Alumni Update: North Hills grad playing key role for W&J football team

Written by Ken Wunderley on .

Ken Wunderley profiles North Hills graduate John Wanner, who is a standout center on the Washington & Jefferson football team. Read his story below.

As a member of the offensive line for the Washington & Jefferson College football team, John Wanner doesn't play one of the glamour positions.

Wanner, a North Hills graduate, has started 21 of 22 games since becoming the Presidents starting center in 2012.

"John has gone under the radar since becoming a starter two years ago," Washington & Jefferson coach Mike Sirianni said. "We've had other linemen recognized over the years and John is every bit as good as them."

Wanner's fine play was recognized last year with an All-Presidents' Athletic Conference honorable mention selection.

"John is an overachiever," Sirianni said. "I'm expecting a big season from him."

Wanner, a 6-foot, 240-pound senior, chose to enroll at Washington & Jefferson shortly after visiting the campus.

"The football and the education brought me to W&J," Wanner said. "When I made my visit, I really felt welcomed. It seemed like the perfect fit for me, both athletically and academically."

The no-huddle offense used by Sirianni and the Presidents is significantly different than what he experienced at North Hills.

"It's a really fast-paced offense," Wanner said. "It's a real changeup from what we ran in high school. We huddled up after each play in high school.

"In this offense, we run a play then get back on the line, run a play then get back on the line, run a play then get back on the line. Almost all the plays are called from the line."

Washington & Jefferson has tied for the PAC title and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs twice with Wanner anchoring the middle of the Presidents offensive line.

"In our weight room, we have a wall that recognizes the school's past PAC titles, ECAC Bowl appearances, and NCAA playoff appearances," Wanner said. "It also has a spot for appearances in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl [NCAA Division III's championship game], but that space is blank because we've never made it that far before. Our goal is to add 2014 to that list."

Washington & Jefferson posted an 8-3 record last season, which included a 34-20 loss to perennial power Mount Union in the opening round of the Division III tournament. Eleven starters from that team have graduated including the top three skill-position players, quarterback Matt Bliss, wide reciever Alex Baroffio and tailback Dion Wiegand.

Six starters are back on offense, including four linemen.

Wanner is joined by guard Joe Graziani (6-1, 280, Jr.), and tackles Zack Crossey (6-0, 280, Jr.) and Ty Wildey (5-11, 270, Sr.). Crossey, a Penn-Trafford grad, was a first-team All-PAC selection last year.

"We have good experience returning on the offensive line," Sirianni said. "With Zack Crossey and John Wanner, it is easy to say we have two of the five best linemen in the conference."

Wildey, a Connellsville grad, started at guard until a midseason injury ended his season. Graziani, a Canon-McMillan grad, replaced Wildey in the second half. Wildey will most likely be moved to tackle.

"It's important for every member of the offense to be on the same page for every play," Wanner said. "Especially since we run the fast-paced, no-huddle offense. Having such an experienced line will help with so many newcomers on the offense."

Wanner is a team-oriented player who has one individual goal.

"My goal is to stay healthy and play every game," Wanner said. "I missed one game last year with an injury. It was so hard to sit there and watch my teammates have fun when I couldn't play."

Wanner will graduate in the spring with an accounting degree, but plans to continue his education at a school yet to be determined.

"My plan is to graduate from here in the spring and then pursue a degree in law," Wanner said. "I'm especially interested in tax law and want to get my [certified public accountant certificate]. The sky is the limit."