Tuesday, August 31, 2010

APB, Where are they Now?

With all the talk of young, unproven talent sure to excel at the varsity level, The Varsity Letters felt the time was appropriate to issue an All Points Bulletin for a player who entered high school athletics with unfair expectations.

Several years ago at Trinity's Hiller Stadium, I was covering a football game when two people pointed out one player on the field for the pre-game introductions of the school's youth football teams.

Both people inside the press box told me the same thing.

"That kid there is going to be the next Brian Davis."

Those are words spoken in Washington every time the next youth league great prepares to hit ninth grade. The comparison is never fair and never will be.

Let's get this straight.

There's only one Brian Davis, a high school athlete so talented people miles outside of Washington descended on the town just to watch the guy play football and basketball.

Anderson Hutchinson was the player being compared during this instance. Hutchinson tore up the local youth league and many expected him to do the same when he joined Trinity's varsity football team.

Though Hutchinson was a key contributor for Trinity, that day never came.

It wasn't Hutchinson's fault people wanted to label him as the next Brian Davis. Not like he asked for the moniker. During Hutchinson's final two years of varsity play, Ben Jennings was the primary runner.

Hutchinson started at cornerback for the Hillers and helped them upset Penn Hills in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs before nearly beating Mt. Lebanon in the next round. Hutchinson was also a successful sprinter on the track team.

Someone mentioned Hutchinson was training for a career in mixed martial arts.

If anyone can confirm Hutchinson's whereabouts, please contact The Varsity Letters.

Associated Press state rankings

The AP released its state rankings within the hour. They're still being compiled by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania high school football rankings from the Patriot-News of Harrisburg for the preseason, with school’s district in parentheses, followed by last year's record and final ranking from 2009. NR means not ranked. Honorable mention teams listed alphabetically.

1. North Penn (1) 14-1 5
2. Ridley (1) 13-2 4
3. Woodland Hills (7) 12-2 8
4. Cumberland Valley (3) 12-3 6
5. Pittsburgh C.C. (7) 8-3 NR
6. Downingtown East (1) 10-3 NR
7. North Allegheny (7) 9-2 NR
8. Easton (11) 13-2 2
9. La Salle College HS (P) (12) 14-1 1
10. Neshaminy (1) 9-3 NR
Teams to watch: Bethel Park (7) 10-2, Gateway (7) 12-1, George Washington (12) 8-3, McDowell (10) 8-3, Mount Lebanon (7) 5-5, Parkland (11) 10-3, Wilson (3) 11-2.

1. Allentown C.C. (11) 12-2 3
2. West Allegheny (7) 12-3 5
3. Thomas Jefferson (7) 11-1 10
4. Bishop McDevitt (3) 12-1 NR
5. Archbishop Wood (12) 11-3 7
6. Pottsgrove (1) 14-1 8
7. Manheim Central (3) 15-1 2
8. Montour (7) 5-5 NR
9. Chartiers Valley (7) 8-2 NR
10. Susquehanna Twp. (3) 12-2 4
Teams to watch: Abington Heights (2) 11-2, Cardinal OHara (12) 8-3, Cathedral Prep (10) 10-3, Hopewell (7) 12-2, Interboro (1) 12-1, North Pocono (2) 9-2, Selinsgrove (P) (4) 16-0.

1. Lancaster Catholic (P) (3) 15-1 1
2. Greensburg C.C. 13-3 2
3. West Catholic (12) 12-3 3
4. Aliquippa (7) 11-2 7
5. North Schuylkill (11) 13-1 6
6. South Fayette (7) 10-1 NR
7. Forest Hills (6) 13-1 5
8. Tyrone (6) 10-3 NR
9. Keystone Oaks (7) 10-2 NR
10. Northern Lehigh (11) 10-3 NR
Teams to watch: Beaver Falls (7) 10-2, Central (6) 10-2, General McLane (10), 11-1, Loyalsock Twp. (4) 10-4, Mt. Carmel (4) 7-5, Trinity (3) 7-4, Wilmington (10) 13-2.

1. Dunmore (2) 12-1 NR
2. Clairton (P) (7) 15-1 1
3. Rochester (7) 12-1 5
4. Southern Columbia (4) 9-5 9
5. Bellwood-Antis (6) 11-1 6
6. Springdale (7) 8-3 NR
7. Steelton-Highspire (3) 8-3 NR
8. Bishop McCort (6) 14-1 3
9. Mercyhurst Prep (10) 10-1 NR
10. Line Mountain (4) 8-4 NR
Teams to watch: Beth-Center (7) 8-3, Farrell (10) 14-1, Marian Catholic (11) 6-5, North Catholic (7) 9-3, Riverside (2) 4-8, Schuylkill Haven (11) 14-1, Sharpsville (10) 10-3, York Catholic (3) 7-5.

(P) - PIAA champion. Number in parentheses is PIAA district.

Frisco's state football rankings

Rod Frisco compiled state football rankings for the Harrisburg Patriot-News and Associated Press for years. He still does the weekly rankings, which must be a lengthy, difficult process, but now he does it for his own web site www.RodFrisco.com.

For die-hard high school sports fans, the site is a must read.

Here's a quick look at Frisco's rankings in each classification. For his comments on each team and his honorable mention, visit his web site.

The Varsity Letters will publish Frisco's rankings throughout the football season.

Class AAAA
Team (District) 2009
1. North Penn (1) 13-1
2. Ridley (1) 13-2
3. Woodland Hills (7) 12-2
4. Cumberland Valley (3) 12-3
5. Pittsburgh C.C. (7) 8-3
6. Downingtown East (1) 10-3
7. La Salle College (12) 14-1
8. Bethel Park (7) 10-2
9. Wilson (3) 11-2
10. George Washington (12) 8-3

Class AAA
1. Bishop McDevitt (3) 12-1
2. Allentown C.C. (11) 12-2
3. West Allegheny (7) 12-3
4. Archbishop Wood (12) 11-3
5. Thomas Jefferson (7) 11-1
6. Abington Heights (2) 11-2
7. Chartiers Valley (7) 8-2
8. Pottsgrove (1) 13-1
9. Montour (7) 6-4
10. Cathdral Prep (10) 11-3

Class AA
1. Lancaster Catholic (3) 15-1
2. West Catholic (12) 12-3
3. Greensburg C.C. (7) 13-3
4. Aliquippa (7) 11-2
5. North Schuylkill (11) 13-1
6. General McLane (10) 11-1
7. South Fayette (7) 10-1
8. Forest Hills (6) 13-1
9. Tyrone (6) 10-3
10. Loyalsock Township (4) 10-4

Class A
1. Dunmore (2) 12-1
2. Clairton (7) 15-1
3. Rochester (7) 12-1
4. Southern Columbia (4) 9-5
5. Steelton-Highspire (3) 8-3
6. Springdale (7) 8-3
7. Sharpsville (10) 10-3
8. Taylor Riverside (2) 4-8
9. Line Mountain (4) 8-4
10. Mercyhurst Prep (10) 10-1

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Trinity gets bad news, Sweat a starter and more

Trinity senior Ty Billie will miss anywhere from two to six weeks with a leg injury suffered during the Hillers' opening scrimmage against Keystone Oaks.

Billie, a wide receiver and defensive back, hurt the leg when a teammate rolled on it on the final play of the scrimmage. Billie practiced last week and participated in Trinity's scrimmage against Uniontown.

Turns out Billie, who Dalton believes has Division I potential as a wide receiver, practiced and scrimmaged with a fractured bone in the leg. He will miss Trinity's season opening game at Canon-McMillan and, depending on the prognosis received Monday, could be out up to six weeks.

* I interviewed former Trinity standout Andrew Sweat Saturday evening for an upcoming story in the Observer-Reporter. A former O-R Athlete of the Year, Swear was named Ohio State's starting strong-side (SAM) linebacker for the Buckeyes' season opener against Marshall.

Ohio State is ranked No. 2 in the majority of preseason polls I've seen.

* The annual O-R Preseason Football Guide - all 72 glorious pages of it - will be published Tuesday. It includes previews on all high school football teams from the O-R coverage area in addition to the South Hills teams covered by the Almanac. Also, the guide features stories on the Steelers, Pitt, WVU, Penn State, Cal, W&J and Waynesburg.

This year's cover story includes South Fayette's Christian Brumbaugh and Peters Township's Austin Hancock and the rich tradition of quarterbacks from the region.

* I participated in my first fantasy football draft today. Anyone ever wonder if a high school fantasy football league would work? Anyone part of one?

If there was a league consisting of WPIAL players, the guess here is the No. 1 pick would be West Allegheny's Mike Caputo, maybe Hopewell's Rushel Shell.

If the league were confined to local teams, I'd take South Fayette's Jeff Davis or Charleroi's Quentin Briggs with the top pick.

* The following play defies description. It's high school football at its funniest.


Friday, August 27, 2010

D.C. female football coach makes debut

WASHINGTON (AP) — When the whistle blew and the opening kickoff sailed through the air on a beautiful late-summer night, Natalie Randolph could finally take a deep breath and focus on the thing she wants to do most — coach football.
After months in the media spotlight, Randolph made her debut Friday night leading the Colts of Coolidge Senior High School. Her inaugural season got off to a rough start with a 28-0 loss to Archbishop Carroll.
Randolph is believed to be the nation’s only female head coach of a high school varsity team.
“It’s a good thing. We’ve got a black president, so why not a female football coach?” said Raymond Orange, a spectator in the packed stands at Coolidge Stadium, a turnout that was a far cry from the only 500 or so fans who usually show up.
The 30-year-old Randolph was hired in March amid much fanfare, with a mayor running for re-election proclaiming “Natalie Randolph Day” in the city, but she has found the public attention at times overwhelming. At one point, the school was turning down all requests for interviews.
The petite Randolph wore the standard Coolidge coaching gear — black visor, white polo shirt with the Colts logo and tan shorts. She kept a poker face through much of the penalty-filled first half, delegating much to her assistants, save for the occasional words of wisdom for her players. Her team trailed 7-0 at halftime.
“You have this!” she yelled to her offense after a tough series.
Randolph, an environmental sciences teacher at the school, was chosen from about 15 candidates after the previous coach resigned. She inherited a team that went 6-4 last season.
A Washington, D.C., native and former University of Virginia track star, Randolph played six seasons as a receiver for the D.C. Divas of the National Women’s Football Association and spent three seasons as an assistant coach at another D.C. high school.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Preseason Elite 11

Alex Adams, Canon-McMillan
Running back/linebacker
Adams (suspension) won't play in the Big Macs' season opener against Trinity. Upon his return, Canon-McMillan hopes Adams can be a consistent presence on both sides of the football. There's no doubt that Adams has the skill, size and speed to be a good one.

Zach Barnes, Washington
The always-talented Prexies are unusually loaded with talented underclassmen. While those guys develop, steady players like Barnes are essential to a postseason return. An exceptional athlete who can rebound against players eight inches taller, Barnes should lead the High in tackles.

Nick Bolias, Monessen
Wide receiver/defensive back
Last year, opponents shied away from Monessen's ShelDon Miller. It turned out throwing in Bolias' direction was a big mistake. Bolias continually turned away would-be pass catchers, played the run well and earned Class A all-state honors.

Quentin Briggs, Charleroi
Running back/Defensive back
A cousin of Darrell Harding, Charleroi's all-time rushing leader, and Ken Griffey Jr., Briggs brings 2,295 rushing yards and a pair of 1,000-yard seasons into his junior year. The area's toughest runner to tackle after contact, Briggs puts up big-time stats in the fourth quarter.

Christian Brumbaugh, South Fayette
Brumbaugh is the reigning Observer-Reporter Player of the Year after he passed for 2,183 yards and 29 touchdowns as a junior. The 6-4 righty has scholarship offers from Akron, Bowling Green and Buffalo. William & Mary is high on Brumbaugh's list.

Andrew Erenberg, Peters Township
Running back/defensive back
Erenberg came back to Peters Townshp after spending his freshman year at Pittsburgh Central Catholic and helped the Indians to their first winning record since 2003. Erenberg rushed for nearly 900 yards last year and has an experienced line blocking in front of him.

Sal Faieta, Beth-Center
Beth-Center believes Faieta, who started as a sophomore, is prepared to elevate his game to a different level this year. Faieta passed for 1,109 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. He's also a hard-hitting linebacker and an emerging college prospect.

Derrick Fiore, Ringgold
Running back/receiver/defensive back
First-year Ringgold coach Matt Humbert believes Fiore could catch the eyes of some schools at the Mid-American Conference level this year. Fiore will get his chances on offense as he lines up next to the quarterback in Ringgold's version of the spread offense.

Austin Hancock, Peters Township
Hancock made his mark at quarterback for Peters Township, where he passed for 1,298 yards and rushed for 441 last year. Colleges are looking at Hancock as an outside linebacker, where he'll play this year on defense.

Jake Sofran, Beth-Center
Might be the area's toughest two-way player and certainly one of he strongest. As a sophomore, Sofran registered 129 tackles in leading a stout Beth-Center defense. He also paced a balanced offense with 500-plus rushing yards.

Nolan Spicer, South Fayette
Offensive line/defensive line
Spicer, the WPIAL Class AA shot put champion in the spring, figures to be the Lions top lineman in their dynamic spread offense. He's already accepted a scholarship to Division I-AA Liberty and will be the key blocker for Jeff Davis and Brumbaugh.

Two players not mentioned most likely to make this list at the end of the season – Jeff Davis, South Fayette; Jeff Tarley, Beth-Center

Player in line for breakout season – Quad Law, Ringgold

If only this were the Elite 22 or Elite 33 – Davis, Tarley, Law, Charleroi's Kyle Shannon, Fort Cherry's Corey Garry and Gary Kiefer, Wash High's Julien Anderson, Canon-McMillan's Alec Schram, Trinity's Ty Billie and Kyle McWreath, McGuffey's Derrick Whipkey, Ringgold's Dylan Patch, Monessen's Brett Crenshaw, Jefferson-Morgan's Brandon Kozich and Chartiers-Houston's Mykel Dorsey.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Legends of the Fall, Chapter 3

During the same era when Monessen High School had Eric Crabtree and Bill Malinchak and Beaver Falls boasted Joe Namath, a pair of all-time greats at Wash High led the Prexies to sparkling records under coach Dave Johnston.

In 1961, Wash High's Bob Stock earned second-team Associated Press All-State honors. The other Prexies legend is this week's focus for Legends of the Fall.

Ted Vactor

An outstanding two-way back at Washington, Vactor played in the 1962 Big 33 game before he went to Nebraska. From 1963-65, Vactor played for head coach Bob Deveaney's nationally ranked Cornhuskers.

Vactor was a standout running back at Nebraska and he also played cornerback as well. He was All-Big Eight Conference first team in 1965 and played in two Orange Bowls (1964 and 1966) and a Cotton Bowl (1965).

After a one-year stint with Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Football League, Vactor signed with the Washington Redskins as a free agent in 1969. Vactor was mostly a back-up defensive back and a special teams ace during his six seasons in the NFL.

He played for the Washington Redskins from 1970-74 and the Chicago Bears in 1975. Vactor played in the 1973 Super Bowl, which Washington lost to Miami.

Vactor is a member of the Washington-Greene Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of fame and an inductee into the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Links n'at

Just came across an extensive list of the top football players in the WPIAL for the upcoming season. I must say, it's rather thorough and had to take considerable time to put together.

To read, click

Dylan Bongiorni's transfer from Burgettstown to West Allegheny incited some anger from readers on this blog, including several who believed he would fail to make an impact for the defending WPIAL Class AAA champs.

According to the Post-Gazette's Mike White, Bongiorni's first scrimmage as West Allegheny's quarterback went well.


Scouting report, Jake Sofran

Name: Jake Sofran
School: Beth-Center
Year: Junior
Position: Fullback/Linebacker
Height: 5-10
Weight: 210
By the numbers: To call Sofran a menace during his sophomore season at Beth-Center is being polite. Few players were as disruptive and productive.

A middle linebacker, Sofran was the leader of a Beth-Center defense that put up video-game numbers. In 11 games, Sofran had 129 tackles, including 11 for loss with two sacks. Sofran forced two fumbles and recovered four.

"That's something we expect, not only from Jake but the entire defense," Beth-Center coach Ed Woods said. "We run different drills all the time designed to create big plays on defense. We want eight or nine guys around the football on every play. Jake's usually there."

As a unit, Beth-Center's defense finished with 85 tackles for loss, 27 sacks, 18 forced fumbles, 13 interceptions and five kick blocks.

The scary thing is Beth-Center believes it can improve on those gaudy statistics.

"We had a good year last year on defense but most of us are back and we continue to work hard," Sofran said. "We can improve on those numbers. I know it's like PlayStation but the harder we work the more the chances are we increase those numbers."

Sofran led Beth-Center with 516 yards rushing and tied with DeShan Brown for the team lead with seven rushing touchdowns.

Continuing the tradition: Beth-Center surge in the WPIAL Class A standings began in 2003. Since that season, the Bulldogs have won 55 games and four postseason contests. During that span, the Bulldogs have produced a pair of outstanding middle linebackers.

Matt Stay was a first-team all-stater in 2005. A year later, Steve Hvizda made the Pennsylvania Football News Class A second-team.

"There's no question he's in the mold of Stay and Hvizda," Woods said. "He even reminds me of a kid we had named Shawn Rohrer in the early (1990s). They're all cut from the same mold."

Sofran knows Stay and Hvizda well. He watched the two tear up offenses while serving as a Beth-Center ballboy.

"This was my eighth football camp. I've been staying here since I was a little kid," Sofran said. "To see those guys like Matt Stay and Steve Hvizda, I always wanted to be like those guys. I always watched how they worked hard so when I got up here I always told everyone how hard we need to work so we can have seasons like they did."

Did you know?: Sofran isn't he biggest Bulldog but he's the strongest. Beth-center has a lifting test every six weeks for its players and Sofran can lift 1,100 combined between the squat, deadlift and bench press.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Practice opens for Oregon team

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (AP) — The McMinnville High School Grizzlies opened fall football practice on Monday while two of their teammates remained hospitalized and doctors tried to determine why 24 players developed a condition that caused intense pain and dangerous swelling in their arms.
Authorities say 11 players were treated in the emergency room last week, 13 were admitted and three required surgery to relieve pressure caused by the swelling.
Authorities still do not know what caused the condition, called compartment syndrome, which is marked by high enzyme levels in the blood and can be caused by certain drugs or by strenuous exercise, dehydration or a combination of factors.
The athletes were taking part in an immersion camp organized by new coach Jeff Kearin to get ready for the season. Some were present for an intense training session on Aug. 15, the night before camp opened.
Devin Draper, a sophomore left guard, did not come down with any symptoms, but said Monday that teammates were as perplexed as anyone by the rash of players who succumbed.
“I just want to know what happened,” Draper said. He was one of just about 19 players who were able to report to fall practice when it opened Monday at the school’s campus, about 40 miles south of Portland. The team has about 45 players in all.

WPIAL preseason rankings

Since a couple readers asked ...

WPIAL preseason football rankings

Class AAAA
Team 2009 record
1. Woodland Hills 12-2
2. Pittsburgh C.C. 8-3
3. Mt. Lebanon 5-5
4. Bethel Park 10-2
5. Gateway 12-1

Class AAA
Team 2009 record
1. West Allegheny 12-3
2. Thomas Jefferson 11-1
3. Mars 7-4
4. Chartiers Valley 8-2
5. Hopewell 12-1

Class AA
Team 2009 record
1. Greensburg C.C. 13-3
2. Aliquippa 11-2
3. South Fayette 10-1
4. Keystone Oaks 10-2
5. Beaver Falls 10-2

Class A
Team 2009 record
1. Clairton 15-1
2. Rochester 12-1
3. Beth-Center 8-3
4. North Catholic 9-3
5. Sto-Rox 8-3

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mysterious illness affects Oregon team

Here's an unusual story I came across this morning on the dot.com. Sounds like a first-year coach put his team through a grueling workout and nearly 20 players felt some strange symptoms.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Scouting report, Julien Anderson

Name: Julien Anderson
School: Washington
Year: Senior
Position: Wide receiver/quarterback/defensive back
Height: 6-2
Weight: 190
By the numbers: Anderson caught 16 passes for 232 yards - both totals ranked second to Bryan Thomas - and a pair of touchdowns as a junior in Washington's run-first offense. Anderson previously played quarterback for the Prexies.

"The position change was for the better," Anderson said. "My sophomore year wasn't too good. We were 1-8."

Washington finished 6-4 a year ago under the direction of first-year coach Mike Bosnic.

Players like Anderson, a starting cornerback, were a big reason why.

"I think a lot of it was just getting older," Anderson said. "I had the confidence to go out there and make big plays and that's what (Bosnic) wants me to do."

More changes ahead?: With Washington leaning toward sophomore Josh Wise at quarterback, Anderson could be relied upon for more than catching passes. With his varsity experience, the coaches may occasionally use him at quarterback.

"I hope to. It would be real fun to do a little bit of both and show colleges I have versatility," Anderson said.

Staying local: Anderson is a three-sport starter at Wash High. As a junior, he became a relaible scorer on the basketball team and he's a mainstay on the Prexies baseball team but football is where Anderson is drawing attention.

A two-star recruit according to Rivals.com, Anderson hopes to land a Division I scholarship by the end of the 2010 season.

"I hope to play for a local school. I don't care if it's Robert Morris or West Virginia or Cal," he said. "I'm just looking for playing time."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Scouting report, Austin Hancock

Name: Austin Hancock
School: Peters Township
Year: Senior
Position: Quarterback/Linebacker
Height: 6-3
Weight: 225
By the numbers: Hancock emerged as one of the WPIAL's better dual-threat quarterbacks during his junior season – his second full year as the Indians' starting quarterback.

In leading Peters Township to its first winning record since 2003, Hancock earned second-team all-conference honors and was selected to the Observer-Reporter Elite 11. Hancock passed for 1,298 yards with 12 touchdowns and rushed for 441.

"For a quarterback that can run, he's a little bit shifty for a big kid," Peters Township coach Nick Milchovich said. "There's a lot of things we can do with him."

Lining up: At the Class AAAA level, quarterbacks are usually just that – quarterbacks. Occasionally, a quarterback doubles as a defensive back.

When Hancock was needed on defense in the past, he often played free safety until colleges started to believe his future may be at outside linebacker. These days, Hancock is cut from a similar mold to former Canon-McMillan standout Doug Rheam – a tough, hard-nosed quarterback who can run, throw and deliver the big hit.

Hancock's dedication to offseason work has helped him form a build comparable to his favorite quarterback – Tim Tebow.

"I've always liked lifting, always liked being in the weight room. It's just something I like doing," Hancock said. "Just because I play quarterback doesn't mean I don't have to lift."

Getting looks: Hancock does not have an official offer to date but several schools are interested.

MAC schools including Ohio, Toledo and Bowling Green are in touch with Hancock, as are Big Ten schools Penn State and Michigan State.

"I'm going to Penn State for a couple games this year. Michigan State is supposed to come in for a conference game this year," Hancock said. "And I'm talking to (Division) I-AA schools like Bucknell and Villanova. There's a variety of schools."

Tale of the tape: Since linebacker is a relatively new position for Hancock, who came up to the varsity as a ninth grader, Peters Township's non-conference games could be important for his Division I hopes.

"A lot of schools want to see me play linebacker too and I don;t have much tape because I played free safety most of the time," Hancock said. "I did play some linebacker last year, I just don't have much tape. So, the school want me to see me play linebacker a little bit. Really, the first four games are key."

A two-sport standout: Hancock has started on Peters Township's baseball team since his freshman year and his junior season was good enough that it got people thinking Division I baseball could be a possibility.

"I've had so many people tell me that after last year but, I don't know," Hancock said. "If I was playing football and I had a chance to try out for the (baseball) team as a walk-on or something, it's something I'd consider."

Loud noises

High school football press boxes are a great place for conversation - and a laugh-out loud time when you're at Burgettstown - and hypothetical questions.

I count myself as a rabid fan of the hypothetical.

Probably the best hypothetical question someone posed to me occurred during a WPIAL soccer playoff doubleheader a couple years ago at Peters Township High School.

The question was, "If you had to pick a coach, any sport, to win one game, who would you pick?"

Tough one, right?

Of course, the question was meant to be narrowed to coaches within the coverage area of the Observer-Reporter. That automatically eliminated candidates such as Jim Render, Tim McConnell and Mike Zmijanac. I couldn't select Bill Palermo or Danny Holzer or John Miller.
No problem, the O-R coverage area is filled with excellent coaches.

Ron Faust, Guy Montecalvo and Ed Woods came to mind. So did Tricia Alderson, Levi Bristor and Russ Moore.

And they weren't the only ones.

Two coaches continually at the top of my thought process were Peters Township boys soccer coach Bob Dyer and Carmichaels baseball coach Dave Bates. Both rank right up there with the area's best.

Bates left the coaching ranks earlier this week when he was hired as the principal at Jefferson-Morgan High School.

He'll be sorely missed at Carmichaels, by the local baseball coaching fraternity and by the media. Bates, one of the funniest guys I've met in this business, was truly one of high school sports' good guys.

Long-time Carmichaels athletic director John Krajnak may miss Bates more than anyone. When Krajnak needed someone to run the PA for a junior high football game, Bates – the football team's statistician for years – volunteered.

"It might take eight guys to replace him," Krajnak said. "Even with everything he had outside of Carmichaels, he was the first to offer to help for everything."

Even when traveling back from a WPIAL playoff loss at Rochester.

Krajnak, who's made some excellent hires in his lengthy tenure as Carmichaels' athletic director, went on to tell a story of coming back from Rochester on a cold Friday night well past midnight. Krajnak was driving, while Bates and two other passengers were in the car. Rolling along I-79 South, they passed a stranded vehicle with a couple in need of help.

As the Carmichaels contingent passed, Bates turned to Krajnak and said they had to go back and help. Krajnak turned around and found out the car had run out of gas. So they get in Krajnak's car - now there's six inside - and head to Waynesburg. Bates runs inside a gas station, buys a gallon jug of windshield washer fluid, empties that before he fills it with gas.

They take the couple back to the car and eventually get home after 2:30 a.m.
Bates probably watched some instructional baseball video afterward. His teams at Carmichaels weren't only good, they were always fundamentally sound and mentally prepared.

* Until proven otherwise, it's impossible to pick against Clairton and Rochester in WPIAL Class A, but the feeling here is that Beth-Center is in the beginning stages of a special season.

The Bulldogs have never been flashy, even when they reached the WPIAL semifinals in 2006, but are as consistently solid as any team in this area of District 7. B-C will be solid again in 2010 and have to be the favorite to win the Tri-County South Conference.

Junior quarterback Sal Faieta is a player to watch, while linebacker Jake Sofran is the latest in a long line of outstanding middle linebackers at Beth-Center. DeShan Brown brings an element of speed to the toughness.

B-C is undersized up front but senior running back Jeff Tarley, who did not play last year, us back and at 255, might be the most difficult backfield matchup in the classification.

* Charleroi running back Quentin Briggs has some strong bloodlines. The junior, who has already rushed for more than 2,000 yards in his varsity career, is a cousin of Cougars all-time great Darrell Harding and future Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.

* As a freshman, Washington's Daron Whitaker rushed for 371 yards and averaged 5.23 yards per carry. At 5-5, Whitaker can hide behind an offensive lineman, wait for a hole to develop and he has the speed to bust big plays.

Does the description sound familiar.

Whitaker, who figures to play a larger role in the offense this season, bares some similarities to Pitt's Dion Lewis. Washington head coach Mike Bosnic offered another comparison.

"He's like a high school version of Barry Sanders," Bosnic said.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Legends of the Fall, Chapter 2

Last week, all-time WPIAL great Myron Pottios – a Charleroi standout who went on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers and in a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins – was the first subject of Legends of the Fall.

This week, with Dave Bates leaving his successful post as Carmichaels baseball coach to become principal at Jefferson-Morgan High School, the time is right to look back at a legend from the eastern portion of Greene County.

Larry Krutko

In the early 1950, Larry Krutko was a dominating two-way player and electrifying runner at Cumberland Townhip High School, now known as Carmichaels.

From his tailback position, Krutko scored 127 points during the 1952 season, which ended with Cumberland Township defeating Wilmerding, 12-6, for the WPIAL Class B championship. Krutko graduated from Cumberland Township with 258 career points, which still ranks among the all-time leaders at the school. He also earned honorable mention All-America honors in 1953.

Krutko matriculated to West Virginia University, a popular stop for the top players from the Carmichaels area. From 1955-57, he was the Mountaineers' starting fullback and Krutko finished his collegiate career wit 1,407 rushing yards. He twice led WVU in rushing and scoring (1956, 1957).

His collegiate success caught the eye of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who made Krutko their second-round selection in 1958 and the 20th overall pick. In three years with the Steelers, Krutko rushed for 331 yards, had 18 yards receiving and scored four touchdowns.

A 1993 inductee into the Washington-Greene chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, Krutko still has ties to major college football. Luke Massa, his grandson, is a quarterback at the University of Cincinnati.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wash High, Trinity, South Fayette part of Comcast TV schedule

Comcast announced its schedule for the 2010 WPIAL football season and local fans are in for a treat as Washington, Trinity and South Fayette are all part of this year's package. Football fans will also get a look at defending PIAA Class A champion Clairton with Pitt recruit Desimon Green and defending WPIAL Class AAA champs West Allegheny with Wisconsin recruit Mike Caputo.

The schedule also includes a look at Hopewell's Rushel Shell, already one the nation's most sought-after running backs, and Central Valley, a merger between Center and Monaca.

All games will be available the day after they are played on the FYI Channel (7 p.m.) as well as in the On Demand for Comcast digital TV subscribers.

Week 1 - Clairton at Washington (Played Sept. 3, available Sept. 4)
Week 2 - Hopewell at Montour (Sept. 11)
Week 3 - New Castle at Central Valley (Sept. 18)
Week 4 - West Allegheny at Upper St. Clair (Sept. 25)
Week 5 - Highlands at Plum (Oct. 2)
Week 6 - Keystone Oaks at South Fayette (Oct. 9)
Week 7 - Trinity at Thomas Jefferson (Oct. 16)
Week 8 - Shaler at North Allegheny (Oct. 23)
Week 9 - Pittsburgh Central Catholic at Fox Chapel (Oct. 30)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Scouting report, Christian Brumbaugh

The following is the first in a series highlighting some of the area's top high school football players.

Name: Christian Brumbaugh
School: South Fayette
Year: Senior
Position: Quarterback
Height: 6-3
Weight: 195
By the numbers: In Brumbaugh's second year as starting quarterback, South Fayette surged to its first undefeated, untied regular season since 1936 and the Lions won the Class AA Century Conference with a 9-0 record.

Brumbaugh put together one of the top seasons by a local quarterback as he became the first at the position to earn Observer-Reporter Player of the Year recognition since Canon-McMillan's Doug Rheam in 2004. Brumbaugh led the WPIAL with 29 touchdown passes.

Operating the Lions' spread offense, Brumbaugh completed 153 of 241 attempts (63.5 percent) for 2,183 yards.

Scholarship offers: Brumbaugh is the WPIAL's most sought-after quarterback in the Class of 2011 with scholarship offers from Akron, Bowling Green and Buffalo. Former South Fayette quarterback Andrew DiDonato is part of Buffalo's coaching staff and current SF assistant coach Marques Parks played at Bowling Green.

Several other schools have shown interest.

"Toledo is coming after me pretty hard. So is William & Mary," Brumbaugh said. "I've thought about the Ivy League as well."

Brumbaugh's dream school is Penn State but he said the Nittany Lions have not shown interest.

Unfinished business: South Fayette lost to Aliquippa in the WPIAL quarterfinals, in a televised game that's nothing short of a classic. That loss left Brumbaugh and South Fayette, ranked No. 4 in the PIAA Class AA by maxpreps.com, wanting more.

"It took me a while before I could watch that game but when I did, I kept noticing things I could have done here and there that would have helped us," Brumbaugh said. "Aliquippa went to the finals so we lost to a great team with a great tradition but we're trying not to let that happen to us again this year."

In his hands: Brumbaugh is crafting a legacy at a school that already boasts two of top eight passers in WPIAL history in DiDonato and Niel Loebig. No matter what happens on the football field in 2010, Brumbaugh will be remembered for one of the signature plays in South Fayette athletics.

A key contributor and occasional starter for the basketball team during the 2009-10 season, Brumbaugh collected the final rebound during the Lions' 49-47 victory over District 12's Strawberry Mansion in the PIAA Class AA championship.

It was the first PIAA team title in South Fayette history.

"That was incredible," Brumbaugh said. "The kid who shot it was making shots all game. I was under the hoop and thinking, 'Please, miss this because if you miss this I'm going to try and go get it.' The ball felt like it was in the air for 10 seconds. Once I grabbed it, I realized there was only one or two seconds left and it was over."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Preseason predictions

Ten things I predict will happen during the 2010 WPIAL football season ...

1. Clairton repeats as WPIAL Class A champions.
2. Peters Township qualifies for the Class AAAA playoffs.
3. Wash High, which plays Clairton in one dandy of a season opener, and Fort Cherry each top last year's win total.
4. So does Beth-Center, and head coach Ed Woods will wear a tie and sweater vest for every victory.
5. Despite rumors of 2010 being a "down year", Thomas Jefferson repeats as champion of the Class AAA Big Seven Conference.
6. Trinity's defense will be better than last year's even without a player headed to the University of Michigan.
7. South Fayette quarterback Christian Brumbaugh repeats as Observer-Reporter Player of the Year.
8. At least two teams – South Fayette and Beth-Center – reach the WPIAL semifinals in their respective classifications.
9. Avella loses its "Loveable Losers" tag.
10. Ringgold contends for the Keystone Conference championship and the much-maligned league wins another playoff games this year.

Now it's time for your predictions ...

Friday, August 13, 2010

A familiar name

George Reihner was a dominant force at Washington High School before becoming a key member of some highly successful teams at Penn State in the mid-1970s. Reihner was a second-round draft selection (38th overall) by the Houston Oilers in 1977, where he spent four years.

After his NFL career, Reihner attended Dickinson Law School in Carlisle, where he graduated in 1984. Today, Reihner is a Scranton-based lawyer and has a son who is considered one of the top players in Pennsylvania.

Kevin Reihner, a senior at Scranton Prep, is the 13th ranked senior in the state. The offensive line, who plays guard like his father, committed to Stanford in April. Reihner chose the Cardinal over offers from Cincinnati, Minnesota, North Carolina State, Northwestern, Pitt, Rutgers and Syracuse.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

APB, Where are they Now?

The Varsity Letters' quest for former, local high school standouts continues ...

Travel back a decade and the kicking game at West Virginia University had a local flavor. First, Chartiers-Houston product Mark Fazzolari went from a first-Team all-state selection at punt by the Associated Press in 1997 to the Mountaineers' punter. Fazzolari lettered at WVU from 1999-2002 and his 41.5 punt average in 1999 ranks 13th in team history.

Ringgold's Todd James drew attention with his kickoffs, which often landed in the end zone – a rarity at the high school level. James landed on the AP second-team defense as a punter in 1999 and was at West Virginia by 2000. During his collegiate career, James frequently handled kicking and punting duties. In 2002, James made 46 of 50 extra points and scored 79 points. He lettered with the Mountaineers from 2000-03.

The Varsity Letters issues an All Points Bulletin for Fazzolari and James. Anyone with information regarding both or either is urged to contact The Varsity Letters.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

FSN releases 2010 WPIAL football broadcast schedule

FSN Pittsburgh finally released its schedule for telecasts of WPIAL football games. Unfortunately for those who watch the games – I tend to only watch the WPIAL title games – many are on tape delay this fall.

One slice of good news is a local team will be broadcast for the first time since Trinity played Thomas Jefferson during the 2007 season in a game which was picked up by several affiliates throughout the country.

South Fayette plays Seton-La Salle Thursday, Oct. 21. The game kicks off at 7 p.m. but won't be televised until the conclusion of the Pittsburgh Penguins post-game.

The schedule:
Sept. 9 Beaver Falls at Aliquippa 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 Mars at Hampton (tape-delay after conclusion of Pirates post-game)
Sept. 23 Seneca Valley at McKeesport 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 Erie McDowell at Pine-Richland (tape-delay after conclusion of Pirates post-game)
Oct. 7 No game – Penguins home opener
Oct. 14 Gateway at Pittsburgh Central Catholic (tape-delay after conclusion of Kansas-Kansas State football game)
Oct. 21 South Fayette at Seton-La Salle (tape-delay after conclusion of Penguins game)
Oct. 28 West Allegheny at Hopewell 7 p.m.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Legends of the Fall

Blogger's note: In honor of the great high school football traditions within Washington and Greene Counties and a few outlying areas, The Varsity Letters begins a new weekly installment titled, "Legends of the Fall." Starting this week and running through the conclusion of the high school football season, we will take a brief look back at a local football legend.

If there is someone you'd like to see mentioned, e-mail me at mkovak@observer-Reporter.com.

Myron Pottios
Mike Ditka might be the toughest football player to come out of Beaver County but those who watched Pottios play at Charleroi High School around the same time as Dikta did still tell tales of his legendary braun.

Once dubbed the "hardest-hitting fullback in the WPIAL," Pottios helped the Cougars reached the WPIAL Class AAA title game in 1956 for legendary coach James "Rab" Currie. The Cougars lose to Jeannette, 16-13.

Pottios played at Notre Dame from 1958-60 and was an All-American guard in 1960. Pottios spent 12 years in the NFL as a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers (1961-65), Los Angeles Rams (1966-70) and Washington Redskins (1971-74).

Pottios played in Super Bowl VII with the Redskins. Washington lost to Miami.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Female coach leads first practice

Welcome back readers. After a vacation to recharge batteries in preparation for the 2010-11 high school sports season, The Varsity Letters returns. You may remember from a previous post, the story of a female hired to coach football at a high school in the Washington, D.C. area. She just conducted her first official practice.

WASHINGTON (AP) — She led a group of players in a huddle, with her arms raised and meeting in the middle. She gestured, called out instructions, monitored drills with a discerning face, and even cracked a smile.
In other words, Natalie Randolph’s first practice at Coolidge Senior High School had much the same feel as thousands of other high school practices run across the country. The only difference: There was a woman in charge.
Randolph, believed to be the nation’s only female head coach of a high school varsity team, took to the field with her Coolidge Colts late Friday afternoon on a steamy hot day. She wore a standard coach’s attire: gray school T-shirt, orange Coolidge shorts, tennis shoes and a black visor on over her dreadlocks.
Randolph, 30, was hired amid much fanfare in March, when scores of reporters and dignitaries descended on the school and the mayor proclaimed it “Natalie Randolph Day” in the city. While she appreciates the significance of her unique status, she was hoping the public fascination would have died down by now. She and the school have limited her interviews, and only a portion of the practice was open to reporters and photographers.
Randolph, a biology and environmental sciences teacher at the school, was chosen from about 15 candidates after the previous coach resigned.
The Washington native and University of Virginia track star previously played six seasons as a receiver for the D.C. Divas of the National Women’s Football Association and spent three seasons as an assistant coach at another D.C. high school.
Coolidge’s first game is Aug. 27 against Archbishop Carroll.