The wait is almost over.

High school football season in Western Pennsylvania begins Friday night, when teams take the field for opening night looking to prove their worth and begin their journeys toward becoming conference, WPIAL or maybe even state champions.

But first, before any whistles are blown or touchdowns are scored, the Pittsburgh Union Progress is unveiling its first-ever installment of WPIAL and City League football rankings — the best in show, if you will. These rankings should serve as a barometer for which teams have the most returning talent in 2023, but there are always new players and teams waiting to emerge. And even though some may feel snubbed by their placement in the rankings or lack thereof, remember this — it’s not where you start but where you finish that matters.

The PUP plans to continue issuing weekly rankings throughout the season, with all rankings voted on by the PUP sports staff. Check out the first batch of preseason rankings below:

North Allegheny senior Khiryn Boyd will try to help push the Tigers past Central Catholic for another WPIAL Class 6A title in 2023. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 6A

1. Central Catholic

2. North Allegheny

3. Mt. Lebanon

4. Canon-McMillan

5. Seneca Valley

The skinny: North Allegheny is the defending champion, and the Tigers could easily be slotted into the top spot with senior quarterback Logan Kushner and senior receiver-defensive back Khiryn Boyd back in the mix. But Central is too deep and too talented across the board not to take the preseason No. 1 ranking under new coach Ryan Lehmeier. The Vikings boast several Power Five recruits on both sides of the ball, and senior quarterback Payton Wehner is entering his third year as a starter. Mt. Lebanon holds the No. 3 spot for now under new coach Mike Collodi, but spots three through five could see plenty of shuffling throughout the year.

Pine-Richland linebacker Evan Johnson figures to be a leader on defense for the Rams after helping them win WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A titles in 2022. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 5A

1. Gateway

2. Pine-Richland

Class previews

3. Penn Hills

4. Woodland Hills

5. Peters Township

The skinny: Much like in Class 6A, defending champion Pine-Richland certainly has a worthy case for the No. 1 spot here, but the Rams will have to settle for No. 2 for now behind Gateway. The Gators have all-state quarterback Brad Birch back for his senior year, and he’ll have an abundance of weapons at his disposal this fall. Penn Hills also has an argument for the top spot with the dynamic duo of senior quarterback Julian Dugger and senior running back Amir Key. Woodland Hills is young but rich with talent after gaining vital playoff experience a year ago, and Peters Township has a deep senior class looking to go out with a bang.

Aliquippa quarterback Quentin “Cheese” Goode prepares to make a pass during practice Aug. 8 at The Pit. Goode will look to lead Aliquippa to its third consecutive WPIAL Class 4A title as a senior. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 4A

1. Aliquippa

2. Thomas Jefferson

3. McKeesport

4. Central Valley

5. North Catholic

The skinny: After moving up from Class 3A to Class 4A, all Aliquippa has done is reach three consecutive WPIAL championship games — winning the past two after losing the 2020 final in overtime to Thomas Jefferson. The Quips have advanced to back-to-back state championship games along with a record 15 consecutive WPIAL title games, and they’ll be a popular pick to three-peat this year with senior quarterback Quentin “Cheese” Goode and junior running back Tiqwai Hayes at the forefront. Thomas Jefferson, McKeesport and Central Valley are practically interchangeable at spots two through four, while North Catholic edged out a crop of other worthy contenders for the No. 5 ranking.

Andrew Kuban and Avonworth could be on a collision course with Adam LaCarte and Belle Vernon once again after the teams clashed in last year’s WPIAL Class 3A title game at Acrisure Stadium. Belle Vernon won, 24-7. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 3A

1. Belle Vernon

2. Avonworth

3. Elizabeth Forward

Class Focus

4. East Allegheny

5. West Mifflin

The skinny: An overwhelming favorite to defend its WPIAL Class 3A crown, Belle Vernon brings back a loaded senior class led by five-star Penn State recruit Quinton Martin. The Leopards should be strong up front once again, and coach Matt Humbert has built the program into one of the WPIAL’s most consistent winners, so don’t expect them to fall off any time soon. Avonworth has reached two WPIAL title games in the past four seasons under Duke Johncour, and the Antelopes could make another trip to Acrisure Stadium this fall. Although Elizabeth Forward lost coach Mike Collodi and a handful of key seniors, the Warriors should have a strong team once again. East Allegheny and West Mifflin have enough returning talent to make some noise, but likely not enough to beat Belle Vernon.

Steel Valley fans are hoping to make a return trip to Acrisure Stadium after watching the Ironmen capture the WPIAL Class 2A title in 2022. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 2A

1. Steel Valley

2. Beaver Falls

3. Washington

4. Keystone Oaks

5. Imani Christian

The skinny: Steel Valley may have lost star senior quarterback Cruce Brookins, now a defensive back at Pitt, but the Ironmen have plenty of talent returning in their bid to repeat as WPIAL Class 2A champions. Beaver Falls is always in the mix, having reached three consecutive WPIAL title games while winning one, and this year should be no different. Washington should have an explosive and athletic squad capable of lighting up the scoreboard, and Keystone Oaks and Imani Christian both feature major-college talent in Golden Eagles senior Clinton Robinson, a Syracuse recruit, and Saints junior Dayshaun Burnett and sophomore David Davis.

Union coach Kim Niedbala will try to guide the Scotties to a second consecutive WPIAL title after leading them all the way to the PIAA championship game in his first year at the helm. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 1A

1. Bishop Canevin

2. Union

3. Greensburg Central Catholic

4. Fort Cherry

5. Clairton

The skinny: Union shocked Bishop Canevin with a 26-0 shutout in last year’s WPIAL Class 1A final, and the Scotties and Crusaders could see each other at Acrisure Stadium once again with both teams bringing back plenty of big names. Canevin gets the nod in the No. 1 spot for now, with West Virginia recruit Jason Cross leading the way along with quarterback Kole Olszewski and running back Marquis Carter. Greensburg Central Catholic features quarterback Tyree Turner and wide receiver Samir Crosby, and Fort Cherry is led by sophomore sensation Matt Sieg, who accounted for 44 touchdowns as a freshman quarterback. Once a near-lock to play for a WPIAL championship, Clairton hasn’t been to the WPIAL final since 2020, but coach Wayne Wade has high hopes for the Bears in 2023.

Westinghouse fans had plenty to cheer about last season, when the Bulldogs finished 14-1 while reaching the PIAA championship game for the first time in school history. (Photo by Jason Cohn/Pittsburgh Public Schools)

City League

1. Westinghouse

2. University Prep

3. Allderdice

The skinny: There’s some chatter about University Prep possibly having enough talent to knock Westinghouse off its throne in the City League, but until proven otherwise, the Bulldogs are still the undisputed kings of the city after winning three of the past four titles and reaching last year’s PIAA Class 2A championship game. Westinghouse lost a lot from last year’s team, but the Bulldogs still have plenty of playmakers and a rock-solid winning culture in place under fifth-year coach Donta Green. Daniel Cain and Xair Stevenson are two of the top returning players for the Panthers, while Allderdice lost several key seniors after reaching the City League final for the third year in a row.

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at