Belle Vernon’s large senior class focused on going out with more championship hardware

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Thursday, August 10, 2023 | 1:10 PM


Belle Vernon football coach Matt Humbert often has one eye on the players coming up through the junior high ranks. After all, they are the future of his hugely successful program.

The Class of 2024 was one that stood out, and they haven’t disappointed, capturing the WPIAL Class 3A championship and the team’s first PIAA title last season. As juniors. That means the class, which is nearly two dozen strong, is back for an encore.

“Usually, you have classes where you might have three skill kids and six linemen or vice versa,” Humbert said. “This is a very complete class that has all positions within its parameters.”

Spearheading the group is Penn State commit Quinton Martin. At this point, there are few superlatives left to describe the Leopards’ electrifying standout. What Humbert and his classmates marvel at most, however, is Martin’s desire just to be one of the guys.

Even in the state semfinals, when Central Martinsburg focused its game plan on limiting Martin’s touches — and largely succeeded — it was Martin who was leading the cheers for his teammates.

“He’s the first guy in the locker room hooting and hollering and high-fiving everybody,” Humbert said, “because he doesn’t really practice and engage in selfish behavior. If you didn’t know anything about us and you came down to the field and didn’t really watch anything that really kind of showcased the kid’s athleticism, he would just blend right in.”

Perhaps that comes from years of playing with the same crowd since elementary school. And not just football.

“We’ve been playing with each other for years upon years,” said senior receiver/linebacker Adam LaCarte. “On our weeks off, we all go on trips together. We’re best friends. It’s a real camaraderie.”

Senior quarterback/defensive end Braden Laux, an Eastern Michigan commit, called the class a “brotherhood” and “hard workers.”

“Our middle school years is definitely when we realized we actually were pretty good,” he said.

But talent alone doesn’t always result in success. Sometimes it’s the sacrifices talented players make that prove pivotal.

Last season, LaCarte was moved from his role as defensive back to anchor the middle of the defense. That allowed Martin to play at cornerback and use his athleticism. LaCarte responded with several big games, including a team-leading nine tackles in the WPIAL title game and an interception and critical forced fumble in the waning seconds of the PIAA championship game.

Jake Gedekoh emerged as what Laux called the “do-it-all kind of guy,” filling multiple roles and often doing the dirty work.

Plenty of others had their fingerprints on the Leopards’ success. Laux scored two TDs in the PIAA semis. Aiden Johnson recovered a fumble to seal the PIAA championship. Willie Schwerha kicked a 24-yard field goal in BVA’s 9-8 victory over Neuman Goretti in the state final.

The likes of Dane Levi, Luke Bryer and Jake Heckel toiled anonymously in the trenches, opening holes for Martin and keeping Laux upright.

Everyone in the Class of 2024 did their part to get the Leopards over the top. And now they will try to do it one more time.

“We can’t let our heads get too big,” Laux said. We can’t say we’re already in the WPIAL championship or say that we’re already in the state championship when we haven’t even played our first game yet.”

Added LaCarte: “(Repeating) would mean the world to us. I think that’s all we want. We want to end our high school careers on wins.”

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