The high school football season kicks off in just a few days. But chances are if you’re reading this, you were already well aware of that.
Covering high school football in Western Pa. has been a part of my life for about a quarter century now. It started when I was a freshman at Point Park and would take scoring summaries over the phone while working at a newspaper that at the time was located just down the street. I would see my role expand as the years went on, from typing agate and writing roundups to eventually covering games. Now, for the first time in my career, I’m preparing to kick off the season while writing for a different publication. We call it progress — the Pittsburgh Union Progress.
In some ways, I enjoy covering the opening night of the season even more than playoff or championship games. Why? Because every team is undefeated and brimming with hope, hope that they can put together the type of successful season they have been working toward. All of those tiring sprints in the hot summer weather. All of those tough days in the weight room. This is the time when you hope it all pays off. Good luck to all teams this season. Make the most of it. I know I will.
On that note, here are 10 things I’m looking forward to watching this season …
• The Pit 2.0. How cool is it that Aliquippa finally got what was a long overdue makeover? In my opinion, there is no better place to watch a game in Western Pennsylvania. The last one I covered there was in 2020 when the Quips and Belle Vernon played a very entertaining WPIAL semifinal game. Looking at pictures I took at that game compared to photos of the newly renovated Pit, it’s like night and day. I can’t wait to see that place for myself.
• House rules? For my money, there was no better story last season than Westinghouse. Now, a year after their improbable march to the PIAA Class 2A final, what will the Bulldogs do next? Many key players need to be replaced, among them all-state quarterback Keyshawn Morsillo, but it’s difficult to bet against coach Donta Green, who has built something special at the school. I’m especially looking forward to watching the team’s next star, sophomore Kyshawn Robinson.
• Surprise, surprise. I love, love, love seeing teams come out of the woodwork to have special seasons. Latrobe and Hempfield come to mind as fitting that bill last season. Latrobe ended a 54-year drought without a playoff win. Hempfield ended up falling short of the playoffs, but its 5-0 start was its best in 51 years and had the community buzzing. Who will surprise this season?
• Is Central the real deal? You might have heard that Central Catholic is loaded. What’s new, right? You won’t find many senior classes around here with so much high-end talent. The Vikings have four seniors bound for Power Five schools and a slew of underclassmen who could be headed there in the future. I swung by Oakland for a practice Tuesday and, umm, the Vikings looked the part. I also loved the Ryan Lehmeier hire. He appears to be the perfect fit.
• Tale of the Barksdales. Cruce Brookins had a marvelous 2022 season in leading Steel Valley to a WPIAL Class 2A title. With Brookins now at Pitt, Steel Valley will be led by the sibling duo of Donald and Da’Ron Barksdale. Donald, a junior, is the starting running back and Da’Ron, a sophomore with Power Five offers, is the starting quarterback. Both are dynamic and explosive, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see both reach 1,000 yards rushing this season.
• Q’s closing statement. Quinton Martin has already achieved legendary status at Belle Vernon. The fact that he’s considered the best player in the state and one of the best running backs in the country speaks for itself, but Martin last season helped bring the Leopards a WPIAL title and first PIAA title. Before Martin heads off to Penn State, he appears to have a good shot of reaching 4,000 career rushing yards. And who knows, maybe he’ll leave with another state title.
• All eyes on Dugger. When you’re a quarterback in Western Pa. and a Pitt commit, you’re going to get a lot of attention. Chances are many Panthers fans will be keeping close tabs on Penn Hills’ Julian Dugger, a southpaw and outstanding athlete who had quite a few high-flying dunks while helping the Indians win a WPIAL basketball title. Nobody is saying he’ll become a Pitt legend like fellow Penn Hills guys Bill Fralic and Aaron Donald, but, hey, you never know.
• New coaches. There was turnover in the coaching community, as about two dozen schools have new coaches. Lehmeier and Mike Collodi (Mt. Lebanon) take over programs that won WPIAL Class 6A titles in recent years. Both are in their 30s and bring a lot of energy. Collodi had considerable success at Elizabeth Forward. Another notable hire was Woodland Hills’ Brian Tarrant, as was Burgettstown’s Mark Druga, who was highly successful in a previous stint there.
• Fabulous freshmen. It’s always fun to see the next crop of star players make their way into high school. Central Catholic and Shady Side Academy both have several highly touted ninth-graders. Central Catholic boasts guys such as Larry Moon and Roman Thompson, while Shady Side features Khalil Taylor and Nelson Coleman, among others. I have also been hearing good things about Central Valley’s Jance Henry and Pine-Richland’s Aaron Strader.
• Famous fathers. It’s neat watching sons of former stars make their own marks. North Allegheny’s Tyree Alualu, son of ex-Steeler Tyson Alualu, is one of the top players in the area. You probably were aware of that, but did you know Darrelle Revis and James Harrison both have kids playing? Jayden Revis is a freshman at Moon, and James Harrison III a sophomore at North Allegheny. Feeling old, right?
Editor Rick Davis
Reporters Brad Everett, Steve Rotstein, John Santa, Rob Joesbury, Saul Berrios-Thomas
Photographers Emily Matthews, Steve Mellon
Art designer Jennifer Kundrach
Web designer Tyler Pecyna