WPIAL Class AAAA preview: Central Catholic loads up again for title defense


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Team to beat

Central Catholic -- The Vikings are talking repeat. The defending WPIAL champs lost a number of key players, but should be strong again. Senior Johnny Petrishen is one of the WPIAL's best defensive backs, and Pitt, Wake Forest and Virginia top his college list. Senior center Eric McAllister is one of the WPIAL's best linemen and Graham Adomitis, who was the starting QB two years ago, is a tight end to watch. The defensive line is strong. Gunnar Frerotte most likely will take over at quarterback, but developing a running game will be vital to the Vikings' success. Mitch MacZura also is one of the best kickers in Class AAAA.


Seneca Valley -- The Raiders played a number of non-seniors last year and still finished second in the conference. Dual-threat quarterback T.J. Holl had 2,527 yards offense last year and was a P-G Fabulous 22 pick. His top three receivers return, including Eric Mrkonja (30 receptions for 530 yards). Mason DeHart rushed for 425 yards and also caught 22 passes. Lineman Tyler Hudanick has some Division I college scholarship offers.

North Allegheny -- Who is better, Seneca Valley or North Allegheny? We'll find out when they meet in Week 1. Many key players graduated for NA, but quarterback Jeff Clemens (66-115 for 1,164 yards) started most of last season before being injured. Layne Skundrich returns for his third year as a starter at linebacker and Cole McHenry is a lineman to watch.

Pine-Richland -- This figures to be the Rams' best team since jumping from Class AAA to AAAA in 2008. Coach Eric Kasperowicz thinks he has the best quarterback, running back and receiver in Class AAAA. Ben DiNucci, a Penn recruit, threw for 2,131 yards last year and receiver D'Ondre Gaston caught 64 passes. Running back Connor Slomka rushed for 1,144 yards. John Kohley and Matt Hampson are two top-notch returning linemen.

North Hills -- This could be a sleeper team, but finding an effective running back and replacing a few linemen are musts. Quarterback Jake Bruder showed promise the first few games last year before sustaining a broken ankle. He is back, and Kindhal Taylor, who took over for Bruder, moves back to receiver. Jake Buccigrossi is a 6-4, 260-pound lineman with potential. Alex Carmody returns at linebacker and Brandon Wagner is a speedy slotback.

The others

Fox Chapel -- The Foxes likely will rely heavily on senior quarterback Bill Urso (129-260 for 1,651 yards last year). But a number of other key players graduated. Carrington Vaughn showed some potential at running back last year. David Brown returns at linebacker.

Butler -- Former Pine-Richland defensive coordinator Sean Densmore takes over as Butler's coach and inherits five returning starters on offense and defense. There are many areas where improvement is needed for a team that has made the playoffs once since 1999. Running back/defensive back Tim Vernick will be one of the team's leaders. Linebackers Jeremy Hanford and Lucas Dubyak will lead the defense.

Shaler -- New coach Jon LeDonne, a former Aliquippa player, takes over a team that went winless the past two seasons and enters the season on a 22-game losing streak. Shaler gave up 46 points a game last season, but the Titans feature senior linebacker Tim Nickel, a first-team all-conference pick a year ago.


Team to beat

Woodland Hills -- Woodland Hills lost in the WPIAL final to Central Catholic last year and a rematch is a definite possibility. Woodland Hills returns a number of players and has a backfield that would be the envy of any team. Junior Miles Sanders (1,064 yards rushing) has already accepted a scholarship to Penn State, and senior Art Thompkins (426 yards) has committed to Toledo. Junior Wilford Clark, senior Dan Gibson and senior Akra McClean were all second-team all-conference linemen a year ago. Jermiah Jones takes over at quarterback, but coach George Novak has thought about Sanders taking a few snaps.


Penn Hills -- After finishing tied for fourth in the conference a year ago, the Indians could jump up a few spots this season as eight starters return on both offense and defense. One of them is quarterback Bill Kisner. He threw only 79 times last year as a sophomore, but he rushed for 1,191 yards. Isaiah Jones was second on the team in rushing with 873 yards and TeShan Campbell had 400. Line play will be a key.

Upper St. Clair -- The Panthers were hit hard by graduation. Running back/linebacker Jesse Slinger is one of the few players with much experience. But coach Jim Render always seems to find a way to have his team near the top of the conference. Danny Trocano likely will take over at quarterback.

The others

Mt. Lebanon -- Look for the Blue Devils to improve on their 3-6 season. Eddie Jenkins took over at quarterback in the middle of last season and completed 50 of 74 for 752 yards. Brian Ward also showed some promise last year as a sophomore running back. Matt Hoffman was a first-team all-conference lineman and has committed to Penn.

Bethel Park -- Coach Jeff Metheny has a team that might be the smallest -- at least in terms of numbers -- ever at Bethel Park. Only 45 players came out for the start of preseason camp. One of them is junior quarterback Levi Metheny, a starter since his freshman year and the son of the coach. Alex Minton, the team's leading rusher last year with 496 yards, also returns.

Baldwin -- The Highlanders were 4-5 last season and believe they can make more noise this year. Sterling Jenkins is a 6-8, 301-pound senior and Penn State recruit ranked among the top offensive tackles in the country. Senior Doug Altavilla (134-254 for 1,705 yards last year) figures to be one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, and one of his top receivers figures to be his younger brother, Nick. Josh Zinsmeister is a tight end to watch.

Canon-McMillan -- After winning only three games over the past four seasons, second-year coach Ron Coder said his team is hopeful of making a playoff push this season. Six starters return on offense and five on defense. One of them is 6-4, 280-pound senior lineman Alex Paulina, who has made a verbal commitment to Pitt. Jordan Smith is a 6-4 quarterback with potential. RB/DB Justin Mattola, linemen George Carson and Jared Hladycz and receiver Logan Higham are a few other top returnees.

Peters Township -- The Indians have only three starters returning on offense and four on defense. Cory Owen is a multi-talented QB who rushed for 762 yards last season and has scholarship offers from a few MAC colleges and Division I-AA schools. The team figures to have a good linebacker crew with returning starters Jake Uhler, Tim Swoope and Colin Kovacs.


Team to beat

Penn-Trafford -- With seven starters returning on both offense and defense, there is plenty of optimism. The Warriors are talented and experienced at the skill positions. Quarterback Brent Laffoon (100-184 for 1,430 yards) and running back Devin Austin (1,275 yards on 214 attempts) both return along with receiver Tim Vecchio (40 catches for 682 yards). Other top returnees include linebackers Sam Guzik and Lance Burk, lineman Trey Blandford, defensive back Jonah Lisbon and lineman Chris Stanford.


McKeesport -- George Smith begins his second season of his second stint as the Tigers' coach. A number of players graduated from a 10-1 team, but look for the Tigers to again contend for the conference's top spot. Running back Khaleke Hudson could have a big season while TyWann Smith also is back at running back. Kameron Bostic is a returning lineman, but much of the Tigers' success will depend on developing a quarterback.

Hempfield -- The big question with the Spartans is whether players will step forward at running back and quarterback and make a difference? Five starters return on offense and four on defense. The offense features Tony Pilato, a 6-7, 300-pound tackle and Pitt recruit. Mike Ferret and Jay Flock also are back on the offensive line. The defense returns both ends who both answer to Logan -- Logan Swan and Chase Logan.

The others

Kiski Area -- The Cavaliers likely will rely heavily on quarterback Chad Kuhn, who last year completed 82 of 137 for 1,007 yards and also rushed for 453 yards on 106 carries. Overall, five starters return on offense, only three on defense. Justice Evans and Lincoln Clayton return at running back and Jake Reid and Bill Sarraf on the line. On defense, Evans returns to the secondary, Clayton at linebacker and Reid at tackle.

Altoona ---- The Lions feature fullback/linebacker Kevin Givens, a 6-3, 225-pound junior who already has committed to Pitt. Eli Mencer returns at running back after rushing for 472 yards last season. Givens is also a capable runner who had 408 yards. Jake Scheinberg will anchor the lines. Devin Miller returns at quarterback while other returning starters are lineman Alex Martynuska, tight end/linebacker Luke Adams, receiver/defensive back Sean Steave and linebacker Nick Lytle.

Norwin -- Dave Brozeski was a Norwin assistant for 17 years and now takes over as head coach. Nick Amendola is a dual-threat QB (768 yards passing and 305 rushing yards last year). Logan Deri and Dante Rizzo return to lead the lines.

Connellsville -- Tight end Caleb Pittsment, running back Steven White and lineman Dylan McCrae are three of the top returnees from last year's 2-7 team. Finding a quarterback will be critical as three entered preseason camp vying for the job.

Latrobe -- Jason Marucco is the Wildcats' new coach, and he has a team with 12 returning starters. Craig Stevens is back at quarterback while Josh Shivetts, Brandon Friedline and Luke Monteparte return in the backfield. Cody Henry and Tyler Mears are two top returnees on the lines.

Plum -- The Mustangs moved over from the Southeastern Conference and hope to win their first conference game since 2010. Will Fuhrer returns at quarterback while 6-5, 345-pound Jacob Tecak is back on the line.

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