High School

“Mr. High School Sports” — Former N.A. Lineman Tackles Strongman Contest

DST Strongman Winners

Rick Daman (far left) and Kenzie (front) pose with champions Mason Carothers (2nd from left), Jesse Battaglia (2nd from right), and Preston Johnson (far right) after the annual Daman’s Strength Training Strongman Competition Saturday. (Photo Credit: Rubino Productions)

MONACA, Pa. (93-7 THE FAN) — Since February, the University of Delaware has been known for matriculating a Super Bowl champion, and, as of this past weekend, another Blue Hen can crow about a heroic feat of athleticism.

Former North Allegheny offensive lineman and WPIAL/PIAA champion Pete Thistle placed second overall in the college division of the fourth annual Daman’s Strength Training Strongman Competition in Monaca on Saturday.

Owned and operated by personal trainer Rick Daman, the old-school indoor/outdoor gym is known for helping fine-tune a number of WPIAL athletes in Beaver County and beyond. According to Daman, this year’s competition, consisting of such events as the tire flip, the sled drag, and the hand-over-hand rope pull, raised around $3,500 for Kenzie’s Krew, a charity devoted to fighting epilepsy.

A victory in the sled drag and third-place finish in the hand-over-hand rope pull, combined with a third-place finish in a bonus event, allowed Thistle to claim runner-up status.

Following the second of three consecutive district football titles for N.A., Thistle suffered a very serious knee injury stemming from a previously unidentified non-sports injury that occurred during childhood. Despite having to miss his senior year at “The U,” he has recovered remarkably, and plans to dress for Delaware this fall as a true freshman.

Meanwhile, another offensive lineman, Allegheny College sophomore Jesse Battaglia, was the overall winner in the college division for the second time ever. The former Rochester standout was accompanied in the winners’ circle by junior division champion Mason Carothers, a young football prospect out of Beaver Falls, and high school division champion Preston Johnson of Central Valley.

Keep an eye on Johnson (5’9″, 200 lbs.), whose off-season transfer was deemed legal in the spring, at fullback and inside linebacker for the Warriors this fall. He ran for 440 yards and two scores on 90 carries as a freshman at Rochester before missing last season, in which he was a projected starter, with a shoulder injury.

OTHER NEWS AND VIEWS:

–In case you missed it, Tom Nola will be back as head coach to try and prolong Clairton’s state-record 63-game winning streak, the longest active one in U.S. high school football, but certain members of his history-making coaching staff will not.

Offensive and defensive line coach Jim Dumm has retired, and offensive coordinator Tim Bukowski will also no longer be there Friday nights, instead filling a reduced role within the program.

Judging by roster attrition (Clairton returns only five 2012 starters), you’d think some turnover on the coaching staff would be the least of Nola’s worries, especially considering how hands-on he has been with his offense over the years. But team officials have always given Dumm a lot of credit for the team’s traditionally stellar play up front.

–After being the big man on campus for those state championship teams at Clairton, incoming freshman Tyler Boyd might be thrust into a position to be the same at Pitt. Some have wondered aloud if Boyd is actually a better prospect than current Oakland Raiders QB and former Jeannette superstar Terrelle Pryor.

They were both dominant in ways that transcended numbers, and at multiple positions. They both played in conferences that, in total fairness, lent themselves well to stat-padding. But, in equal fairness, they both saved some of their best performances and most amazing plays for their biggest games.

To paraphrase St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, “potential” is just a fancy way of saying you haven’t done anything yet. Therefore, hindsight alone compels me to give a slight edge to Pryor, who still has a chance to make a name for himself in the NFL. But if you’re asking me who was in better stead mentally entering his college career, I’d probably say Boyd.

–As long as we’re talking about gifted receivers, the high school career of Blackhawk flanker Alex Caratelli certainly ended with a bang. The RMU commit snared three first-half touchdowns to help Team Pennsylvania hold on for a 25-22 win over Team Ohio in the 34th annual Penn-Ohio All-Star Game at Geneva College last Friday.

I really have to give Caratelli a lot of credit. Despite the fact Joe Hamilton fielded one of his least voluminous teams ever, Caratelli frequently made up for that lack of depth with big plays, and if not for N.A.’s Gregg Garrity, he’d have been the top receiver, statistically, in the WPIAL in 2012. The Kerns got a good one.

Having said that, if there’s one Parkway Conference player in that game who will be even more sorely missed by his team, it’s probably West Allegheny defensive lineman Jordan Diven. He recorded several solo tackles, two fumble recoveries, and one sack Friday. Diven had 73 tackles last year (and I’m fully convinced he got 70 of them against Central Valley alone) before committing to IUP, and he’s one of 28 seniors the defending WPIAL Class AAA champions lose.

–For me, the upside of a truncated NHL season is a truncated wait till the next hockey season. The tentative 2013-14 alignment for PIHL Class AAA was recently leaked:

Section 1: Peters Township, Canon-McMillan, Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair

Section 2: North Allegheny, Seneca Valley, Mount Lebanon

Section 3: Penn-Trafford, State College, Butler, Norwin

Section 4: Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Pine-Richland, Fox Chapel, Shaler

Sections 1 and 2 would remain unchanged, save for McDowell’s absence, while Fox Chapel is set to return after a one-year absence of its own. The Foxes were a feel-good story in their last PIHL season, reaching their first Penguins Cup Semifinals since 1997, but that fourth grouping is going to be a bugger.

Central–last season’s Sec. 4 winner–and Shaler are coming off playoff appearances, and Pine-Richland continued its renaissance by reaching the Class AA Penguins Cup Final in March.

“Fox Chapel is going to be young, but has some very good players on this squad,” coach Cory Rome told me recently.

Last time Pine-Richland played up, the Rams went on an unbeaten streak that topped 20 games, and newcomer Brandon Saad led them to a league championship. Coincidence?

(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)

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