City League football preview: Title up for grabs during unique season
Thursday, September 24, 2020 | 3:17 PM
At long last, kickoff has arrived for City League football teams.
It might be a little later than normal and under an abundance of safety protocols, but the league is set to begin play Friday afternoon at Cupples Stadium on the South Side.
A season originally thought to be canceled because of concerns relating to the coronavirus pandemic was revived when the Pittsburgh Public Schools board of directors voted Aug. 26 to move forward with fall sports. After spending the past few weeks ramping up preseason training workouts, City League teams will finally take the field this Friday and Saturday.
And the league appears to be as competitive as ever between the five programs — Allderdice, Brashear, Perry Traditional Academy, University Prep and Westinghouse. Carrick will be playing as an independent.
“This will probably be one of the most competitive years we’ve seen,” said Westinghouse coach Donta Green, whose Bulldogs defeated University Prep to win their first City title since 1996 a year ago. “It’s going to be good all the way around. Whoever is the best team that night will be the team that wins.”
A doubleheader opens the season Friday, as Brashear plays Westinghouse at 3:30 p.m. and Allderdice takes on University Prep at 7. Carrick plays Perry at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Here’s a look at each of the teams:
Jerry Haslett expects City League opponents to run the ball to the outside this season. A lot.
The Allderdice coach believes it will be quite a challenge to find space inside against his massive defensive linemen. The Dragons will line up senior Demetrius Price (6-6, 290), junior George Benjamin (6-4, 360) and senior Joey Maslanka (6-3, 367).
The same goes for the other side of ball where the Dragons will follow senior Solomon Johnston (6-4, 353) at left tackle, junior guard Davian Johnson (5-10, 230), junior center Kivon Currington (6-0, 252), junior Micah Brown (6-0, 210) at right guard and senior leader Eric McClung (6-3, 270) at right tackle.
“We’ve got some size on both sides of it,” said Haslett, whose team won the 2017 and ’18 City titles but finished 2-7 (2-2 City) last season.
At the skill positions, senior Shakur Pack-Adams returns at quarterback, and junior running back Robert Brown and senior wide receiver Saveionne Randolph will see time behind center in certain situations.
Senior Marcel Holyfield will join Randolph at receiver, and sophomore Naeron Smith is expected to get carries in the backfield with Brown. Haslett also expects sophomores Will Coleman and Hasaun Marshall to make an impact.
Three members of the defensive secondary return — Randolph at cornerback, junior Noah Johnston at free safety and Holyfield at strong safety. Marshall and Pack-Adams also will play defensive back.
Senior Denzel Gatewood, Smith and senior Lacey Hill will be the linebackers.
Coach Don Schmidt expects more victories for the Brashear Bulls. This season, he has plenty of talent to make that happen.
“It is very frustrating for me to be the head coach of Brashear and only have three wins in two years,” said Schmidt, whose team finished 1-7 last season, including an 0-4 mark in City play. “This is a program that has a lot of success in the Pittsburgh City League over the years. I need to continue to work hard as the head coach. Turnovers, lack of offense have kept me up at night. That has been our main emphasis during camp this year.”
The Bulls will be led by two of the City’s top players in sophomore wide receiver/safety Ta’Mere Robinson and junior running back/linebacker Kevin Smith.
Robinson (6-3, 190) holds scholarship offers from Pitt, Penn State, WVU, Michigan, Syracuse and William & Mary.
“He can really cover the field and break on the football,” Schmidt said. “At 6-foot-3, 190 he is just a playmaker. He covers well and is very aggressive.”
Smith, a third-year starter, was an All-City selection on defense last season and is expected to be the Bulls’ primary ball-carrier this season.
“He is one of the best football players in the area that has not gotten a lot of notice so far,” Schmidt said. “Watch him play, and more importantly watch him hit. Extremely smart and aggressive.”
Junior Zaire Brandon Nelson will take snaps at quarterback, and junior Rahsheed Saunders will be another playmaker in the backfield.
Sophomore tight end/linebacker Kameron Cheatom also is a Division I prospect, who, like Smith, has an offer from Toledo.
Seniors Jamari Watkins and D’Aimer Johnson, junior Aaron Ford, and sophomores Jiyson Allen and A’Maury Jones will anchor the lines.
Perry Traditional Academy
After spending the past three years as Perry’s defensive coordinator, Darnell “Pepsi” Farrow took over as the team’s head coach in July when Rod Rutherford resigned. Farrow is quite familiar with the program, helping lead Perry to the 1989 PIAA Class AAA title.
“As a former player, it’s pretty cool to lead your alma mater,” he said.
Farrow inherits a team that finished 3-6 last season (1-3 City) and lost to University Prep in the City League semifinals.
The Commodores have several playmakers to rely on this fall, including junior wide receiver Tyrese Fearby, senior Jeremiah Davis at quarterback and senior Kenny Hairston, a transfer from Hopewell who will play wide receiver.
Senior captain Ray Dean also returns as a versatile weapon on offense. He will see time at slot receiver, running back and quarterback.
“We’re gonna try to showcase his talents on offense,” Farrow said.
Fearby also should make an impact on the defensive side of the ball. Farrow described the 6-foot-6 defensive end as “dominant.”
Junior Kareem Adams (5-11, 230) returns on the offensive line and at linebacker, and junior Kenny Hughes (5-10, 290) returns at defensive tackle. Sophomore Mitchell Cook (6-4, 275) returns at left tackle after an impressive freshman campaign.
“We still want to build what we’ve been building,” Farrow said. “The last three years we were focused on getting to the playoffs. We aren’t taking a step back. We want to be able to take the next step. We want to be in that City championship.”
Senior Keith Norman, an All-City linebacker last season, returns to lead the way for University Prep. The Panthers finished 8-3 overall and 4-0 in the City League. They defeated Perry in the semifinals before falling to Westinghouse, 12-2, in the league title game.
University Prep then lost to Cathedral Prep in the PIAA District 8-10 subregional.
Graduation, however, took a major toll. University Prep returns just two starters — Norman and junior lineman Robert Arms.
In addition to his duties on defense, Norman will play tight end on offense.
“He is the heartbeat of this team,” coach Lou Berry said of Norman. “His teammates are really inspired by the way he leads. He is hungry for a championship.”
Junior Rashan Murray also is expected to be an impact player at wide receiver and defensive back. Berry also expects senior running back Zisean White and senior tight end Marcus Johnson to be key playmakers on offense. Arms, junior Dominick Asamoah and sophomore Jaeden Anderson will anchor the line.
Bulldogs coach Donta Green is preaching 100% effort to his players — a philosophy built on starting fast, finishing strong and having a great attitude, he said.
It’s a process that worked a year ago when Westinghouse went 8-4 and won the City title.
The Bulldogs will begin their title defense without defensive tackle Dayon Hayes, who is now at Pitt, and seven other All-City League selections who graduated. But the cupboard isn’t bare.
Westinghouse returns a talented defensive backfield loaded with three-year starters in seniors Emilio Valentine, Duane Cooper and Darius Bruce.
Bruce, who also will be an impact player on offense and special teams, is a Division I prospect who was an All-City honoree a year ago. Green said he put on 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason and increased his speed.
“He’s our guy,” Green said. “He’s the guy when time is running down, we’re going to put the ball in his hands. He’s been a play caller on defense the past two years. He will make plays for us.”
Much of the offense will run through junior running back Malik Harris, a third-year player who Green called one of the best tailbacks in the City. Senior Timothy Jones is moving from quarterback to wide receiver, and junior Jairon King also will be a target at wideout. Sophomore Keyshawn Morsillo will take over at quarterback.
Senior Jawaun Noaks and junior Keylen Kenney are returning starters on the offensive line, and junior Mark Butler also was a key contributor up front last season.
“We want to compete every time we come out of the tunnel,” Green said. “We want 100% effort. That’s our goal every year. Of course, we want to win a City championship, but we want to compete all four quarters (first).”
For the second straight season, Carrick will play as an independent, though the Raiders will face a couple of City League opponents. They will open at 4:30 p.m. Saturday against Perry and will play Westinghouse on Oct. 23.
Carrick, which finished 0-7 in 2019, plans to revisit plans to return to City League play after this season.
“The goal has always been the same, which is build strong young men of character and give them the skills to be successful in life,” coach Brian Nolte said. “If we can do that, winning games will be a byproduct.”
Carrick will be led by senior wide receiver VaShawn Howard and junior running back Tay’Ron Ross at the skill positions.
“They have to lead the team on offense, and they’ll be making big plays on defense for us as well,” Nolte said. “In order for us to move the ball, they’re going to have to be involved in the offense.”
Defensive playmakers include sophomore middle linebacker Brendan Patton-Smothers and junior hybrid safety/linebacker Laronte Moore.
Senior Nate Elk (6-1, 220) is a two-year starter who will anchor the offensive and defensive lines.
Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at email@example.com or via Twitter @TribHSInsider.
More High School Football• PIAA football championship factoids: WPIAL teams look to make history
• PIAA finalists stand atop Trib 10 football power rankings
• Few tickets. No locker rooms. Covid-19 alters football team plans for PIAA championships
• The Birdie thinks Jeannette will do the steamrolling in PIAA finals
• High school football schedule, broadcasts for PIAA championships