East Xtra: Honoring a fallen teammate

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When Burrell takes the field Friday to play its season opener at arch-rival Valley, memories of a deceased teammate will be on their minds.

A visual remembrance will be there, too.

Burrell players will wear decals on their helmets with the initials "NC" this season to honor Noah Cornuet, a 16-year-old sophomore who collapsed and died at practice Aug. 6.

The tribute is one of several that will be seen at Burrell games this fall. Fourth-year coach Kevin Horwatt said he and his staff have left it up to the players as to how to honor Cornuet, adding that he's not even sure yet as to what all will take place.

"Prayer is always there. I'm letting the kids run with the rest," Horwatt said. "We as coaches aren't going to say you have to do this for Noah or you have to do that. It's up to them to choose how they want to remember him."

Horwatt applauded Jeannette for the support that team showed during a scrimmage against the visiting Bucs last Friday.

In what Horwatt called a "classy move," the Jeannette players wore helmet stickers with Cornuet's No. 70 on them. The teams also held a moment of silence for Cornuet, something that will likely be done at Burrell's season and home openers.

Burrell began classes Monday, and Horwatt said this could be a tough week for his players. They have grieved together the past few weeks, and will now be reunited with other classmates, some of whom they might not have spoken to about Cornuet's passing.

"These kids have had so much going on," Horwatt said. "It will continue to be on their minds. It's never going to be forgotten. It's a very tight-knit group, though.

"This is something they'll hopefully never have to experience again in life, and I think it's drawn them closer. It's amazing how 14 through 17 year olds have been able to handle a situation like this."

Now they've got a season that's about to begin, one which they hope might lead to a playoff berth. It will undoubtedly be a challenge. Horwatt said he has just over 30 players. Only four of them are seniors.

"We have a very focused group and we have a lot of kids eager to play," Horwatt said. "Their focus is to be successful. They realize the numbers are down and we're very young, but they're stepping up to the challenge."

Senior running back Ryan Sowol will be the focal point of the offense. Sowol was named all-conference last season after rushing for 1,150 yards and 12 touchdowns. Junior running back Noah Hanna will also likely see significant action, according to Horwatt.

"I think the key for us comes down to staying healthy and playing smart," Horwatt said. "If we do all the little things, we'll be just fine."

Woody High seeks fast start

Woodland Hills, the Post-Gazette's No. 1-ranked team in WPIAL Class AAAA, is considered a heavy favorite to defeat Peters Township in the season opener.

Should the Wolverines get knocked off, however, don't be surprised if they still make it to Heinz Field.

Coach George Novak's Wolverines are hoping to win a season opener for the first time since 2011. They lost their opener each of the past two seasons to Upper St. Clair.

Those early defeats did nothing to deter the Wolverines' spirit, though, as they advanced to the WPIAL final both seasons, finishing as runner-up on each occasion.

Woodland Hills defeated Peters Township, 42-9, last season. Art Thompkins scored a career-high three touchdowns, including a 79-yard scoring reception.

Thompkins (Toledo recruit) and Miles Sanders (Penn State recruit) give Woodland Hills arguably the most dangerous running back duo in the WPIAL. Peters Township quarterback Cory Owen has a few Division I offers.

Game Watch

Upper St. Clair at Penn Hills, 7:30 p.m. Friday -- This is an early showdown in the Class AAAA Southeastern Conference. Upper St. Clair is always rock solid defensively, but the Panthers will be tested from the get-go against Indians quarterback Bill Kisner, who typically does a lot of damage with his running ability. Kisner was held to 36 yards, however, in a 35-0 loss to Upper St. Clair last season.

McGuffey at Mount Pleasant, 7 p.m. Friday -- In the new-look Class AA Interstate Conference, defending champion Mount Pleasant could have its hands full against McGuffey. A Mount Pleasant team that lost seven all-conference players will need to slow down McGuffey running back James Duchi (1,065 yards last season).

Monessen at Greensburg Central Catholic, 7 p.m. Friday -- Having dropped from Class AA, Greensburg Central Catholic plays as a Class A team for the first time since 2001. Quarterbacks Noah Rullo (Monessen) and Tommy Pellis (Greensburg C.C.) are both returning starters. Rullo tossed 19 touchdown passes last season.

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