Bill Wade, Post-GazetteSeton-LaSalle quarterback Matt Rodgers is ready to hit the ground running ... or passing.
The dots can be easily connected.
Start in Tampa, Fla., stop next at Loretto, Pa. Then continue on to Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood before proceeding to Seton-LaSalle High School.
One line, one commonality.
A quarterback on each team -- from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to St. Francis (Pa.) to Pitt and then to Seton-LaSalle -- has been a star for the Rebels.
From Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Bruce Gradkowski to St. Francis senior starter Anthony Doria to Pitt backup Bill Stull and now, to Seton-LaSalle senior Matt Rodgers, the school has been ripe in recent years with quarterback talent.
And if Seton-LaSalle's quarterback situation were a wheel, Greg Perry would be the hub. He was the offensive coordinator for Gradkowski, Doria and Stull and is set to begin his second season as head coach -- the second with the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Rodgers as the starter.
"I think the main thing, more than any other factor, is that our quarterbacks have all bought into the system that we have in place," Perry said. "They have all realized that the things we do here in our offense put them in the best position to win. Also, they don't want to be the quarterback who failed after so many have had success. Believe me, that is a motivating factor."
Part of the success might be rooted in Perry's long leash and unyielding trust.
"Our quarterbacks have had the option to check out of any play I call, and that has been a big key for us over the years," Perry said. "That just shows the trust that we have in these guys. I think it sends a message to our quarterback like, 'Hey, we trust you and we trust you totally with your judgment.' That can be some pressure on a kid, but I think it is much more of a positive."
If Rodgers -- who committed to Akron last week after considering Toledo, Bowling Green and Ohio -- wants some added pressure, all he needs to do is take a look at the numbers accumulated by his predecessors.
Before Gradkowski starred at Toledo and was an NFL draft pick, he passed for 4,581 yards in a Rebels uniform; 2,978 of those coming in just 10 games his senior season of 2000.
After that, Doria, a '02 graduate, finished with 2,892 yards as a senior and 4,423 in his high school career.
Then Stull, an '04 graduate, grabbed the torch. He became the first quarterback in WPIAL history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season (3,301 as a senior) and had 5,573 in his two years as a starter.
Now, there is Rodgers, the rocket-armed leader who Perry said, "Has as good an arm as all the guys who came before him." Rodgers threw for 2,025 yards and 20 touchdowns last year, in leading the Rebels to a 9-3 record and a trip to the WPIAL Class AA semifinals.
Rodgers knows the lineage. He also knows how vital his time as an understudy was.
"Sitting back for two years and learning the system is the biggest reason why I feel I'm playing well right now," Rodgers said. "There are some places where a younger quarterback might have played as a freshman or sophomore, but at Seton it has been a system where you play for two years. Doing that, you know, learning the system as a freshman and sophomore, gave me a much better grasp when it was my turn.
"Now I'm applying all that."
TEAM TO BEAT
Seton-LaSalle The past three seasons, the Rebels have won 28 games and look to have the personnel in place to make a solid run again this year. Senior quarterback Matt Rodgers (6-3, 195) is one of the top arms in the WPIAL. The line -- on both sides -- will be led by Gino Gradkowski (6-3, 290), a West Virginia recruit. Ed Beveridge (RB 5-10, 190), who was ineligible last year after transferring from Keystone Oaks, will open some eyes.
South Park The Eagles rolled to a 16-0 record last season and won WPIAL and PIAA titles. But quarterback Connor Dixon, running back Tyler Scruggs and receiver Brandon Detwiler, who accounted for more than 5,200 yards and 62 touchdowns, have graduated. This year, everything starts up front. Senior linemen Mike Chavis (6-3, 280) and Corey Dieterle (6-1, 255) earned all-conference accolades last year.
Carlynton The Cougars haven't made the playoffs since 2001. Look for senior Mike Carpellotti (DE 6-2, 210) to lead his unit, and senior Deon Summers (RB 5-6, 150) to do the same on offense.
Steel Valley Looking to rebound from back-to-back 2-7 seasons, the Ironmen have turned over the controls to first-year coach Ray Braszo, who compiled a 100-76-3 record in 17 seasons at West Mifflin.
Charleroi The Cougars make the jump from Class A into, arguably, the toughest Class AA conference in the commonwealth. Senior Doug Haney (QB 6-4, 185) and senior Jermaine Thurston (RB 5-8, 160) will provide the offense. Their defense will be strong this season, with junior Dave Grillo (LB 5-10, 185) as the key piece.
Brentwood The Spartans dropped four of their final five games last year but they could improve on a 3-7 record because of the Moore brothers -- senior Da'Von (RB/WR 6-0, 195) and junior Akeem (WR 6-1, 175).
South Fayette There are more than a few questions, the first of which: Who is going to pick up the slack with quarterback Andrew DiDonato gone? All he did was throw for 6,573 career yards.
Burgettstown Juniors Brenden Bongiorni (QB 6-2, 195) and Dan Conley (RB 6-0, 205) will be counted on heavily to provide offensive spark.
South Allegheny The Gladiators are 29-100 since 1993 and went winless last season. First-year coach Mike LeDonne will lean on senior Nic Czapor (QB 6-1, 195).
FIVE TO WATCH
Mike Carpellotti, Sr., Carlynton, DE, 6-2, 210; Mike Chavis, Sr., South Park, OL/DL, 6-3, 280; Gino Gradkowski, Sr., Seton-LaSalle, OL/DT, 6-3, 290; Da'Von Moore, Sr., Brentwood, RB/WR, 5-11, 195; Matt Rodgers, Sr., Seton-LaSalle, QB, 6-3, 195;
GAME OF THE YEAR
South Park at Seton-LaSalle, Oct. 20.
Colin Dunlap can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1459.