By Matt Popchock
We talked about the teams to watch in the WPIAL at the beginning of July, so now, as we work our way through August, we move forward with our preseason football coverage by looking at some of the players to watch throughout the 2011 campaign.
Championships are won by teams with a foundation of consistency, and some of the players mentioned here, particularly the QBs, were among the most consistent players at their position in the entire classification in 2010. There are players here who indeed have a real shot at winning WPIAL titles, and players on this short list who are being recruited locally, including one of the most sought-after defensive players in western PA.
Here are five players we’ll be keeping an eye on in Class AA:
Kevin Hart, RB, Seton-LaSalle: He’s probably the most dynamic player in the classification, and with a new quarterback taking over what was one of the most productive offenses in the WPIAL last season, he’ll be counted on heavily to carry the Rebels to glory in a watered-down Century Conference, and, possibly, to district gold. As a junior, Hart finished second in Class AA and seventh in the WPIAL with 1,335 rushing yards, and, with 26 TD’s and 160 total points, finished second in the district in scoring, while averaging over 6.5 yards per run during the regular season. His father, Mark Hart, won back-to-back WPIAL championships with Mount Lebanon, and is no stranger to Heinz Field (he’s the Steelers’ CFO)…can Kevin follow in his footsteps this year?
Zack Middleby, QB, Burrell: Despite no longer having the venerable Tom Henderson at the helm, a coaching change shouldn’t change the high probability that the Bucs will have the most explosive offense in the Allegheny Conference, given their best remaining player is coming off a breakout year. Middleby, in his junior campaign, didn’t play every regular season game from start to finish, but still managed to complete 57.2% of his passes for 1,121 yards and seven touchdowns in that span. Top receiver Dave Yakopec has graduated, which is a significant loss, but with Middleby at the helm, Burrell has a well-groomed leader who is capable of picking up his teammates in a big way.
Mikal Hall, QB, Aliquippa: All the Quips do is win, and ever since Hall became Mike Zmijanac’s starting quarterback as a sophomore, all he’s done is win, and he’ll have one more chance to get that elusive WPIAL title after losing at Heinz Field in 2009 and 2010, which would put him in among the program’s all-time greats at his position. Last year he completed 65.6% of his passes for 1,127 yards and 14 touchdowns during the regular season, and he added over 400 yards and five more scores during the postseason. An all-conference honoree, Hall has a chance to become the first 4,000-career yard passer in Aliquippa history, and his consistency will keep that offense on track.
Trey Hall, RB/DB, Beaver Falls: Prior to powering the Tigers’ offense, he started turning heads immediately by putting up a 1,000-yard campaign as a freshman at lowly Midwestern Conference rival New Brighton before transferring to BF for his sophomore season. He should be the premier back in that conference in 2011 following a junior year during which he racked up 1,111 regular season rushing yards, finishing fifth among Class AA tailbacks, and averaging well over eight per attempt. His 17 touchdowns made him the fourth-highest scorer in the classification during the regular season, and the Tigers will need him to find paydirt on a regular basis if they wish to be a dark horse in this difficult conference.
Demetrious Cox, QB/DB, Jeannette: Because the days of Pryor and Hall are a memory, and because the Interstate Conference as a whole may be a little down this year, Cox might not get as much buzz as a kid like Rushel Shell, even though he’s probably one of the most complete players in the WPIAL. He already looks like a Division I defensive back–he’s got tremendous upper-body strength and, at the same time, can run like a gazelle–and, as the No. 13 recruit at safety in America, according to Scout.com, he’s been getting offers from far and wide. Cox was a no-brainer for the 2010 all-conference team, and, as a junior quarterback, he was beyond efficient, throwing for over 600 yards and running for over 600 during the regular season.
(Click here for my Class A players to watch…)
(Click here for my Class AAA players to watch…)
(Click here for my Class AAAA players to watch…)
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