There is no truth to the rumor that the section formally known as the Big Seven Conference in Class AAA was considering a name change to the Big One Conference. Instead, they will change to reflect the number of TOTAL teams in the conference to the Big Eight.
However a case could be made for the Big One, with that one being the WPIAL football machine known as Thomas Jefferson. In the ten years since the Y2K century began, the Jaguars have won or shared the conference championship in nine of them, including four straight outright titles. The only hiccup came in 2005 when TJ finished second behind West Mifflin.
The conference actually welcomes two new teams moving up from Class AA as the South Park Eagles from the AA Century Conference and the McGuffey Highlanders from the AA Interstate Conference look for success 'playing up' this fall. Ringgold has moved over from the Big Seven to the Keystone Conference.
Here is a look at the Big Eight for this season with a predicted order of finish at the end:
BELLE VERNON LEOPARDS:
The Aaron Krepps era got off to an exciting start last year as Belle Vernon finished tied for third place in the conference behind Thomas Jefferson and Chartiers Valley with an overall regular season record of 5-4. The Leopards were very competitive and in every game, including a tough 26-20 loss to TJ in what would be their only loss in the final four weeks of the regular season. The campaign ended in Round One with a heartbreaking 21-20 loss to Uniontown.
Krepps hopes to build off that fine season, but will have plenty of holes to fill after graduation, including all-conference offensive tackle Tyler Sellew, all-conference punter Joe Walko and starting quarterback Brandon Dillmore.
However back for the Leopards to lead the offense is senior running back Matt Green, an all-conference performer last year and a member of the 2010 MSA Sports-Kennywood Park Preseason Team. Green was the fifth leading rusher in Class AAA last year gaining 1,122 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns. He rushed for 227 yards and two scores in the playoff lost to Uniontown. A coupe of underclassman to watch is running back/linebacker Adam Cole, who had a strong season last year as a sophomore plus a couple of junior wide receivers Ian Dobbins and Jake Burrit.
CHARTIERS VALLEY COLTS:
What if? That was the question many Chartiers Valley players, coaches and fans were asking themselves a lot last fall after a season ending injury to stud quarterback Wayne Capers knocked the Colts from being a championship caliber team to just a very good team. Very good was not enough to knock off Thomas Jefferson in the conference and not enough to advance past the opening round as Chartiers Valley, despite being the fourth-seed, lost to Hampton 19-7 in the First Round of the playoffs.
Well Capers and five other starters return on offense with six starters back on defense for Coach Chris Saluga, now in his ninth season at Chartiers Valley. After missing the postseason in his first year, Saluga has seen his team make the playoffs seven consecutive years with a very good shot at making eight in a row here in 2010.
Besides the return of the dynamic Capers, who can hurt you with his arm and his now healthy legs in the spread gun option offense, also back on offense is running back Dave Adams, slotback Sean Lapcevic, wide receiver Matt Noszka and offensive linemen Dylan Croftcheck and Mike Scanlon. On defense, returning starters back for the Colts are Croftcheck up front, Chris Barrett, Christian Kuntz and Michaels Shoats at linebacker and Noszka and Lapcevic at defensive back.
ELIZABETH FORWARD WARRIORS:
Out of conference, Elizabeth Forward was perfect in 2009. However playoff berths are not decided on non-conference victories. While the Warriors took care of Yough, Laurel Highlands and Derry, they finished tied for the basement with Ringgold in the Big Seven Conference at 1-5.
Now Garry Cathell tries to turn around EF's conference struggles in an effort to guide the Warriors to a WPIAL Class AAA playoff berth for the first time since 2005.
A pair of quarterbacks from last year, Nick DeBaldo and Corey Sevcik have graduated as have several other key players including Greg Sotereanos, however running back Brandon Hill is back. He had a pair of touchdowns in the Warriors lone conference victory last season over Ringgold.
It took four years of Class AA football for McGuffey to become a playoff team. From 2004 through 2007, the Highlanders were 16-20…competitive but not playoff worthy. However, Derek Bochna's resurrection of the Highlanders program picked it up a notch over the past two falls where McGuffey finished a combined 13-5 in the regular season with back-to-back postseason trips.
Now the program returns to Class AAA where McGuffey struggled mightily. In four years in Class AAAA from 2000 through 2004, the Highlanders were a combined 3-36, including winless campaigns in 2000 and 2002. Can McGuffey carry recent momentum and turn it into rare AAA success this century?
There are a lot of shoes to fill at running back with Trenton Bedillion, Logan McAnany and Nick Shuman graduating, but the starting quarterback returns in senior Derrick Whipkey. Trenton's brother Bevin Bedillion could play a bigger role in the offense this year as a junior.
SOUTH PARK EAGLES:
The drought continued last year for South Park. The Eagles finished 4-5 and on the outside looking in at the Class AA Century Conference playoff picture. The postseason play miss was the fourth straight year South Park was not traveling on the Highway to Heinz. The last playoff trip was when the Eagles won the WPIAL and PIAA championships in 2005.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Eagles this year, but none more than who will tote the ball and try to fill the big shoes of graduated running back Shayne Dotson. Dotson was the top running back in all of Class AA and finished third overall in the WPIAL with 1,453 yards on 231 carries for an average of 6.3 yards per carry.
The Eagles have a pair of young signal callers returning in sophomore Nick Yobbi and junior Seth Dotson. One of those two could be moved to a running back spot. Senior tight end Dante DaBaldo provides a nice target in the passing attack along with junior wideout Dan Jena.
THOMAS JEFFERSON JAGUARS:
Even though some impressive streaks came to an end in 2009 for Thomas Jefferson, other continued in what was another memorable season for the Jaguars. Coming to and end were the runs of consecutive championships – back-to-back PIAA and a Class AAA record-tying 3 straight WPIAL titles. Also halted was the WPIAL record six straight trips to the district championship game. TJ did win a fourth straight conference title and have won or tied for the conference championship in nine of the ten years this decade. The Jaguars also stretched their record string of consecutive trips to the WPIAL Semifinals to twelve.
They don't rebuild at Thomas Jefferson, they reload and that