“Mr. High School Sports” – Best of the Rest: WPIAL Football
By Matt Popchock
Recently CBS Sports recruiting guru Tom Lemming released his list of the top 100 recruits for the Class of 2012 on brother website MaxPreps.com. Three WPIAL players who just completed their junior seasons made the cut, and it should come as little surprise who led that pack.
Hopewell tailback Rushel Shell has been regarded as one of the best players at his position in America since his freshman campaign, when he won MaxPreps’ National Freshman of the Year award and seemed to draw scholarship offers from across the country in the blink of an eye. He sits at No. 11 on the list after finishing second in the WPIAL with 2,102 regular season rushing yards and finishing third in the district with 25 total touchdowns, 23 of them on the ground. His seemingly indomitable pursuit of Mike Vernillo’s WPIAL career rushing record shouldn’t be ignored either.
Making the list at No. 82 was versatile tailback Greg Garmon of Erie McDowell, who finished fifth in Class AAAA with 1,110 rushing yards, running for 11 touchdowns and catching two TD passes. Sto-Rox linebacker Deaysean Rippy made the Vikings’ defense formidable, which helped them earn one of the top playoff spots in Class A, and he was picked No. 96.
It’s nice to see three 2012 graduates singled out like this after what was widely considered a down year for recruiting in western PA. But we all know the pantry is never bare around here when it comes to players who are NCAA material. Besides Shell, Garmon, and Rippy, here are some of the other noteworthy 2012 recruits from the WPIAL:
Dillon Buechel – QB – Montour
6’4″, 175 lbs.
In 2010, just his second year as starter, Buechel finished eighth in the WPIAL and fourth in Class AAA in passing yards during the regular season. By the time he had led the Spartans to a perfect regular campaign and second Heinz Field appearance in four years, he was the second-leading passer in the district with 2,221 yards, 24 touchdowns, and just six picks. He could be the top QB in the WPIAL this approaching season. Though he has not received any verbal offers yet, he has drawn interest from Pitt, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, NC State, and Maryland.
Wayne Capers – QB – Chartiers Valley
6’1″, 175 lbs.
He might be the best kept secret in the WPIAL. Why? Injuries. Several of the top players in the area suffered ailments last season, but perhaps no one in western PA feels more snake-bitten than Capers. He missed half his sophomore season with a broken foot, and while throwing for 338 yards and running for a 69-yard touchdown in a Week 1 loss to Montour, tore his ACL and lost the rest of his junior season. Amazingly, he recovered in time to play for Chartiers Valley in the basketball playoffs, and if he can finally stay healthy, he’ll undoubtedly be an elite player. He has drawn interest from Pitt, Penn State, Maryland, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, and West Virginia, and may be recruited as a receiver.
Adam Bisnowaty – OL/DL – Fox Chapel
6’6″, 275 lbs.
We’ve got to give some love to the hogs, and we’ve definitely got to give some to this iron man. He’s evolved into one of the more rock-steady two-way linemen in the WPIAL despite playing on some unsuccessful teams, and he did a solid job protecting tailback Montay Green last season. His versatility doesn’t just go as far as playing on both sides of the ball; sources say he’d be amenable to playing positions other tackle, the spot for which he is primarily being recruited. Bisnowaty has received offers from Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, UConn, Michigan State, Purdue, Virginia, and most recently, Florida.
Shakim Alonzo – WR – Woodland Hills
6’4″, 190 lbs.
There’s an impressive-looking crop of receivers in WPIAL representing the Class of 2012, so it’s tough to say where he’ll end up statistically, but Alonzo may have just begun to show his brilliance in the Class AAAA Final against North Allegheny. He ended the 2010 campaign with 586 yards on 24 catches and five touchdowns, including a long one in the championship contest that helped Woody High rally its way back into the game. Alonzo definitely has the physique and ability of a Division I wide-out, and a number of schools have taken notice. Pitt, Penn State, WVU, Rutgers, Syracuse, Maryland, Michigan State, and Notre Dame are courting him.
Luke Hagy – RB/DB – Mount Lebanon
5’11″, 185 lbs.
This kid has been such a workhorse when given the rock that we can easily forget how effective he can be shadowing the other team’s best receiver. The chances are very good he’ll play safety, though hopefully his offensive numbers, at the very least, will not be ignored. In 2010, he was one of the WPIAL’s top five regular season rushers, finishing No. 2 in Class AAAA in both yards and overall scoring. Upon helping the Blue Devils reach the quarterfinal round, he ended with 1,981 yards and 29 rushing touchdowns. The three-sport star has yet to receive his first real serious football offer, but with another season like his last, it’ll be just a matter of time.
Anthony Nixon – WR/DB – Pgh. Central Catholic
6’1″, 190 lbs.
It’s hard being the focal point of Terry Totten’s offense, especially when he has tailback Damion Jones-Moore, another top recruit from the Class of 2012, at his disposal. However, Nixon still found ways to contribute last season. Central didn’t lean on Jones-Moore as much last year, and Nixon took full advantage of the added spotlight, leading the Vikings with 699 yards on 33 catches, with three touchdowns. As a DB he registered a team-best three interceptions, and with Nixon doing the majority of his damage on defense, Pitt extended him an offer to play that position. He is also getting looks from Penn State, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Iowa, Michigan State, and Northwestern.
Trenton Coles – WR – Clairton
6’3″, 170 lbs.
With Desimon Green and so many other talented seniors gone, Coles might become the most watched player on the Bears’ roster this approaching season. How do we know? He’s already being watched by schools from the Big East, Big Ten, and ACC, including Pitt. The new regime has maintained his offer, and understandably so, after all the drama surrounding Green. Penn State, WVU, Michigan State, Maryland, Illinois, Notre Dame, Purdue, and Tennessee have shown interested in Coles, who was Clairton’s second-leading receiver with over 300 yards and seven touchdowns through the WPIAL Playoffs. He was the Bears’ best defensive player behind Green; he covers the field magnificently, and his future is likely in some team’s secondary.
*Another player to keep an eye on that we neglected to mention is lineman Josh Stepoli, a 6’6″, 260-lb. prospect who is also getting a handful of Division I looks. We didn’t include Stepoli because, unless the PIAA overturns a recent decision by District 7 officials, he will be forced by the WPIAL to miss the upcoming season for transferring back to Monessen with his brother Terrence (a quarterback) after spending last year at Greensburg Central Catholic. The WPIAL recently ruled that the switch was made purely out of athletic intent, which is against its rules.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)