Team to Beat
Clairton -- Until someone knocks them off, the Bears are the favorites. Clairton, the four-time defending Class A state champion, enters the season on a 63-game winning streak, but must replace most of its starters at the skill positions, including Pitt recruits Tyler Boyd, Terrish Webb and Titus Howard. But most of the linemen return, led by all-conference selection Jojuan Bray. Sophomore quarterback-receiver Aaron Matthews and freshman running back Lamont Wade could be the next Bears stars.
Brentwood -- A WPIAL quarterfinalist each of the past two seasons, the Spartans return two-time all-conference running back Justin Vickless. A senior tailback, Vickless ran for 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. He'll run behind all-conference lineman Jeremy Cenci.
Monessen -- The Greyhounds advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals last season, but have to replace quarterback Chavas Rawlins, who combined to throw and run for almost 2,000 yards. But all-conference running back Clintell Gillaspie and all-conference linebacker Justice Rawlins, Chavas' brother, return.
Bishop Canevin -- Darren Schoppe replaces longtime coach Bob Jacoby and takes over a Crusaders team that loses five all-conference players but returns two-way starters in running back-defensive back Giovanni DeMarzo (531 total yards, three touchdowns in 2012) and running back-linebacker Tyler Reddy (539 total yards, five touchdowns).
Chartiers-Houston -- The Bucs missed the playoffs for the first time in 10 years in 2012 and must replace all-conference linebacker Garrett Vulcano. But their quarterback, Kaleb Susko, and all-conference receiver Miles Williamson return.
California -- Bo Teets, an assistant at Monessen the past seven years, takes over a Trojans program that has made the playoffs 12 of the past 14 years but won just two games last season.
Carlynton -- The Cougars won one game last season, but they return 10 defensive starters as well as quarterback Freddie McKissick, who is healthy after playing through a shoulder injury last season.
Fort Cherry -- The Rangers return quarterback Matt Heslin and the team's top rusher and receiver, Koltan Kobrys, as they look to get back to the postseason after seeing their six-year playoff streak come to an end last season.
Serra Catholic -- New head coach Tony St. Angelo will try to improve an Eagles team that went 0-9 last season and was outscored, 436-60.
Team to Beat
Sto-Rox -- The Vikings return a lot of talent from last season's WPIAL runner-up, led by Fab 22 quarterback Lenny Williams. A senior signal-caller who might miss the start of the season due to a hand injury, Williams threw for 2,237 yards and ran for another 1,189. Talented linebacker-running back Brandon Blair (799 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns in 2012) and wide receiver Javelle Kirkland (18 catches for 538 yards) also return.
Neshannock -- The Lancers won a playoff game for the first time in school history last season and advanced to the WPIAL Class A semifinals. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the classification returning in Ernie Burkes, who threw for 1,560 yards and 19 touchdowns and ran for 802 yards. The Lancers also return 1,200-yard rusher Eli Owens.
Rochester -- The Rams tied with Neshannock and Sto-Rox for the conference championship last season, the seventh time in eight years Rochester won at least a share of the league title. But Rochester has to replace a lot of pieces, including Dante Marsick (2,245 yards from scrimmage and 32 touchdowns in 2012). Running backs Brent Johnson, O'Shea Anderson and Montrail Strozier will try to fill the void.
Laurel -- The Spartans return quarterback Josh Dando, who rushed for 847 yards and passed for 472 and was an all-conference selection at defensive back.
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart -- The Chargers return two-thirds of their starting lineup from last season, but must replace running back Isiah Neely, who had more than 3,000 rushing yards in his career.
Shenango -- Mike Commesso takes over as coach and will look for big contributions from running backs Ty Welsh (738 yards, eight touchdowns) and Anthony Prestopine (427 yards, three touchdowns).
South Side Beaver -- The Rams, who finished 2-7 last season, have a new quarterback but return their top three targets -- Richard Fayad, Hunter Beaumont and Nathan Block -- from last season, all of whom had more than 150 yards receiving.
Union -- Last season the Scotties had their first winning record in league play since 2003, but must replace all-conference running back/defensive back Drew Robinson and 1,000-yard passer Joe Salmen.
Western Beaver -- The Golden Beavers, who missed the playoffs for the first time in three years in 2012, return leading receiver Nick Miller (14 receptions for 385 yards).
Team to Beat
Beth-Center -- The Bulldogs won their third league title in five years in 2012, with a league record of 35-3 in that span. They return five all-conference selections in senior offensive lineman Lucas Zellie, senior defensive lineman/quarterback Gino Faieta, senior linebacker Austin Symcheck, junior linebacker/running back Jason Stay and senior defensive back/running back Matt Riggle.
Frazier -- After not making the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons, the Commodores went to the postseason for the second year in a row in 2012. They should be in contention for a conference title with all-conference quarterback Charlie Manack (1,793 yards passing and 20 touchdowns) and all-conference linebacker and leading rusher Chase Bertocci (499 yards rushing, four touchdowns) returning for their senior seasons.
Jefferson-Morgan -- After two consecutive seasons with a losing record, the Rockets won seven games last season. Three all-conference players return -- 6-foot-10, 385-pound defensive lineman Jake Earnest (55 tackles), linebacker Logan Bowman (85 tackles) and guard Brandon Pelosi.
Carmichaels -- The Mighty Mikes, a WPIAL qualifier last season, return seven starters on offense and nine on defense, including all-conference defensive lineman Nick Mattei and all-conference running back Brennan McMinn (615 yards rushing, nine touchdowns).
Avella -- After starting 5-0 last season, the Eagles lost three of their final four games to narrowly miss the playoffs. They return quarterback Santino Paris (962 passing yards, 10 touchdowns) and his top target, all-conference receiver Zach Thompson (28 catches for 618 yards and 10 total touchdowns).
West Greene -- After winning just one game from 2008-11, the Pioneers won four last season. They return eight starters on each side of the ball, including quarterback Dalton Wildman and all-conference offensive lineman Trevin Bedilion.
Bentworth -- The Bearcats lose two-thirds of their offense and defense from last season's two-win team. Angelo Rios-Lopez, who started at receiver last season, will take over at quarterback this season.
Geibel Catholic -- After having to forfeit two games in a winless season in 2012, the Gators will again be short-handed in terms of numbers this season.
Mapletown -- The Maples finished 2012 with three wins, extending their streak of non-winning seasons to seven.
Vincentian -- This is the second year of the Royals' program. Although they are not yet in the WPIAL, the Royals play a Tri-County South schedule. Their results, however, do not count in standings. Michael Tappe returns at quarterback after throwing for 582 yards last season.
Team to Beat
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic -- A WPIAL semifinalist last season, the Trojans arguably have more talented, experienced players than any team in the classification. Quarterback Ryan Kirby is back, and he's surrounded by six all-conference players from a year ago. The headliner is junior running back P.J. Fulmore, whose 1,820 rush yards were the fifth-most in the WPIAL last season.
Apollo-Ridge -- The Vikings led the conference in points per game at 28.7 last season and return much of their aerial attack. Quarterback Jesse Zelonka ran for 671 yards and threw for 1,457 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, and will have his top two targets back in Tre Tipton (39 catches, 786 yards, 16 touchdowns) and Alex Smith (23 catches, 534 yards, 6 touchdowns).
Avonworth -- The Antelopes were a WPIAL qualifier last season and return three all-conference players -- Dalton Day at linebacker, Jeffrey Markovich on the offensive line and Jesse Zubik at punter. Avonworth also returns Zachary Chandler and Matthew Donovan, both of whom saw time at quarterback last season.
Springdale -- The Dynamos have made the postseason every season since 2002, but have to replace 1,700-yard rusher Sean Dugan. Springdale does return all five starters on the offensive line.
Northgate -- First-year head coach Brandon LeDonne takes over a Flames team that fell just short of the playoffs last season and returns all-conference running back Alex Marusic, who will likely play multiple positions on offense this season including quarterback.
Riverview -- The Raiders must replace three all-conference selections from last season, but return junior quarterback Tim Nigro and eight starters on defense.
West Shamokin -- The Wolves return eight starters on both sides of the ball from last season's team that won three games and ended a 45-game losing streak, the longest in WPIAL history.
Wilkinsburg -- The Tigers haven't played in the postseason since 2001, but finished 2012 strong with three wins in their final four games. Starting quarterback Ryan Cox is back for his senior season.
Leechburg -- The Blue Devils have won just one game over the past two seasons and were outscored, 250-56, last fall.
First Published August 23, 2013 4:00 AM