AAAA / FOOTHILLS: Powerhouse Central Catholic is center stage

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Bob Donaldson, Post-GazetteCentral Catholic lineman Stefen Wisniewski believes that anything less than the WPIAL and PIAA championships will be a disappointment.

Central Catholic coach Terry Totten tells his team the main goals are to win a conference title and a WPIAL championship. That's nice, but it seems everyone outside the team isn't talking so provincially.

Central Catholic comes into this season with a lofty national reputation. In USA Today last week, the Vikings were ranked No. 9 in the country. In Sports Illustrated last week, Central Catholic was No. 11. In a national high school Web site (www.studentsports.com), Central is ranked No. 30.

There is no hiding from the national attention -- and all it does is put Central Catholic in the book of great expectations.

"I think the expectations are off the charts this year," Totten said.

It's a little like 2004, when Central Catholic went 16-0 and won the PIAA Class AAAA title. That year, the Vikings came into the season as USA Today's No. 8 team. Also that year, Central Catholic was the Post-Gazette's No. 1-ranked Class AAAA team in the state. The Vikings are No. 1 again this season.

Totten doesn't mention national rankings to his team.

"I don't know if our kids are dumb enough to buy into those things," Totten said.

The 2004 team finished No. 6 in USA Today and one of the stars on this year's team, lineman Stefen Wisniewski, also was a starter on the '04 team.

"We want to win the WPIAL and state this year," Wisniewski said. "Anything less will be a disappointment."

There are a number of reasons why Central Catholic is being ranked so high this season. First off, there is tradition. The Vikings are 39-4 the past three seasons.

Secondly, there is experience. Fourteen players started at one time or another last season. Thirdly, there is talent. Wisniewski (6-3, 275) is one of the top linemen in the state and has narrowed his college choices to Penn State, Michigan, North Carolina and Boston College. Most schools like him as an offensive lineman.

Running back Lamont Smith (5-9, 165) is small, but rushed for 2,070 yards on 280 carries last season. He already has made a verbal commitment to Colorado. Smith was recruited by the Buffaloes as a defensive back, even though he will rarely play the position this season.

"He'll play defense if the need arises," Totten said. "But I'm going to have to give him the ball 25 times on offense. He'll return punts and kicks. So that's a lot to ask."

Central Catholic's offense also got a big lift when quarterback Tino Sunseri transferred from a school in North Carolina. Sunseri is a talented junior who has shown plenty of promise in the preseason. He was a starter for two years at Weddington High.

"He has a gun for an arm," Wisniewski said.

Totten said: "He's looked good, but he has to fit into our system, which was a little difficult for him at first. He can make all the throws, but our team starts at tailback. Lamont had a great [preseason] camp and he's our starting point."

Central Catholic also has one of the top junior defensive linemen in the WPIAL in end Quintin Williams (6-3, 230). Some other top returners are Dean Sherman (6-1, 290) at guard, Anthony Petricini (6-1, 200) at center, Luke Nasiadka (6-0, 280) at nose guard, Anthony Bailey (6-1, 195) at defensive back, linebacker John Petregac (6-1, 215) and defensive back Andrew Taglianetti (5-11, 185).

"I'm not going to lie. I think we're good," Totten said. "But we're not very deep."

FOOTHILLS DATA

TEAM TO BEAT
Central Catholic The WPIAL should get a box, put the conference championship trophy in it and mail it right now to 4720 Fifth Ave, Pittsburgh, Central Catholic's address. No one in this conference is close to the Vikings' level. They have size, skill and experience. Central hasn't lost a conference game since 2003 and should keep that streak going this season.

CONTENDERS
Penn-Trafford Standout quarterback Tyler Huether (5,597 career passing yards) has graduated, but the Warriors are still using the spread offense. Senior Erik Rasky (6-1, 200) moves from receiver to quarterback and one of his receivers is among the best in the WPIAL. Senior Tim Cortazzo (6-1, 190) caught 37 passes for 726 yards last season and has a few Division I college scholarship offers. Senior Paul Stefanik (6-2, 225) is a talented lineman-linebacker.

Connellsville The Falcons made the playoffs last year and finished 5-5. They hope to build on some momentum from 2005, when they won four of their final five regular-season games. Running back Scott Jones returns after scoring a team-high 11 touchdowns a year ago.

THE OTHERS
Hempfield A number of returning starters is a reason for optimism as the Spartans hope to improve on a 1-9 season. Greg Meisner is in his second season as coach and one of his top players is his son, Greg Jr., a 6-2, 228-pound tight end-defensive lineman. The Spartans also should be solid on the lines. Senior Weston Banks (6-3, 265) could be one of the conference's best linemen.

Norwin The mood at Norwin is similar to that at Hempfield. Norwin was 1-9 last year, but has a number of returning starters. Junior Mike Shanahan (6-3, 195) is a possible Division I college basketball prospect, but he's also pretty fair as a football receiver. He caught 34 passes for 612 yards as a sophomore. Tailback Dan Kozak (5-11, 185) was the team's leading rusher last year with 476 yards.

Latrobe The Wildcats feature senior lineman Paul Simkovich (6-5, 295), who has committed to Michigan State. Senior receivers Nick Sorice (6-0, 170) and Brent Heckel (5-10, 165) could have big seasons.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tim Cortazzo, Sr., Penn-Trafford, WR/DB, 6-1, 185; Greg Meisner Jr., Sr., Hempfield, TE/DE, 6-2, 228; Paul Simkovich, Latrobe, Sr., OL/DL, 6-5, 295; Lamont Smith, Central Catholic, Sr., RB/DB, 5-9, 165; Stefen Wisniewski, Central Catholic, Sr., OL/DL, 6-3, 275.

GAME OF THE YEAR
Connellsville at Penn-Trafford, Oct. 13.


RETURN TO MAIN INDEX


Mike White can be reached at mwhite@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1975.


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