The Post-Gazette has previews of all our area's high school football teams. Here's an index to previews for all schools in the North Xtra zone.
*Butler 2014 Football Preview
*Fox Chapel 2014 Football Preview
*North Allegheny 2014 Football Preview
*North Hills 2014 Football Preview
*Pine-Richland 2014 Football Preview
*Seneca Valley 2014 Football Preview
*Shaler 2014 Football Preview
The Post-Gazette has previews of all our area's high school football teams. Here's an index to previews for all schools in the North Xtra zone.
First-year coach Rob Densmore takes over a program that has gone 10-54 since 2007, a span that has seen four different head coaches. The Golden Tornado finished 1-8 last season.
Densmore welcomes back five returning starters on offense and defense led by seniors Derek Gengler (6-3, 225, OL/DL), Jeremy Hanford (5-11, 195, FB/LB), Lucas Dubyak (5-10, 190, FB/LB), Robert Burdine (5-11, 190, RB/DB) and Reed Werth (5-11, 170, WR/DB).
Burdine is the team's leading returning receiver, rusher and scorer.
Senior quarterback Billy Urso is back under center this season after passing for 1,651 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Urso will have to depend on some new skill-position players if the Foxes hope to improve on their 2-7 record last season.
The team's top three receivers and top two rushers graduated. Twin brothers Nigel and Chad Garnett were both first-team all-conference choices last season but both have graduated. The duo combined to catch 38 passes for 335 yards and they were the team's leading rushers accounting for a combined 976 yards.
Senior running back Carrington Vaughn (6-2, 215) is the top returning rusher and senior wide receiver Greg Yaksich (5-10, 185) is the top returning receiver.
The Foxes are a combined 3-11 in conference play since moving into the Northern Eight in 2012.
North Allegheny's string of three consecutive WPIAL Class AAAA titles came to end after a 7-4 season that ended in the WPIAL quarterfinals last season with a 41-23 loss to Upper St. Clair.
The Tigers fell to third place in the Northern Eight Conference last year. If they want to return to the top of the conference and the WPIAL they will rely heavily on returning senior quarterback Jeff Clemens (6-2, 200). Before getting hurt last season, Clemens was 66 of 115 for 1,164 yards and 13 touchdowns with only four interceptions.
The team's top receiver, Pitt recruit Elijiah Zeise, has graduated as has its top two rushers from a year ago. Senior running back Josh Bergman (5-8, 185) returns after rushing for 303 yards last year. North Allegheny must replace all-conference lineman Nick James, who graduated, but does return senior Cole McHenry (6-2, 250).
First-team all-conference linebacker Layne Skundrich (5-9, 195), a three-year starter, will anchor the defense.
In his first year as head coach at his alma mater, Pat Carey guided North Hills to the postseason after a second consecutive 4-3 campaign in the Northern Eight Conference.
The Indians were eliminated in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs by Gateway.
Senior quarterback Jake Bruder returns as the starter. His junior year was cut short by a broken ankle. Before incurring the injury, Bruder, a dual-threat quarterback, completed 13 of 22 passes for 213 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions while rushing 35 times for 163 yards.
Loaded with talent at the skill positions, Pine-Richland appears to have its strongest team since moving up to Class AAAA in 2008.
The Rams return senior quarterback Ben DiNucci (6-3, 200) who completed 167 of 233 passes last year for 2,131 yards and 15 touchdowns. DiNucci, a Penn recruit, is one of the top quarterbacks in the WPIAL and he has plenty of weapons with returning all-conference seniors, wide receiver D'ondre Gastion (6-0, 185) and running back Connor Slomka (6-1, 210), a West Point recruit. Gastion caught 64 passes for 766 yards last season and Slomka had 1,144 yards rushing on 201 carries.
The Rams finished 5-5 last season, snapping a two-year playoff drought. They lost, 35-14, to Woodland Hills in the first round of the playoffs.
Seneca Valley turned in a fine season a year ago, going 9-2 overall, finishing second to Central Catholic in the Northern Eight Conference and advancing to the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals, before bowing to Woodland Hills, 28-14.
The Raiders have a chance to improve on those numbers this fall.
Senior quarterback T.J. Holl returns to quarterback what should be one of the WPIAL's most explosive offenses. The Raiders averaged 30 points per game last season as Holl completed 117 of 188 passes for 1,804 yards and 11 touchdowns.
First-year coach Jon LeDonne will undertake a rebuilding job at Shaler Area, a program that has posted back-to-back winless seasons.
Following a 5-5 playoff season in 2011 the Titans went 0-9 in 2012 and 2013.
LeDonne, a defensive coordinator at Gateway last season and a member of a WPIAL championship team as a player with Aliquippa in 2000, will try to snap the Titans' 22-game losing streak this season.
Senior linebacker Tim Nickel (6-0, 210) is a returning first-team all-conference selection. He will be the nucleus of the defense and the offense where he will start at running back.
Talbots coach Jacque DeMatteo begins his seventh season with hopes of returning to the WPIAL playoffs. Hampton qualified for the WPIAL playoffs after finishing in a four-way tie for fifth place in the Greater Allegheny Conference. The Talbots finished with a 4-6 record after losing to Thomas Jefferson in the first round.
Hampton's top returnee is Nick Grabowski (6-3, 215, Sr., QB/LB), who completed 89 of 197 yards for 1,368 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. He also rushed for 184 yards on 70 carries.
"Nick has mentally and physically matured since last season," DeMatteo said. "He has a great demeanor for a quarterback. He doesn't get rattled. He also plays lacrosse."
One word can be used to describe the 2014 Knoch High School football team: experienced.
Knoch has starters returning at 19 of 22 positions, including six players who were two-way starters.
"We bring back a lot of experience on both sides of the ball from a team that got better and better last year," coach Mike King said. "If we can find our stride early, I think we can hang with the best teams in our conference, which is very competitive."
King has led Knoch to seven WPIAL playoff berths in 10 years. The Knights finished in a four-way tie for fifth place in the Greater Allegheny Conference last season with a 4-5 record, but did not make the playoffs.
Coach Scott Heinauer has led the Planets to 12 playoff appearances in 13 years. The Planets have made six consecutive postseason appearances since moving up to Class AAA. Mars tied with Franklin Regional for the Greater Allegheny Conference title last season and finished with a 9-2 record after losing to Central Valley in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
"Our goal every year is to win the conference," Heinauer said. "But it will not be easy in such a strong conference. Knoch, Franklin Regional and Indiana have a good group of kids coming back, and Gateway has moved down from Class AAAA."
Heinauer has five starters returning from an offense that averaged 40.4 points per game last season.
Steve Sciullo is a "football lifer."
When he was named the Lancers' new head coach in April, Sciullo, a former NFL lineman, couldn't wait to get to work.
"We want to raise the competitiveness of what we're doing here," said Sciullo, who spent four years in the pros. "Sometimes when you have some lean years, you sort of lose the competitive edge to really compete with these guys. I think we can."
Deer Lakes suffered through a winless campaign a season ago under T.J. Wiley, going 0-9 overall and 0-8 in the Allegheny Conference, but Sciullo thinks the returning starters will make a big difference this year.
Highlands won't soon forget its playoff loss to Thomas Jefferson in last year's WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals, but as the Golden Rams make the switch to Class AA's Allegheny Conference, coach Sam Albert feels the road to Heinz Field will only get tougher.
"I was a head coach at Freeport, I know the types of athletes in the conference," said Albert, who coached the Yellowjackets for five seasons until assuming his current role at Highlands in 2004.
"It's going to be a very, very strong and competitive conference. We know that we're going to have our hands full."
Quarterback Blake Leri and running back Elijah Jackson, who led the team with 1,287 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns last season, return to a team that must replace 21 seniors who graduated after finishing 7-4 (6-2) in the tough Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference.
As far as offensive linemen go, size usually matters.
But Quaker Valley coach John Tortorea thinks this year's slimmer, quicker offensive line may be just what the Quakers need.
"Last year we were bigger," Tortorea said. "This year we'll be a lot faster. It's a different style but we think the new guys can be as effective as last year's guys."
Mack Perciavelle (5-10, 235, Sr.), Jon Yaworski (6-0, 220, Jr), Chris Jabro (6-0, 190, Sr.), Jeremy Meanor (5-9, 170, Sr.) and James Burnette (5-9, 170, Sr.) will have their hands on the ground in front of quarterback Dane Jackson, who racked up more than 2,000 yards of total offense and 10 touchdowns a year ago.
When Shady Side Academy coach Dave Havern talks about the losses of 2013 Post-Gazette North Xtra Fab 22 all-stars Chuck Calabrese and Dennis Briggs and Jarred Brevard, who all graduated last year, it's not hard to hear what the trio meant to the program.
"You don't replace guys like Briggs and Brevard and Calabrese," Havern said. "They're special guys. They just did great work for us for three, four years."
The seniors accumulated 1,622 yards of total offense and 25 touchdowns between them a season ago, but for as much production as they provided for the Indians, Havern believes this year's success lies in the proverbial trenches.
"The whole starting offensive and defensive line is back so that's a big help," Havern said.
If Freeport wants to avoid another less-than-stellar campaign, coach John Gaillot suggests his team focus more on starting strong instead of just finishing that way.
"It's just how we start," Gaillot said. "If we start with confidence in every game, our record will be different. You can't give someone 14 or 21 points and come back.
"We did that in every game [last year], but we were fortunate enough to come back and win two of them."
The Yellowjackets bring almost everybody back from last year's team that finished 2-8 overall and 2-7 in the Allegheny Conference, including leading passer and rusher Andrew Romanchak, and leading receiver Dylan Hochbein.
With a 42-player roster, Avonworth coach Duke Johncour has high expectations for a team that advanced to the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals a year ago.
The Antelopes went 9-2 overall and finished runner-up to Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in the Eastern Conference with a 7-1 mark. The 'Lopes also lost to the Trojans, 14-7, in the playoffs. They are playing in the Black Hills Conference this season.
"We have a strong core of returning players with solid experience, and we expect to make it to the playoffs and take it as far as we can," Johncour said.
Foremost on the list is Josh Drwal, a 5-8, 160-pound senior slot receiver who last year caught 22 passes for 256 yards, an average of 11.6 yards per catch.
Ninth-year coach Bob Ravenstahl said he hopes his team can build on the success of what he termed a "storybook season" in 2013 that resulted in WPIAL and PIAA Class A championships.
In their final season based on Troy Hill, the Trojans had an unprecedented season, going 16-0.
The Trojans return seven players on offense and six on defense. Foremost on the list is running back P.J,. Fulmore, who is on track to graduate in December and already has committed to attend Duquesne University.
The versatile Fulmore (5-8, 190, Sr.) rushed for 1,213 yards a year ago and was the team's second-leading scorer with 14 touchdowns. He likely would have scored more touchdowns, but he was moved to quarterback when Adam Sharlow sustained a season-ending knee injury five games into the season. Before he was injured, Sharlow (5-10, 185, Sr.) completed 58 passes for 877 yards and eight touchdowns. Fulmore completed 22 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns.
Northgate welcomes back T.J. Wiley as coach as he returns following a one-year stint at Deer Lakes.
Wiley returns to a program that produced a 2-8 overall record last year, including a 2-6 mark in the Eastern Conference. The Flames will play in the reorganized Black Hills Conference this season.
The Flames' primary offensive threat is 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior quarterback Johnny Camello, a two-year starter who has seen varsity action since his freshman season.
Tailback Brett Howell (5-11, 185, Sr.) played his first two years at Northgate before transferring to Pickerington North in Ohio for his junior year. He returns to Northgate for his senior season. He brings some legitimate speed to the Flames offense, having been timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
The 2013 season left a bitter taste in palates of the Springdale High School football team and its coaches.
"Last year was the first year we didn't qualify for the [WPIAL] playoffs after 11 straight postseason appearances," coach Dave Leasure said. "We don't want it to be the norm where we don't make the playoffs."
The Dynamos have been placed in the newly configured Eastern Conference, which features perennial powers Clairton and Monessen and two teams that had done quite well in Class AA in previous seasons, Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette.
To counter the aggressive defenses the Dynamos will see this season, Leasure has been tutoring his 37-player team since January on the intricate nature of the wing-T offense.
The Royals begin full membership in the WPIAL this season as members of the Big Seven Conference. They spent their first two years as an Independent, playing a Tri-County South schedule. Coach Tim Storino welcomed all 11 starters back on defense along with an experienced offensive line.
The Royals will feature a pro-set offense with three-year starter Michael Tappe (5-7, 139, Sr.) at quarterback. The Royals' top runners are Anthony Della Valle (5-9, 180, Jr.) and Micahel Falgione (5-9, 215, Sr.). Three wide receivers — Mitchell Athey (5-9, 160, Sr.), David Fleming (6-1, 170, Soph.) and Jake Thomas (6-0, 170, Sr.) — will be Tappe's main targets.
Athey caught nine touchdown passes a year ago, and Thomas placed sixth in the 400-meter dash last spring at the WPIAL Class AA boys track and field championships.
- Football: Led by experienced QB, Pine-Richland has high hopes
- Football: There's new home but same goals for North Catholic
- Football: Shady Side lineman strikes the right chord
- Blue Chip Chat with Seneca Valley's T.J. Holl
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- Sports Town North Week in Review (Aug. 10-16)
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- Sports Town North Week in Review (Aug. 3-9)
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- Sports Town North Week in Review (July 27-Aug. 2)
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- Boys Volleyball: 2014 North Season Recap
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- Girls Lacrosse: 2014 North Season Recap