Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic have been the dominant teams in the Interstate Conference over the past decade. Nine times in the past 10 years one of the teams has either won or tied for the conference title.
But this could be the year that some new blood flows to the top of the conference.
Jeannette is still expected to be strong, but Greensburg Central Catholic might drop a little. Coach Muzzy Colosimo stepped down as coach shortly before the start of preseason practices.
Washington and Mount Pleasant could make some noise this year and challenge for the conference title.
As for the make-up of the conference, there are only two changes. East Allegheny moved out, and Washington moved in.
Here is a look at the teams in the Interstate Conference:
The tough times continued for the Falcons last year as they finished 1-9. They have won only seven games since the 2006 season. This is the fifth season in Von Braddock’s tenure as coach.
Offense was a problem a year ago as Brownsville averaged only 11 points a game, and leading rusher Tre Hall has graduated. But Isaiah Spencer returns after rushing for 382 yards last season. Brandon DeCarlo also returns at quarterback, and Nick Landman was an all-conference linebacker.
If the Cougars are to improve under first-year coach Ed Jenkins, they have to get better in all areas, but especially defensively. While Charleroi showed promise at times last year offensively (averaged 21 points a game), the Cougars had trouble stopping teams.
The offense loses 1,000-yard rusher Quentin Briggs, but quarterback Eric Johnson showed promise last season, rushing for 696 yards on 85 carries, and completing 45 of 72 for 730 yards.
Jenkins is trying to spice up the team a little, using social media outlets to promote the team. He started the Cougars’ own web site that will give play-by-play updates during games this season.
GREENSBURG CENTRAL CATHOLIC CENTURIONS:
A week before the start of official practices, Greensburg Central Catholic suddenly lost its coach. Muzzy Colosimo, who had been highly successful, was not retained. Neither school officials or Colosimo would comment on the situation, so it’s not known whether Colosimo resigned or was fired. But Dan Mahoney and Matt Federico have taken over as co-head coaches. Mahoney is the school’s athletic director while Federico was Greensburg Central’s quarterbacks coach from 2008-10.
Colosimo, who had a 143-45 record in 17 seasons, has been hired as the running backs coach at Seton Hill University.
As for this year’s Greensburg Central Catholic team, the Centurions might not be as strong as they have been in the past decade, but the cupboard isn’t totally bare. Zach Guiser is one of the top players in Class AA. He ran for 599 yards as a junior and he has been a starting defensive back since his freshman year. He has an impressive 16 interceptions in his career.
The offense took a hit when Jordan McCrae, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season, transferred to Connellsville. Guiser will likely be the featured ball-carrier and Chase Keller will start at quarterback.
Defensively, Greensburg Central looks solid with a number of returning starters. The linebackers should be strong with the return of Nate Stone, Seth Warbruton and Marc Rodriguez.
Jeannette lost one of the top players in the WPIAL last season to graduation. Demetrious Cox was a quarterback and defensive back who did a little of everything for the Jayhawks, and is now making waves as a freshman defensive back at Michigan State. He was the main reason Jeannette made it to the WPIAL Class AA title game before losing to Aliquippa.
Jeannette has no one to do the things Cox did. Developing a serviceable quarterback will be a key. It could be senior Seth Miller, sophomore Julian Batts or junior Michael Wise. But otherwise, Jeannette is loaded with experienced players. Eight starters return on both sides of the ball.
Jeannette always seems to have a strong running game, no matter who plays quarterback. This year should be no different. Jordan Edmunds is a 5-10, 195-pound senior fullback who rushed for 907 yards last season. Also back is tiny Shavonta Craft (5-5, 170), who ran for more than 700 yards last season.
Up front, Jeannette has some good linemen to open holes for Craft and Edmunds. Logan Hoak leads the linemen.
On defense, Jeannette looks very strong at linebacker with Edmunds (all-conference last year), Brandon Kautz and Anthony Canady.
Put it all together, and the Jayhawks are the team to beat in the Interstate, no matter the quarterback.
MOUNT PLEASANT VIKINGS:
Coach Bo Ruffner has a team that looks like it could challenge for the conference title this season after finishing 6-4 for the second year in a row.
Big things are expected of junior quarterback Ryan Gumbita. He started last year as a sophomore and is a good-sized QB at 6-3, 205. He accounted for more than 1,000 yards offense last year, completing 33 of 67 for 644 yards and also rushing 61 times for 384 yards.
Gumbita is a running threat, and when you throw in Tyler Mellors and Taylor Allsion, along with returning linemen, the Vikings should have a very good running game. Allison ran for 496 yards last season and Mellors 495. Mellors averaged 8 yards a carry. On the line, Eric Klejka and Ricky Crowley were both all-conference in 2011.
On the defensive side, things also look bright with the return of nine starters. Heffner has two excellent linebackers in Eli Holt and Dalton Bull. Holt had 101 tackles a year ago.
The Scotties have one of the best offensive players in Class AA, but the major question with this team is defense. Southmoreland finished 4-6 last season and averaged 27.5 points. But the Scotties allowed 36.3 points.
If the Scotties can patch together a solid defense, could they challenge for a playoff spot in Dominic Pecora’s second year as coach?
As far as offense goes, Southmoreland has a great weapon in Dakota Datz, a senior quarterback. Datz (6-0, 190) had a terrific junior year, completing 102 of 191 passes for 1,730 yards. But Southmoreland’s top two receivers graduated. Datz also led the team in rushing with 676 yards on 130 carries. On top of that, he also plays defense.
Also back is 5-9 senior running back Tyler Ramsey, who was second on the team in rushing last year with 507 yards on 104 attempts.
Overall, four starters return on offense and three on defense. Other returning starters are senior linemen Jacob McNeice and Josh Thomas, sophomore linebacker Jordan Pawlowski, sophomore tight end-linebacker Chas King and junior running back-defensive back Kyle Cohen.
Waynesburg has a new coach this season, but he’s been here before.
Russ Moore returns for his second stint as Waynesburg’s coach. The first one went very well as Moore built Waynesburg into a strong program in the 1990s. He won a WPIAL Class AA title in 1999 and then resigned.
He spent a couple years as Ringgold’s coach and had a few more assistant coaching jobs. Now he takes over a team that went 3-6 last season. But Waynesburg lost many of its top players to graduation. The most notable loss was running back Nick Zupper, who rushed for 1,592 yards last season. He will be difficult to replace, as will some all-conference linemen.
Bo Hampson saw considerable playing time at quarterback last year as a sophomore, and that experience should help. One of the other top returnees is all-conference kicker Ian Patterson, who had three field goals a year ago.
WASHINGTON LITTLE PREXIES:
The Little Prexies are new to the conference after finishing second in the Century Conference last year. But Washington played in the Interstate for a number of years before spending only the past two seasons in the Century.
Washington is being pegged as one of the top teams in the conference this year. And for good reason. Seven starters return from last year, but a few are extremely talented. Shai McKenzie had an outstanding sophomore season, rushing for 1,203 yards on 189 attempts. He also is a force on defense and is considered among the better juniors in the WPIAL.
Vince Magnone graduated after rushing for 1,202 yards last season, but the Little Prexies still have other capable runners. Jaylin Kelly rushed for 512 yards on 64 attempts last season. Also, quarterback Josh Wise rushed for 175 yards on 36 attempts and also completed 36 of 75 for 590 yards.
Other returning starters are lineman Rikwon Moore and receivers Mijeron Witcher and Darius Spinks.
The biggest challenge for the Cougars will be to do something defensively. They allowed 34 points a game last season on the way to a 2-7 year.
Offensively, though, this team has some potential. Junior Tyler Donahue returns at quarterback after completing 76 of 165 for 1,156 yards as a sophomore last year. Donahue needs to cut down on his interceptions, though, throwing 14 last year, compared to 11 touchdowns. One of his top receivers also returns in Ben D’Amico, who caught 20 passes last season.
MSA Sports Predicted Order of Finish:
1. Jeannette Jayhawks
2. Washington Little Prexies
3. Mount Pleasant Vikings
4. Greensburg Central Catholic Centurions
5. Charleroi Cougars
6. Yough Cougars
7. Brownsville Falcons
8. Waynesburg Raiders
9. Southmoreland Scotties