Springdale’s line could lead it to Eastern title
Springdale is thinking big.
The Dynamos’ top six linemen boast an average height and weight of 6-foot-3, 265 pounds.
Senior tackle Dylan Dzugan, who has a scholarship offer from Division I-FCS Delaware, is 6-7, 270.
And he’s not even the biggest guy on the roster. Junior tackle Nathan Joyce is 6-7, 340.
Also, senior center/defensive tackle Corey Kaczor was first team all-conference on offense last year.
With those big guys up front and a returning quarterback and running back, Springdale could capture the Eastern Conference title after finishing second last season.
But Avonworth, Brentwood and North Catholic also figure to be in contention for the conference crown.
Avonworth is the defending conference champ and went 11-0 before losing in the WPIAL semifinals — the furthest the Antelopes had gone since tying for the Class A title in 1959. Once a WPIAL doormat, the Antelopes will be taken seriously this season.
Referring to Springdale, Avonworth coach Jason Kekseo said a huge line doesn’t guarantee a conference title.
“Those kids have to be able to get off the ball,” Kekseo said. “I don’t think size is too much of an advantage.”
In addition to a group of huge and talented linemen, the Dynamos also feature experienced skill players.
Senior quarterback Brian Shemenski rushed 101 times for 600 yards and seven touchdowns and completed 27-of-61 passes for 380 yards and nine scores last season. He also earned first-team all-conference honors.
Junior Billy Arch, a motion back in the Dynamos’ unconventional offense, is a threat to run (605 yards and four TDs on 71 carries) and catch the ball.
Versatile junior quarterback Martin Long was one of the most productive players in Class A last season, and the junior returns to lead another charge to the playoffs.
In 2008, Long passed for 1,397 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 483 yards and six scores, helping the Trojans advance to the WPIAL quarterfinals.
Long will be joined in the backfield by running backs Julian Durden (491 yards and 8 TDs on 84 carries and Matt Fedzen (306 yards and two TDs on 55 carries).
North Catholic graduated a group of talented linemen but welcomed the addition of 6-3, 265-pound senior Tim Wood, who moved from Michigan.
The Spartans will be guided by a talented triumvirate of skill players who led them to the playoffs last season.
Senior receiver Danny Lucas (30 receptions for 570 yards and six TDs) and junior quarterback Corey Bauer (74-of-142 for 1,033 yards and seven TDs) were one of the more productive passing combinations in the WPIAL.
And senior running back Lamont Robinson (432 yards and seven TDs on 83 carries) can keep defenses from loading up against the pass.
Much will depend on if the Spartans can rebuild their offensive and defensive lines after key graduations, coach Kevin Kissel said.
The Antelopes advanced to the WPIAL semifinals last season, but the graduation of six first-team all-conference players leaves big holes to fill.
Avonworth will have 10 new starters on offense and eight on defense. However, the Antelopes have a solid group to build around.
Senior speedster Jimmy Zubik, a first-team all-conference kick returner, will move from wide receiver to running back to replace Khiry Watts, who rushed for 1,701 yards and 20 touchdowns last season.
Also returning are senior quarterback Tom Turnbull (20-of-42 for 311 yards and five TDs) and senior offensive lineman Mike Simmons, a first-team all-conference selection.
The Raiders finished 3-7 overall but just missed qualifying for the playoffs last season. A 25-13 loss to Brentwood in Week 6 was the backbreaker.
Riverview returns first-team all-conference defensive lineman Corey Gregory, who’s a senior.
The Raiders also have junior quarterback Terrel Craighead, who passed for 702 yards and two touchdowns last year, and junior wide receiver/defensive back Brandon Seachrist, who had 15 receptions for 258 yards and a score and three interceptions.
Coach Ryan Gevaudan said he’s excited about the group of running backs he has to carry the Cougars’ triple-option attack.
Juniors Jake Howard (485 yards and four TDs on 83 carries) and Jake Hatcher (447 yards and four TDs on 64 carries are the leading returners. Others, such as junior Luis Garcia, are expected to contribute.
Carlynton will break in a new quarterback and several linemen. Star blocker Jordan Roussos is now at Bowling Green.
The Blue Devils went winless last season, but they return all but two of their players. Experience and depth shouldn’t be a problem, according to coach Mark Adams.
Leechburg will revert to the Pro-I offense after a brief experiment with a spread attack.
Senior Joe Diani, who was the starting quarterback last year, will move to wide receiver. Diani also was named first-team all-conference at punter in 2008.
Leechburg last appeared in the playoffs in 1988.
The immediate goal is to get a win and reach 500 all-time victories. The long-range mission is to return to the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Senior Deshawn Hinton is a speedster who earned first-team all-conference honors as a kick returner last year. He also starts at wide receiver and cornerback.
Hinton leads a strong group of targets for returning quarterback Travis Evans, according to coach Cliff Simon.
5 MUST-SEE GAMES
BRENTWOOD at AVONWORTH
7:30 p.m. Sept. 18 · Lenzer Field
Team on the rise visits defending conference champ.
SPRINGDALE at NORTH CATHOLIC
7:30 p.m. Sept. 18 · J.C. Stone Field
Springdale slipped by North Catholic, 14-7, last year.
SPRINGDALE at AVONWORTH
7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 · Lenzer Field
Avonworth’s 22-21 win last year decided first place.
AVONWORTH at NORTH CATHOLIC
7:30 p.m. Oct. 30 · J.C. Stone Field
Avonworth beat North Catholic in 2008 WPIAL quarterfinals.
SPRINGDALE at RIVERVIEW
Noon Oct. 31 · Riverside Park
Longtime rivals clash on Halloween afternoon.
5 PLAYERS TO WATCH
Springdale, Jr., RB/DB, 6-foot-1, 170 pounds
Arch is the top returning rusher in the conference with 605 yards and four touchdowns on 71 carries. His contributions could increase after the graduation of 1,000-yard rusher Adam Shepherd.
Riverview, Sr., OL/DL, 6-foot-1, 260
Gregory is a run-stuffer who earned first-team all-conference honors as a defensive lineman.
North Catholic, Jr., QB/DB, 6-foot-2, 195
Long passed and rushed for a combined 1,880 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. He was named first-team all-conference along with Springdale’s Brian Shemenski.
Brentwood, Sr., WR/DB, 6-foot-1, 185
Lucas topped the conference with 30 catches for 570 yards and six touchdowns and also grabbed four interceptions. He was one of two players named first-team all-conference at wide receiver.
Brentwood, Sr., RB/LB, 5-foot-10, 195
Robinson, a small but powerful runner, was named a second-team all-conference player at fullback last season. He rushed for 432 yards and seven touchdowns on 83 carries. He will move to tailback.
5 THINGS TO KNOW
1 — Victories needed by Wilkinsburg to join the 500-win club. The Tigers entered last season with 498 wins and went 1-8.
3 — Shutouts for North Catholic’s defense last year, leading the conference.
12 — Consecutive losses for Leechburg, which last won Oct. 5, 2007.
244 — Career wins for Springdale coach Chuck Wagner, 74, who became a head coach at Oakmont (now part of Riverview) in 1961.
1950 — Graduation year of North Catholic alum and Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who was a standout quarterback.
The big question
Do you think Springdale’s huge offensive line will dominate this season?
“I honestly do. Nobody will be as big as our line, and everybody has got experience, too.” — COREY KACZOR, Springdale senior lineman
TAKE 5 with JIMMY ZUBIK
Avonworth · senior running back/defensive back
Not so long ago, Avonworth was a downtrodden program, but the Antelopes advanced to the WPIAL Class A semifinals last season. Is there a lot of excitement about the upcoming season?
Definitely. Everyone in the community is pumped up for this season. I talked to some students, who are not playing but are ready to cheer us on. The community has definitely changed.
You returned two kickoffs and two punts for touchdowns last season and were named a first-team all-conference kick returner. What is your secret to success?
It’s something I’ve been really good at since I was younger. I’ve been complimented on my vision. I’m not the fastest or biggest (5-foot-8, 160 pounds). I just try to go for the open spot.
Why didn’t you play football as a sophomore?
I played ice hockey, and we (North Pittsburgh Wildcats Midget 16-Under AA team) won a state championship that year. It’s hard to do both. Now, I just play dek hockey. It’s a good way to keep conditioning up.
Are you hoping to play in college, and do you think your skills as a returner could help with recruiting?
I am trying to play in college. I want to do kickoffs and punt returns as my main position.
Your longest kick return last year was 83 yards against Springdale. How did you feel afterward?
I was tired, but my emotions didn’t let me be tired. I’ve always done a pretty good job staying well-conditioned. After the game, I felt it.
Team: Last year
North Catholic: 8-3