Toney Clemons has always had the speed and athleticism. This past year he just worked to ensure that he ends up the total package.
Clemons, a senior at Valley High School, has been one of the top wide receivers in the WPIAL the past two seasons with 61 receptions for 1,131 yards.
He has been timed at 4.45 in the 40-yard dash and was the 2006 PIAA Class AA long jump and 110-meter hurdles championship.
"I spent my whole offseason working on my strength and conditioning," Clemons said. "I was blessed with speed, so ... I had to work on my conditioning and endurance and get stronger in the offseason. I was really focusing on the weights so I could take more hits."
Vikings coach Troy Hill has been a fan of Clemons since he was a freshman, when he caught 19 passes. The raw talent in place, Hill appreciates the work Clemons put in and now believes he is ready to take on an even newer role, that of respected team leader.
Clemons, who caught 28 passes for 489 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in the regular season, says he is just following along with the rest of the Vikings' senior class. But Hill says there is one big difference between Clemons and the close to two dozen other seniors on the team.
"When Toney Clemons says something, everyone listens. That's a great thing to have. What I challenge Toney to do is be more of that. Be more vocal. Guys react to his voice, and his work ethic is incredible. Believe me, as a coach and former player, you look at certain guys that have that quality and command that much attention. If the guys see Toney Clemons doing it, it's O.K."
But Clemons is not the only elite wide receiver on Valley commanding respect. Senior Madison Harvey might not be as tall as Clemons, but he might be as talented and his statistics last season were better -- 33 receptions for 500 yards.
And while Harvey might not have the list of college suitors Clemons does -- Clemons has been ranked in the top 10 or 20 nationally among wide receivers by scouting services -- he has a bright future ahead of him, too. He has received interest from Mid-American Conference schools and those in Division I-AA.
"I believe he can play on any level," Hill said. "He's going to be one of those kids that is a diamond in the rough. Any coach that picks him up is going really like what they have, especially his catching ability and his running crisp routes."
Hill also praised Harvey's work ethic. While Clemons has the god-given talent that comes from a family of athletes, Harvey knows he has to work more for everything he can get.
"I'm only 5-10, so I've got to work hard. I have no choice," Harvey said. "I'm playing people taller and faster. I may not be the fastest guy on the field, but I can say I work harder than anyone else."
Clemons and Harvey said that has been the mantra for the Valley team this summer. Motivated by a two-point loss in the quarterfinals to undefeated Greensburg Central Catholic -- an eventual WPIAL Class AA finalist -- the Vikings believe they are close to becoming a championship team.
"This is the best camp we have had in my time here," Harvey said. "Everyone's hungry for that WPIAL title. We want that WPIAL title. We were so close last year, so now in the playoffs we want to go further."
TEAM TO BEAT
Ford City The Sabers have been to the WPIAL quarterfinals the past three seasons and are coming off a semifinal appearance. Derek Bush rushed for 769 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. The senior was joined on the all-conference team by tight end/defensive end Mike Egley. Ford City has eight returning starters on offense and nine on defense.
Kittanning Fourth-year head coach Sam Panchik believes speed and experience will keep his team in the thick of the race. Seniors Ryan Shepard (RB/LB 6-1, 225) and Adam Kutch (OL/DL 6-3, 245) were all-conference selections last year.
Valley The receiving duo of Toney Clemons and Madison Harvey combined to catch 61 passes and score 16 touchdowns last season -- but QB Anthony Howell has graduated, and the Vikings have yet to settle on a starting quarterback.
Freeport The Yellowjackets have the conference's most experienced team with nine returning starters on offense and defense, including 2005 all-conference quarterback Bryan Zimmerman, who passed for 1,507 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
Burrell The Bucs are two-time defending conference champions, but they enter the season without coach Tom Henderson, a 13-year veteran, and his son, Tom, who rushed for 3,845 yards. David Heavner is the new coach, but he must replace 15 starters.
Northgate Gone is quarterback Jon Gubish, who passed for more than 2,000 yards in his career, and the last of the key contributors from the 2003 team that reached the WPIAL quarterfinals. The Flames moved from the Century Conference.
Shady Side Academy The Indians are 11-36 since 2001 but return seven starters on offense and eight on defense. Coach Dave Havern believes quarterback Dan Rooney (6-3, 185), son of Art Rooney II, president of the Steelers, and tackle Mike Farrell (6-6, 265) are major-college prospects.
Deer Lakes Still searching for the first playoff appearance in school history, the Lancers will rely on returnees at quarterback (junior Matt Latronica), running back (junior Brian Becker) and along the offensive line.
West Shamokin Since leaving District 9 for the WPIAL in '04, the Wolves are 3-16 and have not won a conference game. But with 20 returning lettermen and 14 starters, coach Shawn Liotta's team might surprise.
FIVE TO WATCH
Toney Clemons, Sr., Valley, WR/DB, 6-2, 190; Madison Harvey, Sr., Valley, WR/DB, 5-10, 160; Seth Napierkowski, Jr., Burrell, QB, 6-4, 200; Ryan Shepard, Sr., Kittanning, RB/LB, 6-1, 225; Bryan Zimmerman, Sr., Freeport,6-0, 185.
GAME OF THE YEAR
Ford City at Freeport, Oct. 27