Team to beat
Thomas Jefferson -- After winning three consecutive WPIAL titles and two PIAA championships in a row, who else would be the team to beat? Receiver/defensive back Jim Giansante is one of the best all-around players in Class AAA. Receivers Ed Hasis and Steve Licht also are back. Sophomore Rob Ruffing could turn into a productive running back. With senior Sam Johnston in his first year as starter, quarterback play will be a key.
Trinity -- With eight starters returning on offense and defense, it could be a good season for the Hillers. Defensive end Ken Wilkins is a Michigan recruit. Dan Miller rushed for 525 yards in four games before getting hurt. Andrew Steratore shows promise at quarterback and Kyle McWreath has the potential to be a standout linebacker.
Chartiers Valley -- Six starters return on offense and defense. Sophomore Wayne Capers, who started three games last season at quarterback, could have a big season. Beau Carson was a first-team all-conference running back last year.
West Mifflin -- Third-year coach Tim Brennan said, "We have the best group of kids since I have been here." Five starters return on offense and seven on defense, including quarterback Imir Sanders, lineman Beau Miller and linebacker Mark Centofanti.
Belle Vernon -- New coach Aaron Krepps is excited because eight starters return on offense and seven on defense. Senior Cory Williams rushed for 793 yards last season. Offensive guard Tyler Sellew and center Andrew Spate are both three-year starters.
Elizabeth Forward -- With the entire backfield back from last season, things are looking up for the Warriors. Greg Sotereanos is a 6-4, 240-pound fullback who rushed for 590 yards.
Ringgold -- New coach Lloyd Price has only five seniors and one returning starter (lineman Bill Marnich).
Team to beat
Hopewell -- Rushel Shell is the main reason big things are expected of the Vikings. Shell is a 5-11, 215-pound sophomore who had one of the best freshman seasons in WPIAL history, rushing for 1,516 yards and gaining 200 yards in three consecutive games. Mark Ross is a talented receiver (24 catches last year). Fullback/linebacker Brendan Taylor and running back/linebacker Malcolm Lay are other top returnees.
New Castle -- The Hurricanes lost QB Mike Bongivengo (Fabulous 22 last year) to graduation, but they still have some excellent skill-position players in running back Keith Keene and receiver JaJuan Jay. Defensive lineman Dom Cook and senior linebacker John Fields are other top returnees.
Montour -- Quarterback E.J. Banks has graduated and is now at Notre Dame, and finding a replacement for him will be key. But six starters return on both offense and defense. Phil Peckich, who rushed for 645 yards last season, will be a four-year starter at defensive back. Junior linebacker Evan Pass was the team's leading tackler as a sophomore. Lineman George Beerhalter had 63 tackles.
West Allegheny -- The Indians look to be improved after missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 1996.
Blackhawk -- The Cougars lost 24 seniors, but the defense should remain solid with five returning starters. Running back/defensive back Caleb Mancini is one to watch.
Ambridge -- Neil Tkatch takes over for retired coach Don Yannessa. Tkatch must improve a defense that gave up 27 points or more six times last season.
Moon -- Jon Miller, a former Upper St. Clair assistant, is in his first season as coach. The Tigers hope to be a little more competitive after averaging only 11 points a game last season.
Team to beat
Greensburg Salem -- The Lions have six returning starters from an offense that averaged 30.3 points a game last season. The running game should be strong with tailback Matt Adams (921 yards rushing last season) and fullback Brian Riffle (248 yards). Drew Manley caught 22 passes a year ago. Tight end/defensive end Vince Mongelluzzo is one of the conference's top linemen.
Uniontown -- Replacing graduated quarterback Doug Sanner won't be easy, but the offense has a talented running back in senior Arnold Walker, who rushed for a team-high 865 yards last season. On defense, linebacker Ron Skinner and lineman Tyler Hager were both first-team all-conference a year ago.
Laurel Highlands -- At minimum, the Mustangs should make the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, but they could challenge for the conference title. Tim Bradley, a 1,000-yard rusher last year, has graduated, but Dylan Clifford and Ryan Reed could make for a nice running combination.
Yough -- New coach Jim Ward has only five starters returning from last year's conference championship team. Mike Madden has moved from receiver to quarterback.
Derry -- After going 0-20 in Ron Polinsky's first two years as coach, the Trojans were 5-5 last season. Nine starters return on both offense and defense. Quarterback Mike Kelly threw for 852 yards and running back Domenic Hoffman led in rushing with 625 yards.
Albert Gallatin -- The Colonials will try to improve on last year's 1-5 conference record. They could have a good running game with junior Grayling Sanders, who rushed for 1,008 yards and averaged 10 yards a carry as a sophomore.
Southmoreland -- The Scotties moved up from Class AA to AAA last year and didn't win a game. Five starters return on offense and three on defense. Kekoa Hillen (6-2, 295) is a promising junior lineman.
Team to beat
Indiana -- It's hard to pick a favorite in this conference because there is no overwhelming team. But Indiana was 8-3 last season and has enough returning to be good again. Quarterback Ben Fiscus, has graduated, but running back Vinnie Gatti rushed for 516 yards last season and Kevin Stapleton led in receptions. Chad Corle was an all-conference offensive guard.
Mars -- Four starters return on offense and six on defense. Junior Austin Miele rushed for 1,080 yards as a sophomore. Brody Maughan-Evanson is a talented senior lineman.
Highlands -- The Rams were undefeated in the 2008 regular season, but that team had 22 seniors. On top of that, three starters for this year transferred. Still, coach Sam Albert always has a competitive team. Junior lineman Tyler Runyan (6-3, 290) and receivers Dylan Powell, Tyler Cole and Seth Edwards are among the top returnees.
Franklin Regional -- If the Panthers get decent play at quarterback, they could make some noise. Offensive tackle Sean Hickey (6-5, 285) has Division I college scholarship offers.
Hampton -- With eight starters back on both offense and defense, the Talbots should be much-improved over last year's 1-8 team. Senior tight end/linebacker Jordan Paskorz (6-4, 230) is a Michigan recruit.
Knoch -- Only four starters return from last year's 2-7 team. One of them is quarterback Jake McTighe (6-2, 220).
First published on August 28, 2009 at 12:00 am