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“Mr. High School Sports” – Meet The Big 7′s Ready-For-Prime-Time Players

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Over two months ago ROOT Sports and the WPIAL agreed to continue the network’s “McDonald’s High School Football” program. Their 2013 television schedule should be released soon, and one featured game, in fact, seems to have been leaked.

According to a source close to the program, “McDonald’s High School Football” will film at Sto-Rox Thu., Sept. 12, when the two-time Class A finalist meets Big 7 Conference rival Neshannock.

Expect that Week 3 ROOT Sports telecast to be tape-delayed in deference to Pirates coverage, though, again, details concerning their live WPIAL football coverage are not yet public knowledge.

Head coach Dan Bradley apparently allowed network officials to do some location scouting at Memorial Stadium on the McKees Rocks campus this past spring.

Since the network then known as FSN (Fox Sports Net) Pittsburgh televised the district championships in 1996, it has managed to feature 60% of the current WPIAL football schools.

It began carrying regular season contests in 2005, and since then, Sto-Rox has made only one other regular season appearance on “McDonald’s High School Football,” defeating Seton-LaSalle in a Class AA Century Conference home game Oct. 1, 2009.

They picked a good time to return. Four years ago, the Vikings had a very hyped quarterback in former Penn State commit and soon-to-be Robert Morris signal-caller Paul Jones. Now dual-threat Lenny Williams, who has thrown for over 5,000 yards and run for well over 1,000 more entering his senior year, leads a team considered among the elite in Class A, and a favorite to repeat as conference champs.

Williams (6’0″, 195 lbs.) is intent on playing Division I ball as a QB, as opposed to a safety. He is believed to be very close to committing to Temple, which, of the three schools to offer him (Bowling Green and Rutgers being the others), is the only one serious about playing him on offense.

Sto-Rox, the second-highest scoring team in the classification last year, has another loaded weapon in senior running back/linebacker Brandon Blair, who ran for 800 yards and collected 19 touchdowns as a junior. Plus, despite some reports to the contrary–including our own–former Perry athlete Mallory Claybourne will officially join the program for his own senior season by this time next week.

Rumors had been persisting that Claybourne, who once made All-City League as a defensive back, would be snapped up by the newly formed Renaissance Christian Academy program.

Meanwhile, the ROOT Sports cameras might also want to keep an eye on Neshannock senior Ernie Burkes. The 5’10″, 160-pound quarterback will carry the Lancers’ spread offense after accumulating 2,362 offensive yards and 30 total touchdowns to help them clinch their first playoff berth since 2004.

He’ll be handing off to Eli Owens, who is coming off a sensational sophomore campaign of 1,268 yards and nine scores.

Pending ROOT Sports’ formal schedule release, Neshannock would become the 18th different Class A program to be featured, and the Lancers would join New Castle as the only Lawrence County teams ever to appear on the network.

Last year they edged Sto-Rox, 35-34, at Bob Bleggi Stadium and shared the Big 7 crown with the Vikings and Rochester, each of whom finished 7-1 in conference play. A rare 10-2 overall record was good enough to get Neshannock, led by new head coach Fred Mozzocio, to the WPIAL Semifinals, where it fell to Clairton.

Bradley, also entering his second year as a head coach after many as an offensive coordinator, knows a thing or two about that; his Vikings were twice victimized by the “Bout Dat” Bears at Heinz Field, including that team’s historic 60th consecutive win.


–There’s a lot of surprise that Pittsburgh Central Catholic senior quarterback J.J. Consentino was named the Preseason Mr. Football for Pennsylvania by MaxPreps, and understandably so. His pedestrian stat line of 552 yards and three touchdown passes in 2012 were overshadowed by the work of Terry Totten’s running game, led by Luigi Lista-Brinza.

Granted, with Lista-Brinza entering his senior year, this will still probably be a run-first offense, and Central doesn’t have the same Division I talent at receiver as when Perry Hills was at the trigger a couple years ago. Still, they’ll have capable ones in Shafer Swann and Cam Sutherland, and Lista-Brinza is a nice multi-purpose back every now and then.

Furthermore, Consentino has had more time to get settled in and really digest Totten’s playbook since transferring from Kiski Area. Don’t underestimate the intangibles.

He’s been recruited by and committed to Florida State and has been recognized as a Semper Fidelis All-American, so we know the raw talent is in there, or so we suspect. His challenge will be pressure management, with Central being one of the heavy favorites in Quad-A.

Gee, a Hills-Consentino showdown for the ACC championship would be fun to watch someday, yes?

–You might say the WPIAL has become a “MAC machine.” Heck, I said it last summer.

Since 2010, enough district football prospects to field a competitive team have committed to nine of the Mid-American Conference’s 12 schools, and Beaver Falls teammates Brock Boxen and Elijah Cottrill are both headed to Akron next fall.

Boxen (6’2″, 250 lbs.) made All-MAC (no, the other one) as an underclassman on the offensive/defensive lines, and he helped pave the way for one of the premier running attacks in Class AA. After being scouted by Big Ten schools and being offered by Pitt, he’ll play strong side defensive end for the Zips.

Cottrill (6’2″, 170 lbs.), a wide receiver, defensive back, and kicker for the Tigers, averaged 20 yards a catch and registered 74 points, including nine touchdowns, as a junior in 2012. He committed over the weekend to play safety.

Here’s a glimpse of this dynamic–or is it dyna-”MAC?”–duo in action against arch-rival Beaver last season:

–In PIHL hockey news, more aspects of the league’s 2013-14 alignment have trickled our way.

Bill Beckner of the Valley News-Dispatch reports the newly formed Armstrong program, a result of an early merger by Ford City and Kittanning, will compete in Section 3 of Class AA with Cathedral Prep and Hampton.

While the Talbots have made strides, and the Ramblers will try to re-establish themselves after significant roster turnover, Armstrong should be an immediate force out of that section. It will be coached by Doug Anthony and assisted by Glen Kilgore–each of whom won Open Cup titles with Ford City in 2009 and 2013, respectively–and the erstwhile Wildcats, one of the top offensive clubs in Class A this decade, have made four straight Penguins Cup Semifinals, twice losing to eventual champ Quaker Valley.

To make matters better for the hybrid club, at first glance this looks like another year without a clear-cut preseason favorite in Class AA.

(Contact me at mpopchock@kdka.com and/or follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)

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