Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Top games in Week 1

Canon-McMillan at Trinity
A passionate rivalry turned more heated following last year's win for Trinity when members of the Hillers team rang the bell at Canon-McMillan. That's considered one big 'no-no' to Big Macs fans.
The action has served as a motivating factor for Canon-McMillan, which is looking to improve from last year's disappointing 1-8 season. The Big Macs should be better, and Trinity is adjusting to the triple-option offense.
Since there's no bell at Hiller Field, what can Canon-McMillan do if it wins?

Charleroi at Mt. Pleasant
Injuries to key players early derailed what appeared to be a promising season for Charleroi in 2010. Senior Quentin Briggs, one of those injured players last year, is healthy and could become a 4,000-yard career rusher if his production returns to the level he experience as a freshman and sophomore. He rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns those two years.
Mt. Pleasant won at Charleroi, 20-13, in last year's opener and once again qualified for the playoffs out of the Interstate Conference. The Vikings return a majority of players from last year's team.
Next week, Charleroi plays its first home game at its new stadium.

Washington at Clairton
Clairton took any suspense out of this attractive matchup last year with one of the more dominating defensive performances against the Pexies seen at Wash High Stadium. Washington did not gain a first down in a 41-0 loss.
So what makes this game attractive this year? Well, the Bears did lose a few top players last year though they remain the favorite to win a fourth consecutive WPIAL Class A championship.
Washington boasts its share of athletes. All four members of a 1,600 relay team that established a WPIAL championship meet record during the spring are on the football team, but the Prexies will be without starting quarterback Josh Wise (mono).
Sophomore Chase Caldwell will start at quarterback.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Player profile, Andrew Erenberg

Name: Andrew Erenberg
School: Peters Township
Class: Senior
Sport: Football
Measurables: Erenberg is listed at 5-10, 200. According to Peters Township coach Rich Piccinini, he's the fastest player on the team in addition to the strongest on the bench and squat.
Last year: Erenberg led all local players with 18 touchdown during the regular season last year. He rushed for 1,031 yards, and he even averaged 35.8 yards per punt.
Scholarship offers: Erenberg enters his senior season with scholarship offers from Kent State and Fordham, where friend and former teammate Austin Hancock is a freshman linebacker.
Duquesne and Dayton have also shown interest, though Erenberg is not in a hurry to make a decision.
" I like Kent a lot. It's a tough process; I'm just kind of focusing on football right now and choosing a college is tough," Erenberg said. "I’m going to make that decision whenever the time is right, probably will be toward end of season but if I wake up one morning and say, 'I want to play for Kent State,' or 'I want to play for Fordham,' then I will. I don’t know when that will be."
Father knows best: Erenberg's father, Rich, was a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1984-86 and amassed more than 1,500 multi-purpose yards during his pro career.
Erenberg was a ninth-round pick out of Colgate.
"He’s been around the game forever. My dad wasn’t real big, he wasn’t real fast but he outworked everyone," Erenberg said. "He had to work hard just to play college football and he ended up playing four years at Colgate. He was fortunate enough to get drafted by the Steelers and the only reason that happened was because he worked hard."
Those hard-working habits are evident in Andrew Erenberg's game.
"Andrew is our workhorse. He’s just a good person," Piccinini said. "He never once put up a resistance. He never said, 'I’m a 1,000-yard rusher and here’s how I did it.' Instead, he was the first guy who shook my hand when I walked into my first meeting."
Multi-sport standout: Erenberg may be a Division-I talent in football, but Peters Township baseball coach Joe maize feels his leadoff hitter is more than capable of landing a scholarship in that sport as well.
Erenberg batted .434 with 28 runs and 20 RBI as a junior, and his played helped Peters Township reach the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game.
Continuing the trend: Peters Township qualified for the Class AAAA playoffs in football for the first time in 2010. The Indians finished 5-5, and they were the only team to hold a lead on PIAA champion North Allegheny during the postseason.
Granted, that lead was 7-0 and North Allegheny went on to win handily, but for a program trying to establish itself, that's a small building block.
The majority of starters from that team are gone, but that hasn't changed any goals.
" Our first goal is to win our first four games, and then we’re going to compete for a section title," Erenberg said. "1975 is way too long. I don’t like seeing that number up there."
Peters Township's last conference championship came in 1975.

Follow me on Twitter @TheMikeKovak

Monday, August 29, 2011

Observer-Reporter WPIAL football rankings

With last year's record

Class AAAA
1. Pittsburgh Central Catholic 11-1
2. North Allegheny 15-1
3. Upper St. Clair 8-3
4. Mt. Lebanon 10-1
5. McKeesport 8-2

Class AAA
1. Montour 12-1
2. Thomas Jefferson 10-2
3. Hopewell 6-5
4. Central Valley 10-4
5. Ringgold 9-1

Class AA
1. Aliquippa 12-1
2. Beaver Falls 10-2
3. South Fayette 15-1
4. Seton-La Salle 9-2
5. Jeannette 7-3

Class A
1. Clairton 16-0
2. Rochester 12-1
3. Springdale 10-2
4. Sto-Rox 7-3
5. Fort Cherry 5-5


It's Aug. 29 but a student-athlete will be hard-pressed to top a line I got from Ringgold senior quarterback Quad Law.

Me to Ringgold junior Demetrius Louis, So, I hear you're faster that you were during track season."

Louis: "Yes I am. A lot faster."

Me: "What did you do to get faster?"

That's where Law inserts himself into the conversation.

"He eats a lot of chicken," Law said. "Chicken and pilates. Pilates works too."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Checking up with ...

Anyone see the Big Ten Network bus rolling around? If you answer is "Yes", then chances are you noticed No. 42 for the Ohio State Buckeyes depicted. That's former Trinity standout Andrew Sweat.

One of several area players primed to make an impact for a Division I program this year, Sweat (6-2, 238) is a bit bigger than he was during his days with the Hillers, and the senior ranks as the Buckeyes most experienced linebacker. He'll start on the weak side, and Sweat has earned praise for his play leading into the season.

Chad Hagan, Sweat's teammate and a Canon-McMillan graduate, has worked his way onto the depth chart at linebacker. Hagan (6-1, 225) has all the tools and it appears the Buckeyes coaching staff is getting the best out of the redshirt freshman. Hagan is the backup to injury-prone Etienne Sabino at strong side linebacker and could see considerable playing time.

Mike Hull, who graduated from C-M with Hagan, is a redshirt freshman at Penn State and the backup at weakside linebacker. Hull (6-0, 225) is backing up junior Gerald Hodges has continued to show his knack for finding the football that he displayed at Canon-McMillan, which should come in handy on special teams.

Mike Yancich graduated Trinity with Sweat and opted to play linebacker for Penn State. Last year, it looked like Yancich was poised to make an impact and he saw considerable action but was moved to tight end for spring practice. The athletically gifted Yancich (6-2, 235) has moved back to linebacker and is No. 3 on the depth chart at middle linebacker.

Jeravin Matthews, like Yancich, has bounced around from offense (wide receiver, running back) to defense while at Northwestern but the speedy Canon-McMillan product seems to have found a home at cornerback. Matthews (5-11, 180), a former Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week, will see his share of action as he starts opposite All-Conference honorable mention corner Jordan Mabin.

Photo courtesy of Lance Vallee

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ringgold receives good news

Ringgold received good news this week when it was learned that senior Fred Johnson should return by the Rams' fourth game. Johnson suffered a knee injury during the first week of camp while participating in Oklahoma Drills.

Originally, the injury was believed to be more serious, but tests showed Johnson suffered a knee sprain, according to head coach Matt Humbert.

Johnson transferred from Uniontown to Ringgold before his senior year, and he quickly earned starting spots in the Rams' backfield and secondary.

* Monessen's Justice Rawlins wasn't just one of the better freshmen in the WPIAL a year ago, he was one of the best in the country as he earned a spot on MaxPreps' Freshman All-American Team.

Rawlins suffered an injury, believed to be to a knee, during the Greyhounds' tri-scrimmage Friday against Steel Valley and Oliver at Monessen.

Monessen should know more about Rawlins' injury Monday.

* Trinity assistant football coach Ryan Daloia returned to the football team, which marked a victory of sorts for the Hillers football players. The team staged a 30-minute "players strike" before the start of camp in protest of a decision to cut assistants from the football team.

Daloia's return allowed Dalton to move an assistant to coach a ninth-grade team. In Dalton's words, "Really, it's not much different."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Top basketball recruit tweets he's headed to UConn

STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Andre Drummond, a 6-foot-11 center from Middletown, Conn., who was expected to attend prep school this year, has instead said he will play basketball for defending national-champion Connecticut.
Drummond confirmed an earlier report by The Hartford Courant with a posting on his Twitter account Friday that read, “It’s official I’m heading to the university of connecticut to be a husky this year! Do I hear repeat.”
A message was left with a school spokesman seeking comment.
Drummond is considered one of the top prospects in the nation. Earlier this month, he said he planned to attend prep school in Massachusetts.
It’s not clear where his scholarship will come from. Connecticut has none available after losing three due to NCAA rules violations and a poor academic performance rating.

Twitter Thursday (one day late)

Uhhhh, kinda forgot what day it was yesterday. It happens this time of year. Regardless, let's take time to recap some of the best tweets from the past week.

Follow me on Twitter @TheMikeKovak.

Corey Garry, Fort Cherry football/wrestling
Aug. 20
"Just realized how much I love Limp Bizkit. #TeamDurst"

Dustin Fuller, Washington track/football/soccer
Aug. 21
"I wish it was track season. #readytoputinwork"

Stephen McCaw, Waynesburg baseball/Anchorman fan (which happens to be the greatest move ever made)
Aug. 21
"Gotta risk it to get the biscuit"

Marques Parks, former South Fayette football/basketball player, former Bowling Green receiver and SF assistant football coach.
"Imma sine yo pitty on da runny kine"

Can you guess what movie the last tweet came from?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Camp Kovak visits defending WPIAL Class AA champs

South Fayette's football camp has a different feel to it this year, and it has little to do with the Lions coming off their first WPIAL championship since 1964.

That feeling has a lot more to do with the loss of 19 seniors from last year's team. Gone are all-state players Christian Brumbaugh, Jeff Davis, Nick Faraci, Tyler Challingsworth and Eric Myers. Many of their replacements are sophomores and juniors with precious little varsity experience, even some seniors unable to crack the depth chart a year ago.

It's been a learning experience for most players, and coaches too. Stoppages to correct mistakes are common. So are up-downs when the coaching staff isn't happy with execution.

"We're back to fundamentals. There's a lot of work to do," head coach Joe Rossi said. "In some ways, we're starting from square one."

Graduation hit South Fayette hard, but the cupboard is hardly empty. Junior Zach Challingsworth will be a focal point offensively, as will senior Trevor Fiorentini. Rossi expects big things from seniors Tyler Patterson and Nathan Smith as well.

Given South Fayette's depth at receiver, the Lions will still employ a spread offense though they could mix in more suprise packages than in the past.

Plus, it helps that the offensive line returns three players.

"We need two linemen to fill those two spots and we need some quarterback play," Rossi said. "That's the key. We have some talent around them."

Top players: Zach Challingsworth, Trevor Fiorentini
Challingsworth played for PA Swag this summer, though he did not travel with the team when Gateway's Darrell Turner was shot and killed in North Carolina on their way to a football camp in Florida.
He'll play receiver, safety and even a little quarterback for South Fayette in an attempt to get him more touches.
Fiorentini started at fullback and linebacker last year, and he switched to tailback when Jeff Davis was not able to finish the PIAA Class AA championship game last year. Fiorentini has size and moves, plus he scored 13 touchdowns as a junior.

Watch out for: Grant Fetchet
Fetchet, a sophomore, is seeing ample time at tailback during camp and should become a key offensive contributor. He's not as big as Davis, but shows some burst. South Fayette likes their running backs to catch passes, so tailback is a vital role.

Fitting in: South Fayette has assumed the mantle of preseason favorite in the Century Conference, and why not? The Rebels, with players like Kevin Hart and Wisconsin commit and Waynesburg resident Scott Orndoff, will be strong. Washington should also be improved as the Prexies return a wealth of players who gained valuable experience last year.
Still, the perception remains that South Fayette may not experience much drop-off. I talked to at least one coach of another team who expects the Lions to compete for a WPIAL title.

Snake in a helmet

GRAVETTE, Ark. (AP) — A high school running back in Arkansas wants to slither through defenses, not have a snake slither inside his helmet.
Gravette High School senior Darrick Strzelecki said he felt something odd in his helmet during practice Tuesday, but thought it was only a tangled lock of hair or sweat beading up as the team worked on extra points.
“I kept hitting, and it just kept bothering me,” Strzelecki told the Benton County Daily Record.
During a break about 15 minutes into practice, Strzelecki took off his helmet and initially believed his teammates were teasing him.
“It looked like a rubber snake, and I thought somebody had pulled a practical joke on me,” he said. “When I grabbed it by the tail, that’s when it jerked, and I dropped the helmet.”
The snake, 10-12 inches long, was killed shortly afterward.
“It’s funny now, but it is something I don’t take lightly,” head coach Bill Harrelson said. “All snakes are deadly in my book.”
Assistant coach Seth McKinzie said the snake did not appear to be venomous.
Strzelecki said it took him about five minutes to build up the courage to put the helmet back on his head, but not before he looked in every corner of it.
“When you have it crawling on your head, it freaks you out,” he said. “It creeped me out. Even through the rest of practice, it felt like the snake was still crawling on me.”
Teammates later called him “Snake Boy,” hissed at him and, at times, wiggled their fingers inside the ear hole of Strzelecki’s helmet.
School maintenance workers made sure Wednesday there were no other critters in the locker room and the team’s equipment.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quick hits

Waynesburg played for the WPIAL baseball championship June 1 and lost during three games during the 2011 season - all by one run. The success wasn't enough to keep some parents from creating friction with head coach Steve Coss.

Coss, who coached the Raiders for three years, recently resigned. For more on the story,

* Peters Township senior Andrew Erenberg has scholarship offers from Kent State and Fordham. Erenberg rushed for more than 1,000 yards with 18 touchdowns as a junior.

* Heard from more than one person affiliated with Clairton that the Bears believe they will play Fort Cherry twice - the second time coming at Heinz Field for the WPIAL championship.

* Not sure how good South Fayette will be following the loss of the majority of its top players from last year, but don't expect the Lions not to compete for the postseason. After watching junior Zach Challingsworth during practice Tuesday, the guess here is he'll be one of the better players in Class AA if not the WPIAL.

* That said, Washington beat South Fayette during a 7-on-7 camp during the offseason. That doesn't mean much right now, but expect the Week 4 meeting between the Prexies and Lions to be highly competitive.

* Mat Matters, a blog dedicated to high school wrestling done by colleague Joe Tuscano, is engaged in a heated debate concerning the transfer of Cody Wiercioch from Charleroi to powerhouse Canon-McMillan.

I'm not a passionate opponent of transfers. As I've stated before, what about the student who leaves one high school for another because of the band? To me, there's not much difference no matter what points others mention.

Still, the recent transfers remind me of a situation that occurred when I first broke into the business at the Beaver County Times.

Like Canon-McMillan wrestling, Blackhawk boys basketball was already an established program when Brandon Fuss-Cheatham transferred from Keystone Oaks and Darren Tielsch from Montour. Each move set off a heated debate, and Blackhawk was often referred to the WPIAL Traveling All-Stars.

Blackhawk's head coach at the time, John Miller, had ties to the AAU basketball. Canon-McMillan wrestling has ties to the popular Quest Wrestling in Canonsburg.

* According to sources, former Monessen and Greensburg Central Catholic athlete Josh Stepoli is in North Carolina, where he is staying with a cousin, A.J. Jackson.

Jackson was a basketball standout out Monessen before he played at East Tennessee State and, later, Robert Morris.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Player profile, Brandon Robertson

Name: Brandon Robertson
School: Trinity
Class: Senior
Sport: Football
Measurables: Robertson is 6-2, 220 and runs a 4.43 40-yard dash, which is the fastest time for an Ed Dalton-coached player at Trinity.
Offense: Fullback
Defense: Linebacker
Special teams: Long snapper
What coach is saying: "He's an unbelievable natural talent. He just has ti show it on the field," Dalton said. "He reminds me a lot of Brandon Weaver. He has that kind of talent. He's fast and strong, kind of a genetic freak."
What teammates are saying: "From my perspective, he could be ready but he has to slow down what he's doing," classmate John Laschinsky said. "He's trying to do too many things. Once he's thinking everything through, he's going to be awesome."
The skinny: Robertson primarily serves a Kyle McWreath's backup on offense and defense last year, so he saw most of his on-field time on special teams.
Extremely athletic, Robertso won the Nike Combine held in March at the Steelers' training facilities on Pittsburgh's South Side. Following that performance, Robertson's profile with college coaches skyrocketed.
"I've talked to Pitt, WVU and a couple other ones," Robertson said. "I'm having to train hard so I can get bigger and quicker because I hope to play at that level."
Robertson must show he can on the field, and he'll get a chance this year. Dalton has pegged Robertson at fullback in Trinity's new offense and will give him an opportunity at linebacker.
"These first few games are absolutely big for me," Robertson said. "I have to step my game up; take all the hits and do all the running."
Speed and strength are two of Robertson's obvious gifts.
"We had to try to put together something for our talent level on offense. Hopefully, Brandon will do what we think he can." Dalton said. "If he gets in space, he's going to score. I know that much."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Camp Kovak takes the fast route to visit Ringgold at Cal U

Quad Law, Ringgold's senior quarterback, waddled away from a tent set up just off the Rams' practice field at California University's Roadman Park with several teammates to speak with a reporter (who could that be?) at the conclusion of the final practice during the first week of camp.

Law sported a bag of ice on each knee, and a grimace on his face. When asked about the knees, Law said, "It's nothing bad. Just been a real tough week."

A move to the Class AAA Keystone Conference coupled with the emergence of talent like Law bolstered Ringgold to a historic regular season. The Rams went 9-0 for the first time before running into eventual WPIAL champion Central Valley in the first round of the playoffs.

Ringgold went hunting last year. These days, the Rams are the hunted. Thanks to a group of returning players like Law, Ringgold just might be the fastest team in the WPIAL. All reasons to make the opening week of camp rugged for the players.

There were sprints, lots of them, and, even as many players were packing up at the practice field, coaches were running special teams players through some drills.

"I feel these guys learned from that (Central Valley) game but, at the same time, that's in the past and that's where we want to keep it," Humbert said. "They know what's expected of them, and they're looking forward to the challenge."

Tough guys: Michael Beveridge, Dom Affinito, Lance Tritschler
Humbert believes Beveridge, thanks to his offseason work in the weight room, could project as a lower-level Division I tight end prospect. A member of the 2010 Elite 11, Beveridge is athletic with quick feet, and, at times, he's a dominating defensive lineman.
Affinito played along the offensive line last year but will move to fullback, where he'll be blocking for the Rams' stable of speedsters. Affinito excels at linebacker. Tritschler will be vital to Ringgold's success as he's the lone returning starter on the offensive line with Affinito moving to fullback.

Speedsters: Law, Demetrius Louis, Alfon Cook
When Pitt introduced Todd Graham as its football coach and Graham talked about speed, he might as well have been referring to Ringgold. Not the all the Rams' skill players stack up to Division I level speed, but they do believe they're the fastest group in the WPIAL. There's a good chance they're correct.

Fast facts: Senior Fred Johnson, a transfer from Uniontown, suffered a knee injury Wednesday during Oklahoma Drills. Humbert said Friday morning that a MRI was forthcoming and they would know the extent of the injury soon. Johnson was an all-conference player with the Red Raiders, and Humbert said he would be a two-way starter. ... Louis, Law, Joey Wall and Ringgold graduate Derrick Fiore won the WPIAL Class AAA 400 relay. Louis also qualified for the PIAA championships in the 100 dash. ... Counting two games Humbert served as head coach in 2009 when then-head coach Lloyd Price was suspended, his career coaching record is 11-1.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A long, winding road carries Camp Kovak to Beth-Center

Inside the music room at Beth-Center Elementary, where the Bulldogs coaching staff have used as living quarters since training camp began, is a dry-erase board with the last names of several key players.

Beside each name is a number - a recent 40-yard dash time.

Some of those numbers may not stack up with the likes of Ringgold or Washington, but, for Beth-Center, they represent a faster, hard-working group. Senior Deshan Brown, a multi-purpose threat on offense and an all-state defensive back according to Pennsylvania Football News, was clocked at 4.47 - the top time on the team. Senior quarterback/linebacker Sal Faieta, who is drawing some Division I attention, came in at 4.5. Junior running back Cody Durant (4.6) is not far behind.

For Beth-Center, those times might prove significant. The Bulldogs have been a steady Class A program for years. The past two seasons, however, they lost to Monessen during the regular season and did not advance past the WPIAL quarterfinals.

Team speed and undersized offensive lines have hurt the Bulldogs against strong competition both seasons.

"I'd say both things are what's kept us from taking the next step," Beth-Center coach Ed Woods said Thursday afternoon. "We had to get faster, and we had to get stronger. To be honest, we have to work harder, though I'm not sure that the kids can work harder than they are."

Top players: Sal Faieta, Jake Sofran

Faieta has heard from Pitt, West Virginia and is a top target for Youngstown State. He was team MVP as a sophomore and might be the strongest quarterback in the WPIAL. Sofran was the Bulldogs' MVP last season, and he's led the team in tackles and rushing yards in each of the past two seasons.

Watch out for: Cody Durant

Durant made the most of his touches last year as he averaged 8.8 yards per carry and 13.7 per reception. With the loss of Kyle Colborn, who moved to North Carolina, Durant along with Brown figure to be more prominent in the passing game.

Key position(s): Offensive line

The front five has been a concern for the Bulldogs in recent years, mainly due to a lack of size in comparison with opponents. Led by Zach Miller, the line is bigger and stronger, and they'll be counted upon to do more as Beth-Center adds more to its offense.

Follow me on Twitter @TheMikeKovak

Twitter Thursday

It's time to recap some of the best tweets from the past week...

Jaylin Kelly, Wash High football
"triples tomorrow lets gett it.. bros i feel a good year coming our way."

David Kuhn, Peters Township boys golf coach
"The 1st tee shot is in the air at 6:30 am! The championship journey for 2011 begins."

Maceo Saunders, Trinity basketball and an interesting follow on Twitter
"im better than your ex and ill be better than your next"

Jenna Ezarik, former Bentworth volleyball player who has 35,707 tweeples (possibly because her sister is model iJustine)
"Getting some cavities drilled. Or whatever they do to cavities. Show me yourrrrr teethhhhhh."

Follow me on Twitter @TheMikeKovak

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Saturday's scrimmages

Ringgold at Baldwin, 10 a.m.
Montour at Peters Township, 10 a.m.
Brooke (W.Va.) at Canon-McMillan, 10 a.m.
Chartiers Valley at South Fayette, 10 a.m.
Trinity at Keystone Oaks, 10 a.m.
Albert Gallatin at Waynesburg, 10 a.m.
Central Valley at Washington, 10 a.m.
McGuffey at Monessen, 10 a.m.
Burgettstown at North Catholic, 10 a.m.
Brownsville at Carmichaels, 10 a.m.
Beth-Center at Charleroi, 10 a.m.
Westinghouse at California, 10 a.m.
Northgate at Fort Cherry, 10 a.m.
Chartiers-Houston at Springdale, 10 a.m.
Bentworth at Jefferson-Morgan, 10 a.m.
Clay-Battelle (W.Va.) at Mapletown, 10 a.m.
West Greene, Hundred (W.Va.) at Avella, 10 a.m.

Camp Kovak soaks in the scene at historic Wash High Stadium

The Wash High Prexies football team huddled just outside their locker room on the practice field at Wash High Stadium. As the players talked and chanted, coaches scurried about with a large, white water cooler.

About five minutes prior, Prexies head coach Mike Bosnic informed me that the coaching staff was planning to pelt players with water balloons before the start of Wednesday's third practice session.

That's where the water cooler came into play.

Displaying the stealth that they no doubt once showed during their playing days, coaches carried the cooler past unsuspecting players, opened it and unleashed an assault. At first, the Prexies scattered before a few players realized, "Hey, let's throw balloons back at them."

That's exactly the type of thing that can break up the monotony and exhaustion of training camp, not that the youthful Prexies seem to mind the hard work. Actually, that's been the catch phrase around Wash High Stadium.

"These guys have really taken to everything we've asked them to do," Washington head coach Mike Bosnic said. "We've structured this a lot like a college camp. Practice sessions, weight lifting, a lot of film study. They've responded well."

Top players: Joe Phillips, Jaylin Kelly
Phillips is wearing a walking boot on his right foot, the result of a stress fracture, but Bosnic expects the senior to be healthy for the regular season. Phillips is moving to fullback on offense, where he'll be a lead blocker for what could be a loaded Washington backfield. Phillips will be counted upon along the defensive line.
Kelly, a junior, is already considered one of the more promising prospects in the WPIAL Class of 2013. He's a punishing runner with a nose for the end zone, and one of the better linebackers around.

Watch out for: Josh Wise, Shai McKenzie
Wise enters his second year as starting quarterback, and he's emerging as Wash High's on-field leader. McKenzie, in limited opportunities as a freshman running back, averaged a first down on every touch.

Key position(s): Offensive line
The front five were exposed a year ago when Wash High played top-flight teams like South Fayette and Clairton. That unit must improve in order for the Prexies to contend for a home playoff game or a conference title.

Follow me on Twitter @TheMikeKovak

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Camp Kovak takes the back roads to Fort Cherry

With players like Tanner Garry, Corey Garry, Ryan Babirad, Tyreke Brown, Zack Dysert and Jeff Whalen, Fort Cherry fields one of the better sets of skill position players among Class A teams in the WPIAL.

That set is one player larger this football season.

Koltan Kobrys, a sophomore, has transferred from Avella and is quickly integrating himself into the Rangers' diverse offense.

"He's naturally athletic. He can carry, the ball, and he's really quick," Tanner Garry said Monday following the first day of training camp. "He's a Wes Welker-type player. … He's a very, very well-rounded player and we already have him in on defense to, trying to mix him in."

Kobrys led all local receivers with 55 receptions during the regular season in 2010, and his play drew extensive praise from then-Avella head coach Frank Gray, who lobbied to get Kobrys nominated for All-State consideration.

The addition of Kobrys should help Fort Cherry, which finished 5-5 last season but in second place in the Black Hills Conference, but so showed an additional year of maturity and work for many of their returning players.

Top players: Tanner Garry, Corey Garry
The cousins and grandsons of long-time Fort Cherry head coach Jim Garry enter their senior seasons as key components of the Rangers' offense and defense.
At quarterback, Tanner Garry can make throws a lot of high school quarterbacks can't, which is one reason why he's received college interest from team in the Mid-American Conference and Division I-AA programs like Youngstown State. On defense, Garry will move from safety to linebacker.
Corey Garry is the Rangers' tough guy. At fullback, he'll be the lead blocker for Whalen. As a middle linebacker, he'll be the quarterback of the defense.

Watch out for: Ryan Babirad
Babirad has the size and the speed to get behind defensive backs, and the hands to haul in passes. He's a big-play receiver.

Key positions: Defensive back/safety
In losses, the Fort Cherry defense struggled against the pass. Granted, the Rangers played a schedule that included both WPIAL Class A finalists in Clairton and Rochester, but, for the Rangers to advance in the postseason, players like Brown, Babirad and Kobrys must avoid breakdowns that struck Fort Cherry at inopportune times a year ago.

Follow me on Twitter @TheMikeKovak

Monday, August 15, 2011

Camp Kovak pulls into Hiller Field

During the early years of Ed Dalton's head coaching tenure at Trinity, the Hillers ran the football. They ran the football a lot. Then, they ran the football some more.

Once quarterbacks like Cody Endres and Brad Martin entered the program, Trinity went to a more pro-style offense. Sometimes, the Hillers actually passed - on first down.

In an era of spread offenses and prolific statistics, Trinity decided to tinker its offensive approach for the 2011 season. Rather than study offenses being implemented at Pitt and West Virginia, Dalton and staff studied the ways of Georgia Tech, Army, Navy, McKeesport and Serra Catholic.

The Hillers are working on the triple option.

"With our depth at running back, we thought it gave us the best chance," Dalton said.

It's not a complicated offense, but it is one of precision. For the Hillers, it's been a work in progress but they believe it's their best chance to improve as a program.

Trinity is an annual playoff team, and figures to contend again in the Class AAA Big Seven Conference. Yet, the Hillers haven't advanced past the first round since 2007 - the senior seasons of Andrew Sweat and Michael Yancich.

"This offense is a separator," Dalton said. "It's turned programs that just hung around into ones that played state championships, and it's made the Georgia Techs and Navys competitive against better talent."

Top players: Patrick Frey (Soph., RB), Xavier Severns (Jr., OL/DL)

Frey put together a strong freshman season and will be relied upon heavily in Trinity's new triple-option offense.

At 6-2, 275, Severns is Trinity's next blue-chip prospect. The Hillers coaching staff became believers in Severns' work habits during the offseason and plan on using the powerful lineman on both sides of the football full-time. Severns may also be the Hillers' kicker.

Watch out for: Brandon Robertson (Sr., FB/LB)

Robertson served as Trinity's long snapper last year - a job he'll continue to hold - and a back-up defensive player. With the gradation of Kyle McWreath, Robertson's role will increase. There's no doubt he has the athleticism as Robertson was the top performer among 800-plus players at a Nike Combine in Pittsburgh in March.

Key position: Quarterback

John Laschinsky and Jason Vankirk are competing for the starter's role. Laschinsky is the more mobile of the two; Vankirk the more accurate passer.

Follow me on Twitter @TheMikeKovak

Trinity football players go on strike

The ongoing fued between coaches, players and supporters of Trinity football against certain members of the Trinity Area School Board took a unique turn Monday morning when players staged a strike.

Before the start of football camp, players organized and sat on the playing surface at Hiller Field for 30 minutes. The strike started at 9 a.m. in protest to deep cuts in the athletic budget.

Players organized the protest without the knowledge of Trinity head coach Ed Dalton.

"It came about because two of our top assistants are gone. Chad Daloia got fired, and his brother (Ryan) ended up quitting because he didn't want to do it after his brother got fired," senior Brandon Robertson said. "We're trying to get them back, so we're putting on a little strike before practice. We're just trying to get our coaches back."

Trinity competes in Class AAA, and it annually fields a large roster for football. The Hillers have four coaches on the staff for the upcoming season, and are in the process of implementing a new offense - the triple option.

"We only have three of four coaches so it's pretty hectic," Robertson added.

Will the move work or create more contention?

"A strike was really the only thing we could come to," senior John Laschinsky said. "It symbolizes how our team is coming together, to fight for our family. We're not just a football team. We're a family, and our coach is a big part of that family. That's what we're trying to get across."

Follow Mike Kovak on Twitter @TheMikeKovak

Quick hits

Just got off the phone with Wash High football coach Mike Bosnic who told me that senior fullback/defensive end Joe Phillips will not practice this week because of a stress fracture in an ankle.

Bosnic does not believe that the injury will keep Phillips, who holds several scholarship offers including one from Bowling Green, from missing substantial time. Bosnic added that the fracture happened in a "weird" place, and that it is already in the process of healing.

* Wash High senior Dustin Fuller, a WPIAL track champion in the 300 hurdles and 1,600 relay as a junior, is trying out as a kicker for the football team.

Fuller also plays soccer during the fall.

* Spoke briefly with Ringgold head coach Matt Humbert Saturday, a day before the Rams headed to California University for a week of football camp.

There's no doubt the second-year head coach is excited about the addition of Fred Johnson, who transferred from Uniontown. Johnson was an All-Conference player for the Red Raiders, and looks like a lock to start in the Rams secondary. Humbert also said Johnson will get touches on offense.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chartiers-Houston lands three on All-State softball team

The Pennsylvania Softball Coaches Association released an All-State team in 2010, and the area, particularly Chartiers-Houston, was well-represented.

This year, an All-State team was compiled by Mark Temons – the head coach at Muncy High School – with the help of some media and other coaches. It had to be a massive undertaking, and the official team was released Sunday evening. Kudos to Temons for all his hard work.

Considering the number of players on the teams (Class AAAA, AAA, AA and A), there aren't many local players. One reason may be I never received information regarding the team until after the nominations were gathered. That may be one reason why some players made teams in the incorrect classifications.

Did any other local coaches have any input? Just curious.

Regardless, the players on the list are well-serving.
Class A
First team
Kiersten Conwell, Chartiers-Houston, Pitcher (pictured)
Colby Miller, Chartiers-Houston, Pitcher (pictured)
Kayla Briggs, Chartiers-Houston, Outfield
Second team
Ashley Clark, Fort Cherry, Shortstop
Honorable mention
Nicolette McHugh, Fort Cherry, Pitcher
Kaitlyn Coles, Jefferson-Morgan, Pitcher
Katie O'Rourke, Fort Cherry, Outfield
Darcy Bostich, Bentworth, Designated Player (Bentworth played in Class AA)

Class AA
First team
Breanna Morris, Waynesburg, Shortstop
Honorable mention
Caitlyn Dengler, Burgettstown, Third base

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dead prep player had heart condition

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Officials say a southwest Arkansas high school football player who collapsed during practice and died had a heart condition.
Assistant Arkansas State Crime Laboratory Director Richard Gallagher said Friday that 15-year-old Gurdon High School sophomore Montel Williams died of natural causes.
Gallagher says the specific problem with Williams’ heart won’t be known until further testing is complete.
Williams collapsed about 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, just more than an hour into the practice in which players were wearing all their gear. He was pronounced dead just before 10 p.m. at Baptist Health Medical Center in Arkadelphia — about 15 miles away.
The National Weather Service says it was 93 degrees in Arkadelphia at 8 p.m. Tuesday with a heat index of 110 degrees.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Twitter Thursday

Places like Consol Energy Park celebrate Thirsty Thursday. Here at The Varsity Letters, a new feature for the 2011-12 school year will be Twitter Thursday.

What's that? Well, Twitter Thursday will celebrate recent tweets from athletes with local ties.

First, please follow me on Twitter (@TheMikeKovak). Second, the featured tweets will come from people I follow. It could be a football player from the Mon Valley, a baseball player from Greene County or a track athlete from Washington. It could come from a college athlete who once called a local high school home or a local golf coach.

One aspect of Twitter that amazes me is that many high school athletes don't realize what they say on Twitter is public domain. We won't focus on the obscene ones here, but don't be surprised if you're occasionally left wondering what the post meant.

Maceo Saunders, Trinity basketball
From Aug. 3 "haha all i gotta say is that... i got more options than @MicahMason22 has shoes hahaha"

Ralph Cindrich, Avella grad/former Pitt football player/super agent
from Aug. 11 "Bad news: "Maine 'Redneck Olympics' Reportedly Warned to Drop 'Olympics' or Face Lawsuit." Really wanted to get in the spirit of this 1."

Joe Phillips, Washington football
From July 19 "all yall people missing practice make me sick. 41-0 9/3/10 remember"

We'll be back next week with more tweets.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Looking ahead …

The official start to high school athletics is Monday, Aug. 15 (honestly, where did Summer go?), and with that, comes the start of varsity football camps.

Over the next several weeks, The Varsity Letters will travel to several local places, talking to coaches, players and whomever else wonders past. From those travels, features such as Camp Kovak and Scouting reports will emerge.

So will an official preseason Elite 11.

At the end of every high school football season, the Observer-Reporter honors a Player of the Year, in addition to an Elite 11 and All-District Team. After a little brainstorming, TVL came up with a group of players who could possibly land on the preseason Elite 11.

Michael Beveridge, Ringgold
Beveridge earned a spot on the 2010 Elite 11 after earning All-Conference honors as a defensive lineman and tight end. With the majority of Ringgold's linemen from last year lost to graduation, Beveridge will be vital for what could be the WPIAL's fastest backfield.

Quentin Briggs, Charleroi

Injuries slowed Briggs during his junior season, but the bruising runner recently landed a place as Pennsylvania's No. 10 running back according to If Briggs produces a season like his freshman and sophomore years, he might join his cousin Darrell Harding as a 4,000-yard rusher.

Zach Challingsworth, South Fayette

Challingsworth was a top receiver last year for the WPIAL Class AA champions. This year, he could be the Lions' quarterback, and expect the possible Division I-prospect to be a key contributor on defense.

Andrew Erenberg, Peters Township

A tough runner with a nose for the end zone, Erenberg should key a Peters Township offense that is transitioning to a new coaching staff. Erenberg was an Elite 11 selection in 2010.

Sal Faieta, Beth-Center

Faieta, who excelled in summer camps, is receiving interest from a few local Division I schools in addition to programs at the Division I-AA and II levels.

Corey Garry, Fort Cherry
TVL considers Garry to be the area's most underrated player. A punishing blocker from his fullback position, Garry is equally tough as a middle linebacker.

Tanner Garry, Fort Cherry

The area's top quarterback prospect, Garry passed for more than 1,000 yards as a junior and displayed a soft touch on deep passes to go with an ability to hit the short post pattern. He's also a threat to run.

Daniel Lis, Chartiers-Houston
Lis' dual-threat capabilities at quarterback led the Bucs to a fine 7-2 regular season before they ran into a stout Monessen defense in the first round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs. Lis earned a spot on last year's Elite 11.

Demetrius Louis, Ringgold (pictured)
Ringgold had the luxury of bringing Louis, a standout sprinter and Division I-prospect, along slowly during his sophomore season. This year, Louis figures to get more chances in a backfield with Quad Law and Alfon Cook.

Joe Phillips, Washington
Phillips has several scholarship offers, and will be counted on to provide a distruptive presence along Wash High's defensive line. If the Prexies offense excels and Washington contends for a Century Conference title, chances are Phillips' blocking will lead the way.

Justice Rawlins, Monessen
Rawlins' freshman season was one to remember. Playing mostly as a linebacker, Rawlins not only earned a place on the Elite 11, he was a MaxPreps Freshman All-American.

Ones to watch
Deshan Brown, Beth-Center
T.D. Conway, California
Alfon Cook, Ringgold
Mykel Dorsey, Chartiers-Houston
Clayton Evans, Peters Township
Patrick Frey, Trinity
Jaylin Kelly, Washington
Koltan Kobrys, Avella
Quad Law, Ringgold
Juwan Mull, Monessen
Alec Schram, Canon-McMillan
Xavier Severns, Trinity
Jake Sofran, Beth-Center
Josh Wise, Washington
Nick Zupper, Waynesburg

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Minor league comparison

In Jim Gallagher and Justin Bianco, Peters Township has produced a pair of high-draft choices in recent years.

Gallagher, 25, was a seventh-round pick of the Chicago White Sox following his junior year at Duke. Bianco, 18, was recently selected in the third round by the Arizona Diamondbacks, believed to be the highest selection for a player from Washington County.

Gallagher and Bianco are currently on opposite ends of the minor league ladder. Gallagher is a converted infielder for the Chartlotte Knights, the AAA-affiliate of the White Sox. Bianco is playing rookie ball for the Missoula (Mont.) Osprey.

Through 37 games, Bianco is batting .220 (31-for-141) with seven 2B, two HR, 19 RBI and 54 K. He's also getting adjusted to running bases at the professional level, with only two successful steals in seven attempts. Over his last five games, however, Bianco appears to be making progress. He's had seven hits, and has not been caught stealing.

Gallagher, a teammate of former Pirates outfielder Lastings Milledge and can't-miss prospect Mark Teahan, hasn't played since July 25 and is on the temporary inactive list. art of the White Sox 40-man roster, Gallagher sports a .252 average (93-for-369) with 55 runs, 32 2B, 6 HR, 46 RBI and 54 walks.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

National column regarding heat-related deaths

Blogger's note: This is long, but felt it's worth the read.

By Paul Newberry
Associated Press

ATLANTA – Glenn Jones is preparing to bury his 16-year-old son.
It never should’ve come to this.
“If you drove a tractor-trailer right through my heart, you would know how it feels,” Jones said Thursday, struggling to hold back the tears. “That’s exactly what it feels like.”
Forrest Jones was a big, burly lineman who’s life was cut short when he overheated during a voluntary workout for the upcoming high school football season. His body cooked, his organs shut down and he passed away Tuesday after trying futilely to hang on for just over a week in the hospital.
Tragically, he’s not alone. In just the past week, three other high school players across the South have died in a record-breaking heat wave. Plus, an assistant coach in Texas succumbed to blistering temperatures that have regularly topped 100 degrees.
Enough’s enough.
It’s time for everyone – kids and coaches alike – to lose the macho attitude.
Sure, there are a myriad of things that can be done to greatly reduce the risk of heat-related deaths on the gridiron, from moving back the start of the season (why not?) to requiring certified athletic trainers at all high schools (not likely because of the cost) to requiring coaches be trained in first aid (a relatively cheap investment that could pay huge dividends).
We all know football is a tough game played by tough people. That’s not going to change. Heck, we wouldn’t have it any other way. But there’s nothing wrong with sitting out the next play, nothing wrong with taking an extra sip of water.
Forrest Jones would probably be alive today if he’d taken that message to heart.
“He showed the signs. He needed to tell ’em, 'I’m tired,”’ his father said. “We really need to get across to these kids that it doesn’t make them a weak person to tell the coach you’re tired and you need a break. It makes you a better person.”
But attitudes are always the most resistant to change.
The day before Forrest Jones died, high schools across Georgia officially started football practice in the midst of one of the hottest summers on record. Who knows how many kids felt nauseous or lightheaded but just played their way through it?
“With these pads on, it’s sooo hot – like a sauna,” said Dominique Packer, a junior linebacker at Heritage High School in suburban Atlanta. “The heat just stays with you. It’s hard. It’s really hard.”
His coaches did all they could. They scheduled water breaks every 15 minutes, mixed in some drills where the players could shed their helmets and pads, and even moved into the shade of some nearby pine trees during teaching sessions.
Still, there was a point when Packer felt his body breaking down. And, this being football, he kept it to himself.
“Man, you never want to tell a coach you can’t go,” he conceded. “A lot of us, we were like almost about to pass out the other day. But we didn’t want to tell the coaches. So we went out there until our bodies just couldn’t do it anymore. I’ve done that a couple of times.”
Packer knows that sort of attitude could be a death sentence.
He just can’t help himself.
After all, this is football.
Ron Courson is the director of sports medicine at the University of Georgia. He’s one of the country’s leading advocates for improving athlete safety at the college level. Now, he’s trying to carry his message to the high schools.
Foremost, he wants every school to have at least one full-time certified athletic trainer on its staff. At the moment, less than half of them do; in Georgia, it’s only about 30 percent.
Therefore, at the vast majority of high schools, kids begin practicing during the hottest time of the year without anyone on hand to detect the warning signs of heat-related ailments or provide the proper treatment when something does go wrong.
“The tragedy of this situation,” Courson said, “is the vast majority of heat illnesses are preventable.”
But, let’s get real. It’s highly unlikely that schools forced to lay off teachers and slash budgets during the economic downturn are going to suddenly come up with tens of thousands of dollars to hire athletic trainers.
The idea came up in Georgia a few years ago, only to get shot down in the Legislature.
“The education lobby was able to convince them that not every school can afford to do that,” said Ralph Swearngin, executive director of the Georgia High School Association. “The situation has gotten worse now because of all the furloughs and layoffs and things of that sort. It would be very difficult to pass any kind of requirement that you had to have an athletic trainer, even though it’s vitally important.”
OK, let’s look at some steps that would help right away and not necessarily break the bank:
  • Delay the start of the season a few weeks, especially in the hottest regions of the country. There’s just no need to be practicing football in 100-degree temperatures.
“Sometimes the most effective and far-reaching solutions are the simplest ones,” said Dr. Daryl Rosenbaum, a sports medicine expert at Wake Forest University. “Heaven forbid, maybe we just need to subtract one game. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than subtracting a life.”
  • Know which athletes have the sickle cell trait, which makes them more susceptible to heat-related problems. Everyone is tested at birth for the blood abnormality, but few people keep up with the results or know the significance of having it. Rosenbaum advocates additional testing, if necessary, before a kid is allowed to play high school sports.
  • Come up with a minimum national standard that all schools must adhere to for dealing with heat issues, instead of the hodgepodge of rules that differ from state to state, district to district. Every coach should be trained in first aid. Every school system should have an emergency plan to deal with a kid in distress.
At Georgia, Courson puts his staff through a training session each year using a 200-pound dummy. They must be able to load it into a cart and quickly get it to a pool that is kept at 50 degrees. That sort of treatment is absolutely vital when dealing with heat stroke — and it doesn’t have to be high tech.
At the high school where Courson’s son plays football, they use a horse trough filled with water and keep bags of ice nearby in case someone collapses.
“You’ve got to put them in ice up to neck level to cool them down,” Courson said. “Cool first, then transport. If you wait until you get to the hospital, 20, 25, even 30 minutes may have transpired. Then, it may be too late to do anything.”

It's tricky

Fort Cherry's Tanner Garry is one of the area's top senior football prospects, and one crafty fella when it comes to doing the unusual with a football and applying those skills to social media.

Check out this video that sure captivated my 2-year-old daughter Anna, who particularly enjoyed the playground footage. Myself, well, it's hard to top that sweet dancing at the end.