Inside the Program: Mars football
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There are good ways to start a season and then there is what Mars was able to accomplish last Friday night. On the road against Franklin Regional, the top-ranked team in Class AAA of the WPIAL, the Fightin' Planets (1-0) were able to rally from an early 14-0 deficit to knock off the favored Panthers 21-17. After finishing the 2011 regular season with a 6-3 record -- before losing to West Mifflin 21-8 in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs -- the surprise season-opening win could be an early sign that this season could be a very successful one for Mars. The Planets return home tonight to take on Derry Area (1-0), looking to build on the momentum from their opening week win.
Though the Planets' performance last week surprised many, it came from a squad shelved with returning veteran talent. Overall, Mars returns 18 starters from last season's team (nine on offense, nine on defense), including several of the team's top playmakers. Leading rusher Jason Lozzi, a junior, and leading receiver Jacob Wright, a senior, both return, along with last season's starting quarterback, junior Owen Nearhoof. Even with the team's nucleus coming back, expectations have not changed. "You have to make the playoffs -- that would be the goal -- and the second goal is to win the conference [title]," said Mars coach Scott Heinauer. "Those are the simple goals we have every year."
Nearhoof has perhaps the proverbial brightest light shining on him as the team's starting quarterback, and the football field isn't the only place where he shines athletically, as Nearhoof was among the leading scorers on the Planets' basketball team last season. A 5-foot-11 guard, Nearhoof will continue lacing up his sneakers for a Mars team that went 18-8 last season and advanced all the way to the Class AAA quarterfinals. Even with such a busy schedule for Nearhoof, Heinauer said his quarterback is able to balance everything just fine. "As long as the coaches don't have a problem, the kids don't have a problem," Heinauer said.
For anyone who has ever taken a peek inside Heinauer's office, something immediately stands out -- a rather sizeable collection of mini football helmets. Mars has had a number of Division I players come through its program under Heinauer, who is also the school's athletic director. One day he decided to start getting a helmet to represent the different schools where his former players were suiting up and before he knew it, his office became inundated with them.
It's not every day that WPIAL football ventures into the realm of reality television, but for Mars this season, that's been the exact case. The family of seniors Sam and John King are the subjects of a new reality series called "Farm Kings" on Great American Country, a cable television network. It is scheduled to air this month and it chronicles the lives of the King family -- parents Joe and Lisa and their 10 children -- who operate Freedom Farms in Butler County. A film crew even came by a Mars practice one day to film, something Heinauer noted was "not a distraction at all."
First Published September 7, 2012 12:00 am