Belle Vernon’s Braden Laux makes impact on both sides of the ball

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Thursday, December 1, 2022 | 10:38 AM


The more you watch Belle Vernon play, the more logical the question becomes.

Is Braden Laux a quarterback who also plays defensive end, or a defensive end who also plays quarterback?

Depends on who you ask. The defensive coaches claim him like a native son.

“We had him first, then Humbert stole him from us,” defensive coordinator Brett Barish said jokingly. “He’s a defensive end, then a quarterback.”

Matt Humbert, the Leopards’ head coach, is a former quarterback, so he is quick to appreciate Laux’s offensive role first.

“He has a good demeanor back there and has a way of putting the offense at ease,” Humbert said. “He has a cannon.”

Real talk is that Laux, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior, has made plays for the WPIAL champion Leopards on both sides of the ball, and that duality helped lead the team into the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 1995.

The Leopards (10-2) will play Central Martinsburg (12-2) at 7 p.m. Friday in the Class 3A semifinals at Central Cambria High School in Ebensburg.

“I’m a quarterback first,” Laux said with firmness in his voice. “I have always played quarterback, all through midgets. I know what I am doing is different. Not a lot of quarterbacks play defense in the dirt.”

Laux had big — and fast — shoes to fill when he took over for standout run-first quarterback Devin Whitlock, now a preferred walk-on at Pitt.

But he won the position in camp and has tried to get better at it as the season has stretched on. Yes, he wanted to manage the offense, and make sure he got the ball to five-star prospect Quinton Martin and other playmakers routinely. But he also wanted to make plays with his arm and legs.

He’s done all of those things as QB1 of the Leopards.

“He just has that toughness,” Humbert said. “Both ways, he is just one tough kid. “I like how he gets the ball out quick to the perimeter. That’s the biggest boost he gives us. He’s not scared to run for yardage, either.”

In last week’s 24-7 win over Avonworth in the WPIAL championship at Acrisure Stadium, Laux threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Martin to give the Leopards a 10-7 lead just before halftime.

He had a key sack late in the first half that set up the go-ahead score.

“I knew we had the talent to win it all,” Laux said. “Our defense had been pretty good all year. We’ve only allowed 30 points.”

Sounds like a defensive end talking, there.

“We get donuts for shutouts,” he added.

Laux, who was an inside linebacker on the JV team before the staff converted him to D-end, leads the Leopards with five sacks. He has 28 tackles and a fumble recovery.

Humbert said the Leopards have not had a quarterback play defensive end since Matt Naylor in 2010.

Penn-Trafford had senior Conlan Greene play both positions this year. Penn-Trafford beat Belle Vernon, 14-13, in Week 3.

“We always knew Braden had to play both ways,” Humbert said. “I’ll tell you what, he took some shots (in the WPIAL final). He really battled.”

Laux, a big Tom Brady fan who also plays basketball, said his father, Brian, played football and hockey at Thomas Jefferson.

Maybe that is where his toughness comes from.

“I never played hockey,” he said. “Always football. It takes a lot to make me mad. I just try to get ahead of the play and be in the right spots.”

Laux has completed 63 of 116 passes for 944 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.

“Braden’s confidence keeps the offense moving,” Leopards junior lineman Dane Levi said. “He’s a calm and collected player who is very hard to rattle. Everything he does is full throttle and he doesn’t really stray away from that.”

Laux’s counterpart Friday impresses him on film. Central senior Jeff Hoenstine has completed 278 of 391 passes for 3,768 yards and 50 touchdowns.

Last year, he threw a state-record 57 TD passes.

He needs 150 yards to reach 10,000 for his acclaimed career. Still, Hoenstine can also beat teams running the ball.

As a fellow quarterback, Laux knows the Leopards could have their hands full with the pass-happy Dragons.

“We have to do our jobs and know our assignments,” Laux said. “We know they throw a ton of passes. They’re a pretty diverse team.

“We’re just trying to go out and do something that’s never been done here: Win a state title.”

Light work

Talk about light up night.

Belle Vernon had to bring in portable lights at James Weir Stadium after a downed utility pole Tuesday night caused a power outage in the area.

Lighthouse Electric (Canonsburg) and United Rentals (Pittsburgh) provided the temporary lights at “The Beach.”

The outage will be ongoing, coach and athletic director Matt Humbert said, because a meter needed to fix the problem won’t be delivered for about eight weeks.

The team has the temporary lights for as long as needed, but the portable standards only light one end of the field so practice space is limited.

“It’s a little adversity, but we will push through,” Humbert said. “We’re fortunate to have the companies donate the lights.”

With that being said, Humbert is considering asking another school to use their field next week, should the Leopards advance to the state final.

Neighboring Elizabeth Forward or Charleroi are possibilities.

If the Leopards do make the PIAA championship in Cumberland Valley, they could do what most WPIAL teams do and practice on a high school field in the Hershey area.

One possibility would be Milton Hershey, which has gold turf like Belle Vernon does.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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