Central Catholic coach Ryan Lehmeier said that Vernon Settles has a smile that lights up a room, but it’s another of Settles’ abilities, Lehmeier added, that helps enable the talented senior receiver to light up opposing defenses.
“On top of him being exceptionally talented, and I know this is a bold statement, but I don’t think I’ve ever coached anyone that has a better feel for the game of football like Vernon Settles,” Lehmeier said. “He sees the big picture. You can tell football is in his blood, and he has such a great feel for what he’s doing.”
What Settles has done is establish himself as one of the WPIAL’s elite wide receivers, something that has flown a bit under the radar due to Central Catholic’s plethora of Power Five recruits, of which Settles is not one. But when you take into account his numbers, not only this season but throughout his career, it’s easy to see why Lehmeier speaks so highly of the two-time all-conference pick.
Friday, Settles and his teammates will begin their quest for a WPIAL Class 6A championship when No. 1 Central Catholic (9-1) takes on No. 4 Mt. Lebanon (5-5) in a semifinal at Fox Chapel. Central Catholic, which beat Mt. Lebanon, 49-0, in September, is seeking its first title since 2020. The Vikings fell to North Allegheny in last year’s final.
Settles, who lives in Elizabeth, has strong bloodlines in the sport. His father, Vernon, was a standout quarterback at Steel Valley High School who led the Ironmen to a conference title in 1997. His uncle (dad’s brother) is Charlie Batch, who also starred at Steel Valley and spent more than a decade as a quarterback in the NFL. Oh, and if that’s not enough, one of Settles’ cousins is Terrelle Pryor. The two share the same grandmother.
“Huge,” Settles said of his family’s love for football. “That’s all we talk about.”
Young Vernon’s talent and production has likely been a common talking point in recent years. Settles (5 feet 11, 160 pounds) is one of the WPIAL’s active leaders in career catches and yards. His four-year total, which includes his freshman season at Elizabeth Forward, stands at 122 receptions, 1,633 yards and 14 touchdowns. Settles leads Central Catholic in receptions for the second year in a row. His 39 catches actually lead all of WPIAL Class 6A. Settles has turned those receptions into 611 yards and eight touchdowns. A season ago, he hauled in 54 catches for 660 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s had a really good season,” Lehmeier said. “We challenge him every week and ask him to do a lot of things.”
Settles also plays safety and returns kicks and punts, but it’s his work at receiver that has played a big part in Central Catholic averaging 45.7 points per game. Behind the outstanding play of quarterback Payton Wehner (2,456 yards, 32 touchdowns), the Vikings have scored at least 42 points in all but one game. Settles teams with Penn State recruit Peter Gonzalez (34 catches, 891 yards, 12 touchdowns) to give the Vikings one of the top receiver duos in the state. Jacob Sassic (24 catches, 513 yards, 7 touchdowns) and Cole Sullivan (22 catches, 250 yards, 4 touchdowns) have been reliable targets for Wehner, as well.
“I think Payton is the best quarterback in the state and I think Pete is the best receiver in the state. Teams can’t stop us,” Settles said.
Like his father and uncle, Settles played quarterback growing up. He quarterbacked teams from when he first suited up for the Steel Valley Termites all the way up until his freshman season at Elizabeth Forward. But Settles made a position change that season, and it continues to pay off.
“You’ll sometimes hear that a guy is stiff. Vernon is exceptionally loose,” Lehmeier said. “He has a great ability to get in and out of cuts and to make plays in space, and he’s physical enough that he can get in a phone booth and fight you, too. He may not be the biggest kid, but he packs a punch.”
That size has played a part in Settles not receiving the big-time offers that some of his teammates have been dealt. But that’s not to say he’s not in demand. Akron, Duquesne and Monmouth have all offered, and Lehmeier said a few other schools have been showing interest. Going to a MAC school certainly worked out for one member of Settles’ family. Batch starred at Eastern Michigan before taking his talents to the NFL.
Settles said he and Batch are close. Batch attends many of his games, Settles said, adding that he is a regular at Batch’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.
Settles hopes to talk about his team winning a WPIAL title while at the dinner table tackling turkey and stuffing later this month. The holiday falls five days after the WPIAL championship is held Nov. 18 at Norwin High School. Settles accounted for two touchdowns in last year’s championship loss.
What’s interesting is that Settles will face his old coach for the second time this season Friday. First-year Mt. Lebanon coach Mike Collodi spent the previous eight seasons at Elizabeth Forward.
Settles has done a lot of winning in his career — his teams have gone 33-10 — but he has never won a WPIAL title. In fact, he has played on three teams that have finished as the runner-up.
But with two more wins, that narrative will change.
“It would mean everything,” Settles said. “Right now I’m 0-3, but I’m pretty sure this is our year.”