Perhaps one common ingredient all championship football teams have is the reliance on a standout quarterback.
Three of the top contending teams in the Tri-County North have proven senior quarterbacks. Mohawk won the title last season behind all-conference quarterback Josh Crum. He shared that honor with 6-foot-2, 195-pound Corey Collins of Laurel, who was a junior.
Now, it might be Collins' turn to lead Laurel to the conference title, although Mars senior D.J. Cannon (6-3, 185) and Shenango senior Rocco Colavecchia (6-3, 215) could thwart those plans.
Colavecchia completed 92 of 190 pass attempts for a school-record 1,411 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Cannon only completed 39 percent of his attempts last season but averaged 22.1 yards per completion and threw for 12 touchdowns.
"You've got to be able to run and pass," Shenango coach Brian Cooper said. "With Rocco, he has both of those dimensions. He runs well, so we're excited about him this year."
Colavecchia has seven teammates who are returning starters so Shenango is expected to significantly increase its 2005 scoring average of 16.5 points per game.
"We were a wing-T team before, but now we're more of a spread offense this year," Copper said. "We'll mostly attack that way and build it around Rocco."
Perhaps the most athletic among the three quarterbacks, Collins rushed for 509 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in his junior year. He also completed 78 of 167 attempts for 1,300 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Collins is a great athlete who deserved to be first-team all-conference," Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. "But I'm sure he's like our guy who would trade any individual honor for winning the conference."
With Cannon under center, Heinaur expects to throw more this season.
"We feel we have to utilize D.J. in the best possible way. A lot of people think I'm a running-style coach, but we're going to do what our guys are capable of doing and obviously we're going to be very capable of throwing the football."
Statistics, though, don't motivate his quarterback, Heinauer said. The Planets averaged 29.8 points per game but finished only 5-5.
"I guarantee you that his big thing is he just wants to win games. He's not a kid who looks at his statistics."
TEAM TO BEAT
Mars The Planets will be led by senior quarterback D.J. Cannon who is receiving college recruiting interest from several MAC schools. Mars averaged 29.8 points per game last year and should be more explosive this season.
Riverside The Panthers only graduated six players from last year's 37-man roster.
Shenango Should show improvement with 15 returning starters led by senior quarterback Rocco Colavecchia.
Laurel Features 10 returning senior starters, including all-conference selections Ryan Forbes, a receiver/defensive back; and Nate Weisenstein, a linebacker.
Mohawk Senior linemen Michael Dean and Anthony Sullivan are expected to serve as cornerstones for another possible title run.
Neshannock Could be improve this fall after going with a sophomore- and junior-laden lineup last year.
Summit Academy Senior defensive back Ali Ellis is the team's top player among a handful of returning starters.
Union The Scotties had a winless campaign last year with a roster of less than 25 players.
Cornell Senior quarterback Matt Linarelli passed for 1,173 yards in 2005.
FIVE TO WATCH
Rocco Colavecchia, Sr., Shenango, QB, 6-3, 215; Corey Collins, Sr., Laurel, QB/DB, 6-2, 195; Jake Wickline, RB-DB, Riverside, 5-11, 195; D.J. Cannon, Sr., QB, Mars, 6-3, 185; Ryan Forbes, WR-DB, Laurel, 6-2, 190.
GAME OF THE YEAR
Laurel at Mars, Sept. 1.