By Matt Popchock
Arizona is not only “Pittsburgh West” for the NFL (Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm, Larry Fitzgerald, LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Gay, Clark Haggans, Nick Eason, Crezdon Butler). It’s become that way for the WPIAL too.
Gateway quarterback Thomas Woodson committed to the University of Arizona earlier this week. Woodson, entering his senior season, completed 59% of his passes last year for nearly 1,200 yards, throwing 11 TD’s against just two interceptions. He has also proven himself a skilled scrambler and scored three rushing touchdowns as a junior.
Penn State was on his radar for a while, but the ‘Cats were the only ones to make a serious offer to Woodson, who is expect to keep his natural position despite also being recruited as a wide receiver and safety. He will be united with Class of ’12 recruit Chartiers Valley, brought in as a receiver, and former Upper St. Clair quarterback Dakota Conwell, who backed away from Pitt after Todd Graham bolted, and will play for Arizona as an outside linebacker.
It’s hard to imagine Rich Rodriguez being a magnet for such local talent. At the end of the day he didn’t exactly win any popularity contests in Morgantown, and his tenure at Michigan didn’t amount to much, though that program was in slightly better shape when he left.
Perhaps the real reason Arizona has become a WPIAL hotbed–pun fully intended–is RichRod’s assistant, Tony Gibson. Gibson, who originally lured Conwell to Pitt when the former worked there, convinced Conwell he’d be a good fit in Arizona’s new defensive scheme.
According to the Tribune-Review’s Kevin Gorman, Gibson made an equally strong first impression on Woodson.
Woodson will probably have to be patient, as Arizona returns senior quarterback Matt Scott, who looked very good once thrust into the starting role last year. But the window of opportunity for Capers and Conwell appears wider right now; Arizona has graduated four of its top receivers, and finished a meager 107th in Division I in total defense in 2011.
Meanwhile, Arizona is also reportedly on the radar of Clairton defensive back Tyler Boyd, who should be one of the most sought-after prospects in the WPIAL this coming season. The program is also reportedly interested in Brendan Edwards, another DB, who will be dressing for the new WPIAL program at Imani Christian this fall.
(For what it’s worth, the three-time PIAA champs will host Imani Christian in Black Hills Conference play in Week 9.)
On a related note, in case you missed it, former Blackhawk and Pitt basketball standout Sean Miller just signed a five-year extension to stay on as head coach of Arizona’s men’s program.
Now there’s a radio show I wouldn’t mind hearing.
OTHER RECRUITING NEWS:
Some top WPIAL players who went unnoticed by major college programs have found a home at Dayton, which plays FCS ball in the Pioneer League with Robert Morris.
Among those “welcomed” to Welcome Stadium will be Avonworth tailback Ricky Lawniczak. The ‘Lopes ran a pro-style offense successful enough to carry them to three straight WPIAL Quarterfinal appearances in Class A during Lawniczak’s time on the varsity squad, and he played an integral role in the recent resurrection of the program.
Joining him will be Nolan Harmatto and North Hills offensive lineman Andrew Carfagna. Harmatto, better known as Rushel Shell’s quarterback, was a combo-style passer at Hopewell and was recruited as a defensive back, where he really excelled, while Carfagna made first-team all-conference in 2011.
Those two were selected to the victorious West roster in the recently resurrected PSFCA East-West All-Star Game.
For the trivia buffs in the audience, Dayton football alumni include former Fighting Irish head coach Gerry Faust, and our own “Emperor Chaz,” Chuck Noll.
Speaking of Ohio, they defeated Pennsylvania in the annual Big 33 game, as many of you already know, though, locally, the focus for many spectators was on the play of the four featured Pitt recruits. They all looked promising, as I recently reported, but the WPIAL and the MAC has also been a match made in heaven, and I’ll have more on that in this blog soon.
Also coming soon from “Mr. High School Sports” is a report on his own visit to Ohio. Wednesday is media day for the annual Penn-Ohio all-star contest, which pits the best of Beaver County against the best of northeast Ohio. This year’s media day takes place in East Liverpool, with the game itself set for Springfield High School in New Middletown, Ohio next Friday night.
In addition, former Aliquippa and Pitt product Darrelle Revis is coming back to The ‘Quip this week to host the three-day Darrelle Revis Skills and Drills Clinic for youth footballers. We hope to pay the three-time All-Pro defensive back a visit in the very near future, so stay tuned…
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)