Class AAA: Five players to watch
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LUCAS NIX -- THOMAS JEFFERSON OL-DL
Lucas Nix is ranked among the top offensive linemen in the country. College coaches recruited him as an offensive tackle. But Nix is so athletic his coach believes he might make an outstanding defensive lineman in college. "I think all those college coaches see him with those long arms and want to make him a great offensive tackle," said Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak. "I used to think he was offense for sure, but he does a lot of good things defensively. He moves really well, he has great hands and he's only going to get stronger. I wouldn't be all that surprised if he plays defense in college." Nix is 6 feet 6, 295 pounds. But he has great agility for a player his size. "The other night in our scrimmage [against South Park], he made some unbelievable plays on defense, just running people down," Cherpak said. Nix is a prized Pitt recruit, choosing the Panthers over offers from colleges across the country. Nix's brother, Nate, is a former Thomas Jefferson standout who is now a linebacker at Pitt. Before Lucas Nix heads off to Pitt, he has a high school season to think about. Thomas Jefferson is the Post-Gazette's No. 1-ranked Class AAA team in both the WPIAL and PIAA. "Lucas has been great. He's grown up and taken over a leadership role," Cherpak said. -- By Mike White
CHRISTIAN WILSON -- MONTOUR RB-LB
Christian Wilson hopes to turn the football field into his own proving ground this season. Wilson, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound senior running back-linebacker, was one of the most heavily recruited players in Western Pennsylvania, with 50 scholarship offers. Last week, he made a verbal commitment to Michigan, choosing the Wolverines over Rutgers. Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Clemson were his other finalists. But Wilson has heard the critics who say he is overrated and wonder why he is recruited so heavily. "A lot of people have said how did Christian get all those offers and he's not good enough to get all of them," Wilson said. "Basically, I just want to prove to people, and the teams we play, that there are reasons why I got all those offers. I want to prove it's not just a fluke and that colleges didn't watch the wrong tape." Wilson hopes to run for more yards than the 920 he gained on 159 carries last year. He wants to make more tackles than the 51 of a year ago. And he wants to win more. In his three years on the varsity, Montour is 5-22. "Stats aren't everything to me," Wilson said. "We have to win." Wilson will certainly get the opportunity to carry the ball often.
"We're not going to be like the pass-happy teams I've coached in the past," said Montour coach Lou Cerro. Last year was the first time in Wilson's career he played linebacker. "He's motivated to do well this year because he still thinks he has something to prove," Cerro said. "He feels he flew under the radar last year, which is understandable. You need to win some games to be recognized."
-- By Mike White
MIKE YANCICH -- TRINITY LB
Mike Yancich is hoping.
With all his might, he wants to be one of those greats.
"Guys like Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor and Sean Lee, those are the guys whose lead I want to follow," said the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Trinity senior linebacker who is a Penn State recruit looking to be the next great one at Linebacker U, falling in line with the aforementioned in-state products who have starred for the Nittany Lions.
But, before looking too far ahead, Yancich understands the task at hand this high school season. Along with Andrew Sweat -- an Ohio State linebacker recruit -- Yancich will be a major factor for coach Ed Dalton's Hillers, who come off a 6-4 season, but are looking for greater things this year.
"I have thought about everything and looked at the whole situation and I know what has to be on my mind as we head into this year," Yancich said. "There are a lot of guys who I talk to who committed to big schools and it is like their heads are already up at college and they forgot about this high school season.
"Well, that wouldn't be fair to my teammates at Trinity. You know it would be like I was abandoning them, so right now my focus is on winning games at Trinity."
-- By Colin Dunlap
ANDREW SWEAT -- TRINITY LB
Andrew Sweat can offer a perspective well beyond his years -- and he can lay a booming hit on a ball carrier as well.
One of the most heavily recruited players in the state, Sweat is a senior linebacker at Trinity who has made a verbal commitment to Ohio State after considering scholarship offers from some of college football's heavy hitters.
Sweat's football merits are well documented, but some might not know much about the young man's existence when he takes off those pads.
He is ranked No. 7 in his class.
He is tremendously well spoken, each word exiting his mouth only after a careful thought.
And, he has his future mapped out as he's already decided -- if, of course, that NFL career does not pan out -- to go to law school and, afterward, take over his father's law firm.
"So many people are really great football players and play in college and that sort of thing," Sweat said. "But a lot of them lose sight of everything and where their future is going to take them. So many of them think they are going to play in the NFL and there just aren't that many spots, so that is why I look at things the way I do.
"My next step in life, after college football, probably isn't going to be the NFL and I realize that."
--By Colin Dunlap
JARED RAINS -- HOPEWELL RB-CB
The way Hopewell senior Jared Rains sees it, he's already lifted a humongous weight off himself heading into this year.
"The best thing I did was commit before the season," said the 5-foot-11, 190-pound running back/cornerback who committed to Cincinnati. "There are a lot of recruits who have that pressure on them when they go into their senior year. For me, though, I can just concentrate on Hopewell football."
And, make no mistake, Hopewell football is counting on Rains to have a big season.
Last year, he rushed for 1,401 yards on 228 carries and scored 17 times as he led the Vikings to a 9-2 record and a first-round playoff win against Trinity.
He is also well aware that many in the Hopewell community have been talking over the past few years that this group, which also includes Division I recruits David Posluszny (Notre Dame) and Ryan Turnley (Pitt), is one of the best to come through the school in awhile.
Long story short, expectations are sky high -- and the players know it.
"Probably in ninth grade, the talk started about us," Rains said. "It isn't like pressure, or anything, but I'd say it is more expectations. We all knew there were great athletes in this class and now is our last chance to show it."
-- By Colin Dunlap
First Published August 28, 2007 9:41 pm