CTK ’16: 1-A Tri-County South Conference Preview

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Monday, August 29, 2016 | 10:32 PM


Frazier gave the much-maligned Tri-County South Conference some respect last season. The Commodores were undefeated until losing in the WPIAL semifinals to Clairton.

A new year brings new classifications in the WPIAL and a slightly altered Tri-County South Conference. Frazier is gone. So is Beth-Center. So is Bentworth. All three of them are now in Class 2A under the state’s new six-class sytem.

Six members of the Tri-County South last year stayed in the conference. Monessen and Fort Cherry are new this year.

There doesn’t seem to be a prohibitive favorite to win the conference. Some expect Monessen to be the frontrunner, but the Greyhounds lost a Week 0 game to Charleroi last Friday. Carmichaels, Jefferson-Morgan and Avella have experienced teams returning.

Here is a look at the Tri-County South:

AVELLA EAGLES

With nine starters back on offense and nine on defense, the Eagles could be flying high this season after finishing 2-7 in 2015. Coach Ryan Cecchini’s team had made the playoffs the two previous seasons.

On offense, Dalton Simonelli made a few starts at quarterback last season and the former fullback will take over at QB full time this year. There is some experience at the other skill positions. Steve Miller rushed for 331 yards last season. That’s not eye-popping, but he did lead the team in that category. He also caught 15 passes. Garrett Geresti and Owen English return at the receiver positions.

Shawn Willard is a 6-5, 240-pound senior who is a returning starter on the line. The offensive line is solid with three other returning starters – John Mull, Zack Cannon and James Taylor.

Some of those linemen also play defense. One of the defensive leaders will be Mull, who had 15 tackles for loss last year. Simonelli, Mitch Macik, Miller and Dylan Markle return at linebacker. Returning in the secondary are Matt Craig and English.

CALIFORNIA TROJANS

The Trojans finished 2-7 last season and have to replace quarterback Casey Zajicek, who did some good things last year. The running game has some potential with the return of junior tailback Jonathan Wood. Jelani Stafford returns at fullback.

The lines will be led by senior tackle Tim Sheehan, who made first-team all-conference a year ago. Also back is senior Nick Baron and junior Braden Collins.

Improvement is needed on both sides of the ball. The Trojans scored 116 points in two games last season, but only 64 in the seven others. The defense allowed 322 points in nine games.

CARMICHAELS MIGHTY MIKES

After finishing fourth in the conference a year ago, the Mikes have the makings of a team that could challenge for first this season.

Coach Ryan Krull has 15 returning starters. One of them is Robert Meadows, a first-team all-conference lineman a year ago. Four other starters return on the offensive line – juniors Evan Burnett and Tim Currey and sophomore Jacob Turner.

Nick Mundell toted the ball 65 times for 221 yards last season, but is expected to be the leading running back this year with the graduation of leading rusher Coty Allen. The quarterback will be Johnny Christopher, who moves over from receiver. Cody Brown also returns after catching 27 passes a year ago. Brown also will be a leader on defense at DB.

FORT CHERRY RANGERS

It’s a somewhat new world for Fort Cherry after playing in the Black Hills Conference since 2002. The Black Hills is no more and Fort Cherry will probably welcome the change to the Tri-County South, which isn’t as strong as the old Black Hills.

Fort Cherry was 2-7 a year ago and averaged only 12.9 points a game. But a number of starters return from that team, which gives coach Jim Shiel hope for improvement. Nick Cook, last year’s leading rusher, returns. The Rangers graduated some linemen and there are holes to fill there. Also quarterback is a question mark. Devon Brown started last year, but the 6-6, 250-pound moves to tight end. Fort Cherry was one of only two Tri-County South teams that did not play last Friday, so it is not known who will play QB. A few players were vying for the spot in the preseason, including Ryan Culberson, who transferred from South Fayette.

On defense, Robbie Cooper and Matt Staley are returnees at linebacker. Brown is a DE to watch.

JEFFERSON-MORGAN ROCKETS

It has been a lot of the same for Jefferson-Morgan the past three seasons. The Rockets have been 4-5 for three consecutive years and missed the playoffs each year. This year, the postseason seems more likely.

Jeff-Morgan has seven starters returning on both offense and defense. One of the best is Joe Headlee, who led the team with 894 yards rushing last season. He also is a talented defensive back.

Other returning starters are OL-LB Brennan Kozich, OL-DL Diari Davis, QB-DB Eli Rafail, RB-LB Colten Davidson, OL-DL Brody Maruzik and WR-DB Dennis Garrett.

MAPLETOWN MAPLES

Mapletown is one of the smallest schools in the WPIAL. But it was only two years ago that the Maples finished 7-3. They fell to 3-5 last year.

If having a talented, successful running back means anything, then things are looking up for the Maples this year. Dylan Rush rushed for 1,439 yards and scored 21 touchdowns last year as a sophomore. Big things are expected of him and he could lead the Maples to respectability.

Mapletown has some returning linemen to block for Rush. One of the best is Gavin Uphold. J.J. Scott and Tanner Weston also return.

Coach George Messich will try to improve a defense that allowed 29 points a game last season. Linebacker R.J. Durr will be one of the defensive leaders.

MONESSEN GREYHOUNDS

The season certainly didn’t get off to a running start for these Greyhounds as they were defeated by Charleroi last Friday. But once Monessen gets into conference play, things could be much better.

Monessen is back in the Tri-County South after playing in the Eastern Conference. Second-year coach Joe Salvino has a team that is young and inexperienced in spots, but also one that figures to challenge for the conference title.

Jaden Altomare saw some time at quarterback last year and will be the full-time QB this year. Jaron Youngblood showed some promise at running back. Altomare is one of Monessen’s top basketball players and Salvino also is the coach of the basketball team.

Monessen has some returnees on the lines, including Marc Gibson and Hunter Telegraphis.

WEST GREENE PIONEERS

The Pioneers have the seventh-worst record in the entire WPIAL since 2000. They are hoping to just be a little more competitive after losing 14 in a row.

Offense was the biggest problem a year ago as the Pioneers scored the second-fewest points in the WPIAL, averaging only six a game. More than half of this year’s varsity players are freshmen and sophomores.

Colton Hamilton returns at quarterback. The team also has one of the biggest players in 1A in Craig Weaver, who goes 6-8 and is a four-year starter. Only four seniors are on the team. The others are lineman Dylan Morgan and receiver Eric Stoll.

MSA SPORTS PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1.      Carmichaels Mighty Mikes

2.      Monessen Greyhounds

3.      Jefferson-Morgan Rockets

4.      Fort Cherry Rangers

5.      Avella Eagles

6.      California Trojans

7.      Mapletown Maples

8.      West Greene Pioneers

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