Burrell will be playing with heavy hearts this season after one of its players collapsed and died at practice earlier this month.
Noah Cornuet, a 16-year-old sophomore, collapsed on the evening of Aug. 6 after stretching during the first of three heat acclimatization practices mandated by the PIAA. An autopsy found that Cornuet had a benign heart tumor called an atrial myxoma.
The Bucs, led by coach Kevin Horwatt, hope that football and the tighter bond the team has formed since the tragedy can help with the grieving process. The Bucs went 5-5 last season, finishing 4-5 in the Allegheny Conference.
Senior running back Ryan Sowol is the top returnee. An all-conference selection, Sowol rushed for 1,150 yards and 12 touchdowns, both team highs. Sowol averaged 5.4 yards per carry. The Bucs must replace quarterback Cody Wolfe and leading receiver Nick Pattock.
Burrell opens the season at rival Valley. The Vikings ended a four-game losing streak in the series by defeating the Bucs, 26-0, last season. The Bucs play their home opener the following week against Shady Side Academy.
Horwatt, in his fourth season, has compiled a record of 19-11. He guided the Bucs to a share of the Allegheny Conference title two seasons ago.
Derry has turned to one of its former star players in hopes of injecting some wins into a program that has struggled mightily over the years.
New coach Tim Sweeney is a 1985 Derry graduate who played on Penn State's 1986 national championship team. Sweeney was an assistant at Derry from 2006-09.
"I think any high school coach would tell you that it's special to work with high school kids in general, but to have the opportunity to work with kids at your alma mater makes it all the more special," Sweeney said.
Derry is coming off an 0-10 season in which the Trojans allowed a WPIAL-high 56.3 points per game. The Trojans last made the playoffs in 2009 and have not finished with a winning record since 2000.
In addition to the coaching change, Derry has moved from the Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference to the Class AA Interstate Conference.
Senior fullback T.J. Balega and senior running back Josh Flack were Derry's top two rushers a season ago. Senior wide receiver Jaymie Howe, senior tackles Josh McCleary and Tyler Savage, and senior center Chase Stevenson were starters last season.
There's always uncertainty when a team changes conferences, but as East Allegheny switches from the Allegheny to the Century, coach Dom Pecora is certain his team will have one of the top all-around players in the conference.
Senior Taizjon Brown doubles as a standout running back and linebacker. He rushed for 982 yards and 12 touchdowns a season ago -- both team highs -- and his 100-plus tackles helped earn him all-conference honors on defense.
"He has a nose for the football like nobody I've ever been around," Pecora said. "He's our leader on offense and defense. We'll go as far as he takes us."
Last year, Pecora's first, East Allegheny went 5-5, which put the Wildcats just short of a playoff bid.
The Wildcats must replace three-year starting quarterback Kyle Whipple, but senior Deon Smith appears to be a solid replacement. The backfield will also include senior Rod Jones, giving the Wildcats some playmakers.
The Wildcats have two returning starters at offensive tackle in senior Gino DePaoli and junior Sam Mikolay. Junior wide receiver Rocco Dunn is also a returning starter.
Pecora gave high praise to his new conference.
"Pound for pound, it's the best conference in the WPIAL," he said.
Mount Pleasant is fresh off an undefeated regular season and Interstate Conference title, but the loss of seven all-conference players -- including the school's all-time leading rusher and passer -- will make it a hefty challenge for the Vikings to repeat those achievements.
"We are excited about the season. We are just very inexperienced," seventh-year coach Bo Ruffner said.
Gone are standout running back Tyler Mellors (1,738 yards and 29 touchdowns last season) and quarterback Ryan Gumbita.
Senior Nathan Pieszak (6-0, 160) will likely be the starter at quarterback. Three players rushed for more than 100 yards last season: Ethan Charlesworth (5-7, 160, Sr., RB), J.J. Ansell (5-10, 220, Sr., RB) and Jake Adamrovich (5-10, 175, Jr., RB).
An offense that averaged 41.9 points per game last season and helped the Vikings reach the WPIAL quarterfinals will also lean on Trevor Salopek (6-1, 170, Sr., RB/WR), the team's top receiver a season ago.
Jonah Long (6-0, 225, Sr., TE/DE), James Smail (5-8, 220, Sr., G/DT) and Josh Lind (5-9, 250, Jr., G/DT) are returning starters.
Look for significant contributions from Brian Prinkey (5-9, 160, Sr., WR/LB), Brennan Ramela (5-10, 165, Sr., WR/DB), L.J. Sutton (5-11, 160, Sr., WR/DB) and Adam Golkosky (6-0, 245, Sr., OT/DT).
First-year coach Muzzy Colosimo welcomes back 14 seniors from a team that went 6-4 and reached the WPIAL playoffs for the second year in a row.
"There's talent here all through the program, and I think that we have some good senior leadership," said Colosimo who went 143-45 in 17 seasons at Greensburg Central Catholic, leading the Centurions to three WPIAL championship appearances and one title.
At the center of that senior leadership are two interior linemen and team captains -- Logan Ludwiczak and Vinny DiCarolis.
Another senior captain, Colten Buzzard, is one of the team's top linebackers and also a starting fullback. Two-way tackle Jon Richey and linebacker Lucas Booker are two of the other top seniors.
Valley is not short on playmakers. Colosimo said junior wide receiver/linebacker Tyson Hill can play about eight different positions. Colosimo called junior D'Aundre Johnson one of the most athletic wide receivers he has ever coached. Senior Nick Marzullo and junior Eugene Bailey are two other talented receivers.
Junior Philip Petit, a first-year starter, will handle the quarterback duties. Senior Dalton Rockwell will see time at fullback, while juniors Jordan King and James Bradley figure to get the majority of the carries at tailback.