East Xtra: Eastern Conference shapes up as dogfight

CLASS A PREVIEW


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The Class A Eastern Conference got a major overhaul during the offseason thanks to the biennial WPIAL realignment.

In addition to bringing perennial Class A powers Clairton and Monessen along with Serra Catholic back from the Black Hills Conference, the league also inserted two strong former Class AA programs -- Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette -- into the conference alignment along with hold-overs Leechburg, Riverview, Springdale and Wilkinsburg.

Going off recent history, it would appear that the conference will be top heavy.

For Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic the transition could be a double-edged sword as conference foes look to make a statement by dethroning the former Class AA powers.

Greensburg Central Catholic

Greensburg Central Catholic made the WPIAL Class AA playoffs a year ago, just as it's done for the past decade.

The Centurions look to play in the postseason again this year, but this time the path will be out of the Class A Eastern Conference.

"Our goal is always to win the conference [title], then take our chances on how far we're going to go in the playoffs," coach Dan Mahoney said. "That's our motto year in and year out."

GCC returns quarterback Tommy Pellis along with linemen Jake Wallace, Jake Weir, Tom Slavic, Jack Kilkeary and Brian Pevarnik.

"I'm real pleased with the line we have back," Mahoney said. "They all played last year."

Jacob Nesser and J.P. Ellis will look to fill the production void left by the graduation of Tyler Balla, who led the team in receiving, rushing and scoring last year.

"We're looking to definitely run the ball," Mahoney said. "We'll look to run a spread [offense] once in a while, but we're not a pure spread team."

Defensively, the line will again be the focus with Nesser, Jasson Eubank and Pevarnik as linebackers. The Pellis brothers and Sam Nowicki will line up in the defensive backfield.

The move to Class A isn't an unfamiliar one to Greensburg Central, though, as the Centurions jumped to Class AA in 2002, so there's sure to be some familiar foes.

"We moved from Class A in 2002," said Mahoney, who was an assistant at the time. "We have very good rivalries and good relationships with all those teams."

Jeannette

Despite its new conference home, Jeannette will be sticking to the things that made it a Class AA power in the Interstate Conference.

"We're going to stick with our wing-T offense," coach Roy Hall said. "We've been running that for the last 10 years."

The Jayhawks have quarterback Julian Batts returning to guide the offense that will feature backs Zack Altieri, Kareem Hall, Terell Canady and Swade Redman.

The offensive front returns only one starter in center Joey Soles. The Stikkel-Headan twins, Hakeim and Hassani, will fill the guard spots as Jerry Linear and Tremayne Briston serve as bookend tackles. Jefferson Jones will return as tight end.

"You can rely on the tailbacks and skill guys, but whether they're new or old or experienced, you still have to rely on those guys up front first," Hall said.

Defensively, Linear, Soles, Briston and Jimmy Malik will line up at tackles with Hassani at nose guard. Mark Wormack, Hall, Jones and Hakeim will be linebackers.

Altieri, Canady and Batts will patrol the defensive backfield of Jeanette's stacked defense.

"As it's going right now, that will probably be the strength of our defense because they're all returning starters," Hall said.

While the four power programs are getting all the attention in the new-look Eastern Conference, Hall knows it's going to be much tougher than just getting past that quartet.

"People call it the Super Conference," Hall said. "The thing we can't be blind of or overlook is there are other teams already in the conference that are good, too. It's going to be a challenge every week."

Leechburg

The Blue Devils look to junior Josh Stearman to take control of the offense, while the trio of Darius Bennis, Quinton Wolfgang and Colton Reed will pace the ground game.

Jake Gard, Mike Kasanickey and basketball convert Jeff Holmes (6-4, 150, Sr.) will fill the wide receiver slots. R.J. Rich and Shane Rupp will complete Leechburg's two tight end set.

"We may do a little more under center, but we basically run a shotgun," coach Mike George said. "We either run a pro or twins [wide receiver set]."

Two-time all-conference performer Jordan Comonis will anchor the offensive line from his left tackle position, while Devin Myers, Zach Lewis, Dan Jones and Logan Bowser fill-out the rest.

A lot of the same faces will be on defense. Jake Waltz will rush the passer from one defensive end spot. Rich, Rupp, Myers and Luke Camp will fill out the rest of Leechburg's 4-4 base defense.

Wolfgang, Kasanickey, Stearman, Bennis and Jeff Holmes will all see action in the secondary.

After a lean 2013 season in which the Blue Devils went 2-7 overall and 2-6 in conference play, they know it won't get any easier with the conference shake-up.

"Everyone knows the history that goes along with Jeanette and Greensburg Cenrtal Catholic as well as Clairton and Monessen," George said. "You're talking some traditionally strong and powerful football programs.

"We have to do what we can do and we have to do it well. That's pretty much the bottom line."

Riverview

Riverview will look to its senior leadership to set an example of team over self; most notably the position change of fullback Dillon Provenza and receiver Jared Culligan to offensive line.

"They totally bought in to the team thing," first-year coach Jason Cappa said. "They weren't afraid to move to the offensive line from the skill position."

Josh Bennettt, Will Singleton and Vince Fiore will fill out the rest of the line in front of senior quarterback Tyler Nigro.

The running back position will rely heavily on sophomore Nasan Tibbens.

"He's turned out to be one of the top players I've seen [during seven-on-seven competitions]," Cappa said. "Offensively he catches the ball out of the backfield. He runs hard. He's a punishing blocker.

"He's strong. He's physical. He's fast. He brings all the intangibles you want in a running back."

Raymar McCombs, who led the Raiders in receiving yards last year, and tight end Jacob Massack also return on offense. Riverview will look to run a read-option offense.

Much like on offense, Provenza, Culligan, Tibbens and Massack will be the strength on defense at linebacker. Bennett, Singleton and Fiore will be in the trenches, and McCombs and Nigro will lead the secondary.

As for expectations for his first year with a team that finished 1-8 overall and 1-7 in conference play a year ago, Cappa won't look past Week 1.

"Almost every day we've been talking about Jeannette," Cappa said of his team's first opponent. "That's the only team we have to worry about. After that we'll focus on whoever we have to."

Serra Catholic

Zac Quatrone was busy last year for the Serra Catholic football team. He figures to be even busier for the 24-player Eagles as he will play defense along with reprising his role as one of the most versatile quarterbacks in the WPIAL.

A year ago, the 6-1, 175-pound senior supplied some "must viewing" even as his team limped home with a 1-9 record. Why? Because Quatrone displayed equal amounts of prowess with his arm and his legs as he rushed for 1,047 yards and completed 76 of 163 passes for 1,011 yards. He also was his team's leading scorer with 15 rushing touchdowns.

"Because we have so few players, Zac will play free safety and outside linebacker," said second-year coach Tony St. Angelo. "He runs about 4.7 in the 40, so he's pretty fast for a high school kid."

Joe Satira, a 6-2, 165-pound senior wide receiver, again will be Quatrone's top target. He caught 47 passes for 697 yards and scored five touchdowns.

Defensively, St. Angelo hopes for big seasons from Taysaun Owens (5-10, 225, Sr.) and Jake Alfer (5-8, 190, Jr.), two defensive linemen.

Wilkinsburg

Jonathan Carpenter will switch from snapping the ball to taking the snap as the team's quarterback, which he did last year, to throwing it.

Everything indicates that this former offensive lineman will take snaps from center this year, according to coach Mike Fulmore.

"He's been a three-year starter for me," Fulmore said. "He also has a little ability to throw the ball so we've given him a shot early on in the season and he's carried us through about 20 seven-on-sevens so far. He's looking pretty good."

Carpenter will have athletes Marcus Williams, Marelle Turner and last year's leading receiver, Robert Higginbotham, returning to spread the ball to as well as a newcomer.

"We have a lot of athletes, but one we're looking at to do big things is Dremar Everette," Fulmore said.

Up front, Stephon Byrd, Roland Dowden and Micah Stoner will look to provide protection for their former linemate.

Defensively, Byrd will assume his linebacker spot, while underclassmen fill in around him.

Carpenter, Williams, Higginbotham, Turner and Aaron Wilson will all see time defensively as well.

Managing only two wins a year ago, the Tigers are relying on attitude and execution to compete in the new-look Eastern Conference.

"What we lack in experience we're hoping to get back in strength and hustle," Fulmore said. "We feel like we do what we do really well."


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