First-year quarterbacks in charge for several Westmoreland teams

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Saturday, September 28, 2019 | 5:53 PM


David Altimore knew he had a chance to start at quarterback for Greensburg Central Catholic.

The junior earned the nod.

While he anticipated some stressful moments, he didn’t realize the job would be this much fun.

That’s because his first-year coach is making it that way for the first-year starter.

“We love running fun plays,” Altimore said. “Coach Bret (Colbert) always says football is about having fun, and when those plays succeed, everyone’s definitely having fun.”

Altimore is one of several first-year starting signal-callers in the area looking to push his team closer to the WPIAL playoffs.

Many of them juniors, the move to varsity football has been a learning process but one the fresh-faced QBs have embraced.

Some are dual-threats. Others are game managers. All of them are students of the game.

Others are:

• Junior James Sanders of Jeannette;

• Junior Asher O’Connor of Mt. Pleasant;

• Franklin Regional junior Trevor Brncic;

• Senior Sam Sheeder at Ligonier Valley — not as much a first-year starter as he is a returnee to the position;

• DaWayne Howell, a senior lefty at Monessen;

• Yough junior Gamal Marballie, who was thrust into the position when sophomore Tristan Waldier was injured in the opener.

Altimore has discovered being a quarterback is more than calling plays, delivering passes and handing off. His play has helped GCC (5-1, 4-1) remain the thick of the tight Class A Eastern Conference playoff race.

“It’s been a pretty good transition,” Altimore said. “Everyone’s really helped me a lot, and I’ve learned that I’m the leader on offense, so I have to stay positive and try to keep everyone in a good mood, no matter what.”

Freshman Nate Dlugos also has seen time under center for the Centurions. He started in their 42-41 win over Leechburg in triple overtime, spelling Altimore who rested after a physical game against Clairton.

“David is as unassuming as a QB can be,” Colbert said. “Quiet and extremely humble, but he’s as tough a kid as I’ve ever coached. Monday after Clairton, he couldn’t lift his left arm but said he was fine. He’s smart, quick on his feet, and doesn’t make the same mistake twice. He’s taken command of the offense and done everything we’ve asked of him. And he gets better each week.”

Altimore threw for 464 yards and eight touchdowns in four starts.

Colbert does not sell Dlugos short. Having a formidable backup, albeit one so young, is a luxury.

“Nate did a great job stepping in against Leechburg,” Colbert said. “He’s got all the confidence you want in a QB, but still realizes he has a lot to learn and embraces the coaching. Having David take control of the offense and allow Nate to develop is the best thing that could happen to Nate.”

Colbert added this vote of confidence for his freshman: “There aren’t a whole lot of teams outside of Alabama and Ohio State that can win a 3-OT game with their backup, especially without changing the gameplan at all.”

Sanders has been effective in his debut season at Jeannette (6-0), showing the ability to leave the pocket and throw on the run. He has spread the ball around to a number of big-play receivers, including seniors Jackson Pruitt and Bayley Molter and sophomore Brett Birch.

But he’s had some help. The Class A No. 1 Jayhawks have depth at the position.

Versatile junior transfer Roberto Smith Jr. has shown a knack for big plays as his backup, while junior Toby Cline also has played a few snaps under center. All three completed passes in Friday’s 49-0 win over Brownsville.

Smith was cleared last week by the WPIAL after transferring from Greensburg Salem.

Sanders is the go-to guy but Jayhawks coach Roy Hall likes to mix it up on occasion. Sanders threw for 710 yards and 12 scores through five weeks.

“It’s nice to have that option,” Hall said of Smith. “James has done a great job running our offense and made some nice throws.”

Mt. Pleasant (2-4) likes to run the ball, but O’Connor has played a role in that gameplan while keeping the Vikings in form and pushing toward a return to the postseason after a two-year absence.

“Asher does a nice job of managing the offense, and he’s getting better each week,” Mt. Pleasant coach Jason Fazekas said. “He has made some really nice throws in tight-game situations. He’s a good runner who really helps our running game.”

Franklin Regional (3-1) didn’t play Friday as it took advantage of a bye week but the Panthers know they can rely on Brncic to guide the offense when they get back to action next week against Gateway.

Longtime Panthers coach Greg Botta appreciates Brncic’s approach and leadership qualities.

“It’s his calmness and demeanor,” Botta said. “He responds to being coached. And you look at how hard he works. The getting up at 5:55 a.m. to work on his game.”

Sheeder has retaken his place as the starter at Ligonier Valley (6-0). He was supposed to be the quarterback two years ago, but he injured his knee and John Caldwell took over the position.

Sheeder had thrown for 735 yards and eight scores, completing 37 of 51 attempts, four games into the season (the Rams have a forfeit win over United).

He has played quarterback, running back and receiver over the years for the Rams.

“That gives a huge advantage because not only does he know what everyone is supposed to do, but he has actually done (the positions) all himself,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “We ask a lot of our quarterbacks in our (run-pass option). Sam has been great so far this season. He has directed our offense in a lot of scenarios, especially in two-minute offense, temp mode, RPO, and converting the offense for first downs or touchdowns.”

Sheeder threw for 313 yards and four TDS against West Shamokin — in just over two quarters of playing time. He had not turned the ball over in four starts.

“He is a complete modern-day quarterback that can beat you will his arm and his feet,” Beitel said.

Like Sheeder, Belle Vernon senior quarterback Jake Hartman also returned to the position this year after a knee injury cost him most of his junior season. He passed for 254 yards and three scores Friday in a 43-3 win at Greensburg Salem.

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

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