who