Class AA: Five players to watch
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TERRELLE PRYOR -- JEANNETTE QB-DB
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor did a lot with the ball last year, rushing for 1,676 yards, throwing for 1,732 and scoring 29 touchdowns, including one as a receiver. But you might see a few new twists from Pryor and his Jeannette team this season. "When you have a cannon, you have to shoot it any way you can," said Jeannette coach Ray Reitz. Pryor, a 6-foot-6, 227-pound senior quarterback-defensive back, is ranked by some scouting services as the No. 1 player in the country. Pryor will most likely be given more freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage this season. Jeannette also can change from a winged-T to a spread formation from play to play. "He's just much more at ease and more comfortable with the offense," Reitz said. "As a sophomore, he couldn't do this. But he can now." Reitz and his staff also met with McKeesport coach George Smith in the offseason to learn more about McKeesport's vaunted triple option offense. Pryor caught on to the triple option quickly. "What people don't realize is he really is like a sponge. He takes in everything you tell him," Reitz said. "I don't know how much we'll use the triple option, but we'll have it." "We're dong a lot of different things this year," Pryor said. "It's a challenge. But the coaches have told me I have to step to the challenge." But Pryor won't be doing some different things only on offense. He plays safety, but will line up all over the field, depending on different situations. "You're going to see him used a number of different ways," Reitz said. -- By Mike White
JONATHAN BALDWIN -- ALIQUIPPA WR-DE
The physical talent gap between Jonathan Baldwin and most opponents already was big. Then Baldwin went and made it bigger. Baldwin, a senior receiver-defensive end at Aliquippa, is bigger, stronger and at least as fast as he was a year ago. He hit the weights harder than ever in the offseason and took workouts more seriously. "I've just been a lot more focused," Baldwin said. Baldwin played last year at 210 pounds. Now he's 233. He can now bench press 335 pounds. And it doesn't appear he lost any speed. He can run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and finished third in the 100-meter dash at the PIAA Class AA championships in May. On top of it all, he stands 6 feet 6. And this year, he plans to be a bigger part of Aliquippa's offense. He caught only 21 passes last season on a run-oriented team. "I think I can get 40-50 this year," Baldwin said. "I think we're a better team than last year. We've got a true quarterback [Rasheem Jones] this year, so we'll be able to open up the game a little more. We'll have people guessing more instead of people knowing we're going to run."
Baldwin is ranked the No. 8 receiver in the country by Super Prep magazine. He's also a talented basketball player and used to talk about playing only basketball in college. But he has decided to play only football and has narrowed his choices to Pitt, Michigan, Notre Dame, Florida, Miami and USC. Baldwin's favorite player is former Pitt receiver Larry Fitzgerald. It could come down to Pitt and Michigan.
-- By Mike White
BILLY BAIR -- MARS RB-DB
Bair traps didn't work much last year against Mars, but this Bair might leave even more tracks on opponents this season.
Mars' Billy Bair is a 6-foot, 180-pound senior who led the entire WPIAL in rushing during the 2006 regular season. A repeat performance would presumably be satisfactory. But Mars coach Scott Heinauer believes this Bair season could be better than last.
"I would think we could expect more," Heinauer said. "We've talked to him about it. He's going to have to take an even bigger role this year because we have an inexperienced quarterback and five of the six people up front on the line are gone.
"How much more can we expect than last year? I'm not sure, but he can do more."
Including one playoff game last year, Bair rushed for 1,928 yards on 205 attempts and scored 28 touchdowns. Not bad for someone who always played on the line until ninth grade.
"He's fast, but his vision of the field is his biggest thing," Heinauer said. "We've had kids here before who were fast, but he probably sees the field better than any kid we've had."
Bair also will be a full-time player on defense this year at cornerback. Heinauer believes defensive back might be Bair's best position for college.
"He's fast, but he doesn't have that 4.2 or 4.3 speed to be a featured back at a place like Pitt or Penn State," Heinauer said. "But some lower Division I schools want some video of him at cornerback. They might want to take a look at him there."
-- By Mike White
RYAN SABO -- STEEL VALLEY QB
At 6 feet 3, 208 pounds, Sabo is in the midst of the biggest audition of his life -- showcasing his talents in hopes of earning a Division I scholarship.
Several Division I schools -- including Purdue, Temple and Toledo -- have been sniffing around, but none has offered the solidly built lefty.
Funny thing is, Sabo has, for the most part, removed all of that from his mind, clearing the way for a singular goal to fester.
"To be honest, the only thing I think about is winning football games and trying to do the best I can for this team," he said. "Yes, I'm aware that how I play depends on if schools are going to offer me [a scholarship] or not, but when I put my helmet on, that is the last thing on my mind. Seriously, the only thing I think about is winning."
Last season, Sabo guided the Ironmen to a 7-3 record, throwing for 1,005 yards and six touchdowns in a season that came to a close in the first round of the playoffs with a loss against Ford City.
Also a stellar basketball player, Sabo predictably looks at a few other quarterbacks who went to Steel Valley as inspiration.
"I talk to Luke Getsy a lot and worked out with him a bunch of times and I see what he did and what Charlie Batch did and it motivates me," Sabo said. "Spending time with Luke especially made me realize where you can be with hard work. When I put on that uniform, I know about the history here at quarterback and I just want to be mentioned with those guys."
-- By Colin Dunlap
TODD THOMAS -- BEAVER FALLS RB-WR-QB-DB
When Beaver Falls is on offense this season, you never know what position Todd Thomas might be playing.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Thomas is one of the top juniors in the WPIAL and also one of the most versatile.
Thomas is fast (4.5 in the 40-yard dash) and jumps like he carries a trampoline with him. This season, Beaver Falls coach Ryan Matsook plans to use Thomas at running back, slotback, receiver and also quarterback. In Beaver Falls' first scrimmage of the season against Burrell, Thomas played mostly quarterback.
"We're trying to use him like Rochester did last year with Derek Moye," Matsook said. "We think he's one of those special talents and we want to move him around, more or less, so defenses can't key on him in one spot."
As a sophomore, Thomas rushed for 630 yards on 93 carries, caught 29 passes for 486 yards, scored 10 touchdowns and intercepted six passes from his defensive back position.
Thomas is a two-sport star, averaging 21.1 points a game in basketball last season. He seems like a sure bet to be a Division I football prospect. Colleges already are inquiring about him.
"Everybody asks what position would he play in football in college? I truly don't know," Matsook said. "I think he's in the same position that [Jeannette's] Terrelle Pryor and [Aliquippa's] Jonathan Baldwin were in at this time last year. All the big-time talk started about them with their junior years. Todd is going to get more respect and more and more interest from colleges as time goes and if he has a good year."
-- By Mike White
First Published August 28, 2007 9:55 pm