WPIAL Class A preview: Coaching change shouldn't hinder Clairton

FORECAST BY MIKE WHTE


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TRI-COUNTY SOUTH

Team to beat

Beth-Center -- The Bulldogs have lost only one conference game in the past three seasons and another Tri-County South title might be in the cards. Dan Smith is one of the top linemen in the conference and Anthony Welsh rushed for more than 1,200 yards last year as a sophomore. The Bulldogs would like some playoff success, though, as Tri-County teams have gone 0-12 in the postseason in the past three years.

Contenders

Carmichaels -- The Mikes' only conference loss last year was to Beth-Center. Replacing QB Brandon Lawless (1,882 yards offense) will be tough. Sam Penich was an all-conference lineman. Nate Baker was an all-conference DB and figures to be one of the top running backs this season.

California -- You can bet the Trojans are happy to be back in the Tri-County South after a few seasons in the tough Black Hills Conference. California must replace some key skill-position players who graduated.

Avella -- The Eagles made the playoffs last year and could be headed for the postseason again. Five starters return on offense and defense, including quarterback Santino Parris (who threw for 1,443 yards last season). Nick Kusich returns at running back and lineman Derek Allen had 10 tackles for losses last year.

Frazier -- The Commodores were 7-3 last season and figure to be in the playoff hunt again. Nick Smalich rushed for 802 yards last season. Nate Urich was an all-conference tight end.

The others

Jefferson-Morgan -- With six starters returning on both offense and defense, the Rockets are optimistic. Linemen Ian Wolfe and Zach Chaffer and defensive back David Blaker are three of the top returnees.

Mapletown -- Ben Boone returns at quarterback and Adam Hein at running back after leading the team in rushing a year ago. The playoffs aren't out of the question for the Maples.

Bentworth -- Ron Skiles begins his third stint as the Bearcats' coach. He takes over a team that won only one game last year. Ethan Tush is back at running back.

West Greene -- The Pioneers finished 2-7 last year and must replace leading rusher Dalton Wildman.

EASTERN

Team to beat

Clairton -- Coach Tom Nola left for Gateway, but there is still continuity with the Bears as former defensive coordinator Wayne Wade took over. The Bears played a number of non-seniors last year, and the experience should pay off this year. Junior Aaron Matthews figures to be one of the WPIAL's best receivers after moving from quarterback. Sophomore Lamont Wade missed half of last season with a knee injury, but still showed promise when he rushed for 636 yards as a freshman. Lineman Israel Melvin and linebacker Raymone Clifford were both first-team all-conference.

Contenders

Greensburg Central Catholic -- The Centurions moved down from Class AA and should contend for a conference title. Tommy Pellis is back at quarterback while Jake Wallace, Jake Weir, Tom Slavic, Jack Kilkeary and Brian Pevarnik return on the lines.

Jeannette -- The Jayhawks also moved down from Class AA and are expected to make some waves in this conference. Julian Batts returns at quarterback and Zack Altieri is one to watch at running back and defensive back.

Monessen -- The Greyhounds lost 13 seniors, but return quarterback Noah Rullo, who threw for 1,308 yards and 19 TDs a year ago. Linebackers Tylier McKita and Brandon Lenhart will lead the defense.

The others

Riverview -- First-year coach Jason Cappa takes over a team that has won only five games the past three seasons. Tyler Nigro saw some time at QB last season. Cappa thinks sophomore running back Nasan Tibbens could open some eyes.

Springdale -- The Dynamos missed the playoffs last year after 11 consecutive appearances. Daniel Franskousky returns at quarterback to lead the wing-T offense while halfback/linebacker Adam Lock is a player to watch.

Wilkinsburg -- The Tigers have moved Jonathan Carpenter from lineman to quarterback as they hope to improve on a 2-7 record.

Leechburg -- Lineman Jordan Comonis is one of the top returnees from a team that finished 2-7 last season.

Serra -- It could be a rough season for the Eagles as only 24 players came out for the team and their top returning player, quarterback Zac Quattrone (1,011 yards passing and 1,047 rushing) is injured. Joe Satira caught 47 passes for 697 yards.

BLACK HILLS

Team to beat

Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic -- If experienced skill-position players mean anything, then the Trojans have a shot at defending their WPIAL and PIAA titles. Running back/slotback P.J. Fulmore is one of Class A's best players. He moved to quarterback late in the 2013 regular season when Adam Sharlow went down with a knee injury. Sharlow also returns as does running back Jerome Turner, who rushed for 1,151 yards. Seven players return on offense, six on defense. Replacing some talented linemen who graduated will be a key.

Contenders

Avonworth -- The Antelopes' only two defeats last year were close losses against North Catholic. Junior Zach Chandler, who saw extensive action at quarterback two years ago as a freshman, takes over this season. Josh Drwal is back at receiver while one of five returning starters on defense is 6-4, 290-pound tackle Kadale Cole.

Brentwood -- The Spartans have enough experience and talent to play with anyone in the conference. Connor McWilliams threw for 1,745 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago while top rusher Pat Carr also is back. Senior Bill Madeja was an all-conference receiver.

Fort Cherry -- The Rangers must replace 2,000-yard rusher Koltan Kobrys as well as some other top players. But the Rangers should still be a playoff contender. Brian Carnegie was a first-team all-conference lineman last year as a sophomore.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart -- Seven starters return on offense, six on defense from a team that just missed the WPIAL playoffs a year ago. Joe Sebes returns at quarterback while lineman Connor Riley and tight end/linebacker Eric Hall are two-year starters.

The others

Northgate -- T.J. Wiley is back as the Flames' coach after a one-year stint at Deer Lakes. Johnny Camello returns at quarterback and tailback Brett Howell is one to watch. He attended Northgate for two years before transferring to Pickerington North in Ohio last year.

Chartiers-Houston -- Sophomore Spencer Terling rushed for a team-high 641 yards a year ago. Linebacker Dylan Briggs will lead the defense.

Bishop Canevin -- The Crusaders were 3-7 last year, but 13 returning starters give second-year coach Darren Schoppe reason to be optimistic. Quarterback Reed Relosky threw for more than 1,000 yards. Receiver/defensive back Giovanni DeMarzo and lineman/linebacker Jake Reddy are two other top returnees

BIG SEVEN

Team to beat

Neshannock -- Graduation took away many of the top players, but the Lancers might have a winning tradition finally going. The offense will feature standout running back Eli Owens, who rushed for 1,469 yards last season. Seth Duett was a first-team all-conference defensive back.

Contenders

Western Beaver -- The Golden Beavers must replace a number of linemen, but the offense has potential because of Hunter Roknich. A 5-9, 175-pound senior, Roknich rushed for 1,208 yards last season and has moved to quarterback.

Rochester -- The Rams hope to rebound after going 2-7 and missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 1996. Chase Long returns at quarterback while Brandon Hopkins, Zach Tame and Austin James are back on the lines.

Riverside -- The Panthers won only one game each of the past two seasons, but a move down from Class AA should help. It also helps that a number of key players return, including quarterback Jason Dambach and leading receiver Marcel Cleckley.

The others

South Side Beaver -- The Rams believe they are improved after going winless a year ago. Quarterback Nathan Block led the team in rushing and scoring a year ago.

Shenango -- Mike Commesso, a former Hopewell assistant, takes over as coach and will try to improve a team that hasn't finished above .500 since 2009.

Union -- Union hopes to push into the upper half of the conference after going 4-5 last season. The Scotties must replace leading rusher Ben Young.

Vincentian -- This is the Royals' first year of WPIAL conference play. They spent the first two years of their program as an independent, playing a Tri-County South Conference schedule. Eleven starters return on defense. On offense, Michael Tappe returns at quarterback.


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