By Matt Popchock
We talked about the teams to watch in the WPIAL at the beginning of July, so now, as we enter August, we move forward with our preseason football coverage by looking at some of the players to watch throughout the 2011 campaign.
If you were looking for excitement in Class AAA last season, Mr. High School Sports knew as well as anybody that the Parkway Conference was where it’s at. Sure enough, it should be one of the nastiest sections in the WPIAL once again, and, once again, it won’t be without its share of big names, three of which top our list.
Here are five players we’ll be keeping an eye on in Class AAA:
Rushel Shell, RB, Hopewell: Name me someone who won’t be watching the former MaxPreps Freshman of the Year and Tom Lemming’s No. 11 ranked recruit in America, and I’ll name you someone who simply hasn’t been following WPIAL football the past four years. As far as the Class of 2012 is concerned, Shell will be the most sough-after player to come out of this area, and the First Team All-PIAA honoree is marching toward the record books at great speed. Shell begins the season with 6,766 career rush yards, which is 12th on the state’s all-time list, making Mike Vernillo of Fort Cherry’s all-time WPIAL mark of 7,646 very attainable. He carried the Vikings into the playoffs last year with 2,102 yards (2nd, WPIAL) and 25 TD’s (3rd, WPIAL).
Dillon Buechel, QB, Montour: Now that Christian Brumbaugh has graduated from South Fayette, the chances are good Buechel will become the most heavily recruited quarterback out of the WPIAL, and the high-powered offense the Spartans will once again surround him with will only bolster his image. The senior is a pro-style passer with a very strong arm seeking a district title that should be well within reach this season. The Second Team All-PIAA honoree completed 61.8% of his regular season attempts as a junior for 18 TD’s, finished eighth in the WPIAL during the regular campaign with 1,536 yards, and ended his junior year at Heinz Field with over 2,000.
Robert Foster, ATH, Central Valley: The Warriors will have some potholes to avoid on the road back to Heinz Field, including the distraction of national TV cameras that may be present during their midseason date with Shell and the Vikings. We think folks watching elsewhere in the country will naturally have their eyes glued to Shell, but they may very well go to bed talking about this Second Team All-PIAA selection. One of the premier juniors coming into this season, Foster entered last year’s WPIAL title game with 792 offensive yards and ten TD’s to his credit, and humbled Montour with 148 all-purpose yards, including 70 on a touchdown grab and 35 on a punt return for a score.
Wayne Capers, RB/WR, Chartiers Valley: A lot of eyes are going to be on the son of the former Steelers receiver not just because of status or athletic ability, but because we’re all anxious to see if he can finally stay healthy. As a sophomore he racked up 956 yards and 17 TD’s in the air and on the ground before losing the rest of 2009 to a busted foot in Week 6. Last year he torched Montour for 338 passing yards and a 69-yard TD run in the lid-lifter before tearing his ACL. The move from QB to slotback that he requested will make Capers just as dangerous as a senior, though hopefully it at least keeps him out of danger, because as he goes, so go the Colts.
Dane Brown, RB, Franklin Regional: There are a couple interesting tailbacks in the Keystone Conference who probably didn’t get the attention they deserved, including this one, simply because they played in the Keystone Conference. While Michael Kizzie was smashing Greensburg-Salem’s single-season rushing record as a junior, Brown won over his coaches with his work ethic on and off the field when the injury bug bit the Panthers. As a sophomore Brown finished ninth in the WPIAL with 1,281 rush yards in the 2010 regular season, averaging over seven per carry, and tied for eighth in the WPIAL with 20 TDs.
Keep it logged on to 937thefan.com as we reveal our watch lists for Class AAAA, Class AA, and Class A throughout the week!