“Mr. High School Sports” – Little Indians Try to Make Bigger Splash
By Matt Popchock
You can tell by talking to people involved with the program that, although it might not be the most successful in WPIAL football history, Indiana is one of the proudest.
Don’t get us wrong–as it celebrates a century of varsity football (they’ve played 91 seasons, though earliest known team there competed in 1910), it is no stranger to greatness. Former quarterback Kyle Edgar can attest to that.
Edgar has matriculated to Clarion and leaves behind a legacy as one of the greatest athletes to wear their uniform. The dual threat led Indiana in both passing and rushing yards as a senior in 2010, a rarity in high school football, but this year the Little Indians think they can add to 100 years of history, because replacing him won’t be quite as hard as one would think.
Former Punxsutawney quarterback Logan Weaver will succeed him after transferring into the school district for his senior season. Last year Weaver powered the Chucks to the top of the Keystone Shortway Conference and to the District 9 title game by completing 57.4% of his passes for 1,126 yards and 18 TD’s against just five INT’s. He’s not as mobile as Edgar was, but he did also scramble for 167 yards and five touchdowns.
He’s already thrown for 3,676 yards and 43 TD’s in three years as a full-time starter, so Indiana can boast about adding a competent impact player to an offense already full of seniors that was one of the most consistent in Class AAA last year, averaging 31.7 points per game (second-most in the Greater Allegheny Conference, seventh in the classification). That was the second-best single-season average in program history, and Indiana also set new school records for points and first downs last fall.
So how do the Little Indians follow such a tough act in 2011? By not taking its foot off the gas, and by becoming less of a one-dimensional unit. Not surprisingly, another member of the Edgar family can help.
Younger brother Zach Edgar looks ready for a greater workload after running for 267 yards and averaging nearly eight per carry as a junior, while scoring four times. Fellow senior Kyle Decker gained just 212 on the ground last year, but he’s money when he gets near the goal line, as evidenced by his eight TD’s, which shared the team lead.
Even with playmaker Brandon Erdely gone, Weaver still has senior receiver Tyrayl Venay, who made first team all-conference after one of the most productive seasons by any receiver in school history, and poses a consistent threat. Venay led the Little Indians in 2010 with 646 yards and eight touchdowns on 24 catches, and in doing so, has generated interest from some MAC schools.
The offense should be of little concern to head coach Mark Zilinskas, now entering his tenth season with the program. The positive strides made on the other side of the ball, if there be any, will determine whether these Little Indians can stay on the same reservation as the top teams in the GAC. Indiana went 4-2 in conference play last year to grab third place and ended with an 8-3 overall mark, which matched Zilinskas’ best season since he took the job. But it needed a titanic offensive effort to survive Belle Vernon, then simply didn’t have an answer for Montour in the Class AAA Quarterfinals.
Senior Justin Spencer is back at center, but defensively he has his work cut out for him, because he’s the only returning defensive lineman…if senior Sean Gibbon doesn’t play his natural position. Indiana is young enough on “D” that Zilinskas has considered moving the first team all-conference honoree from the line to linebacker.
Against a conference dominated by extraordinary skill players, the Little Indians looked ordinary at times, allowing 21.5 points per game, which put them in the middle of the Class AAA road. Senior linebacker Marquis Mann, who made three INT’s last year, may be one to watch, but losing all-conference defensive back Kwaku Asamoah, perhaps their most athletic defender, will not easily be overcome.
Mars won the Greater Allegheny Conference in 2010 with a victory over Knoch in the regular season finale. Knoch is fielding what looks to be an outstanding offense yet again, and Mars, although it has lost a ton of talent with the graduation of Austin Miele, will still be well prepared and well coached. With Hampton, Highlands, and the rest still trying to make strides, Indiana’s playoff fate looks secure as long as its offense stays healthy.
Last year’s prompt seven-win turnaround was most impressive, and expect the Little Indians to light up the scoreboard once again. But they can’t grab that Greater Allegheny Conference crown unless that unproven defense really steps up.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)