Football fans in Western Pennsylvania love a quarterback who is tough, smart, gritty, mobile, team-oriented and, above all else, a winner.
Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett certainly embodies all of those traits, but this isn’t about him. If you look closely, you’ll find another QB of a similar mold wearing black and gold this fall — and he plays on Friday nights, not Sundays.
Like Pickett, North Allegheny’s Logan Kushner might not be the biggest, strongest, fastest or most athletic quarterback you’ll ever see, but he is extremely well-rounded and capable of making plays with both his arm and his legs. When the play breaks down and the pocket collapses with no open receivers, Kushner is more than willing to take off and run. And if you give him time to dissect the defense, the 6-foot senior will stand in the pocket and pick you apart.
So the only question is, if Kushner is a three-year starter at one of the most prominent programs in the state and coming off a WPIAL Class 6A title, why isn’t he one of the area’s most publicized and sought-after players?
“I have no idea. I don’t get it,” Tigers coach Art Walker said. “I think he feels a little bit slighted. He’s got a chip on his shoulder. A lot of QBs are being talked about ahead of him, and I think he definitely took that personally, as he should. I think he’s taking an approach to prove a lot of these critics wrong.”
Kushner, who has a pair of Division II offers from Wheeling University and Notre Dame College, started playing football as a wide receiver in junior high. He never played quarterback until the North Allegheny coaches saw him throwing the pigskin around for fun before practices and games in ninth grade. By the midway point of his sophomore season, he seized control of the Tigers’ starting job and never looked back, completing 139 of 191 passes for 1,481 yards and 12 touchdowns with seven interceptions in a very admirable debut season.
Still, North Allegheny finished only 7-5 overall and lost in the WPIAL semifinals — a worthwhile season to some, but for Tigers fans, it was one to forget.
Luckily for them, Kushner seems to have a short memory. He helped lead North Allegheny to its first WPIAL championship in 10 years last fall, guiding the Tigers to an 11-2 finish while completing 108 of 192 attempts for 1,393 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 230 yards and nine additional scores on the ground, showcasing his deceptive speed later on in the season and emerging as a true dual-threat QB during the team’s postseason push.
“We started running with me late last season, and I guess we’re starting it now early in the season, so that’s good,” Kushner said. “I think we were just waiting for the right time to use it. It was the perfect time, a conference game against Canon-Mac.”
Whether Walker was trying to keep Kushner’s running ability a secret or simply trying to keep him fresh and healthy for the long haul, those days are apparently over. Kushner made that perfectly clear by rushing for 165 yards and three TDs while also passing for 105 yards and a score in a 30-6 win against Canon-McMillan last Friday to improve North Allegheny to 2-0 on the season.
“After the first couple [runs], he started rolling, and we just let him go,” Walker said. “He was getting it done. He was reading his blocks well, he was faking well, putting his foot in the ground and getting downhill and getting positive yards. He got the tough yards, too.
“He’s definitely a tougher quarterback this year. He’s more mature. It’s something we’ll have to take advantage of.”
For his career, Kushner is completing 64.5% of his passes for 3,026 yards and 28 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, with an additional 638 yards and 17 scores on the ground. And with the way his season is starting off, he should be adding on plenty more to those totals before he graduates.
“I’ve been at NA for 19 years, and he’s got to be in that top two, top three [at quarterback], because of the things he’s been able to accomplish and what he’s done consistently for three years,” Walker said. “That hasn’t happened since I’ve been here.”
With Kushner back alongside most of his top weapons from a year ago, including senior receiver Khiryn Boyd and senior running back Tyree Alualu, it’s not hard to imagine the Tigers going back-to-back after waiting a decade between their last two WPIAL title reigns. Then again, they are still ranked No. 2 in Class 6A behind Central Catholic, the team they defeated handily in last year’s WPIAL final.
Does it bother Kushner and his teammates that many view them as the underdog this time around against the Vikings, even with most of their core back from last year? Not really. After all, they’ll all get the chance to prove who deserves the top spot when the teams meet in a little more than two weeks at North Allegheny’s Newman Stadium.
As it so often does, that showdown on Sept. 22 could end up determining the No. 1 seed in this year’s WPIAL playoffs. Perhaps more importantly, it will reveal a lot about how much both teams have improved or regressed since last year — and early indications are that both powerhouse programs are looking better than they have in a long time.
“It’s always a big game [against Central],” Kushner said. “We’re just worried about one game at a time. … They’re honestly a really good team, but we’ll just focus on them when we get to the game.”
In the meantime, priority No. 1 for the Tigers is keeping their focus on a pair of road contests coming up next at McDowell and Baldwin. It won’t be easy with the marquee matchup against Central looming on the horizon, but with a veteran signal caller like Kushner leading the way, Walker can sleep easy knowing that his offense is in good hands and that Kushner won’t be taking any opponent lightly.
“He’s a competitor. He understands that there is pressure with those bigger games,” Walker said. “He’s a kid who is always going to do everything he can to rise to the occasion to have his teammates depend on him. When you go into a game with somebody like Logan who has that kind of confidence, you believe you have a chance to be in it no matter what.”