Head of the Class: Trib HSSN Football Player, Coach of the Year for each classification

Friday, December 4, 2020 | 5:07 PM

Back in the day, when a student did well in the classroom, they were sometimes moved to the front of the class.

Well this is the Trib HSSN version of that. Yes, consider this a virtual classroom.

There were plenty of players and coaches who stood out for their performances on the gridiron around the WPIAL in 2020, however these six players and coaches were a cut above the rest and deserve a classroom salute.

The following have reached the HSSN Head of the Class for this past season and are the Trib HSSN Players and Coaches of the Year in each of the six classifications.

Class 6A

Player of the Year: Eddy Tillman, Central Catholic

What a difference a healthy Eddy Tillman made. Tillman battled some mid-season injuries as Central Catholic slipped to 3-2 in Class 6A following losses to North Allegheny and Mt. Lebanon in a span of three weeks. However, the senior running back returned to form in the postseason, rushing for 289 yards in playoff wins over Mt. Lebanon and NA to lead the Vikings to their eighth district championship.

Coach of the Year: Terry Totten, Central Catholic

When the Class 6A playoffs began, many thought regular season champion North Allegheny had what it took to win the district or that Mt. Lebanon would finally break a 20-year title drought after finishing the regular season with three straight wins. But after losing in Weeks 3 and 5, Terry Totten quietly led his Vikings on a postseason revenge tour that ended with his team repeating as Class 6A champion.

Class 5A

Player of the Year: Cole Spencer, Pine-Richland

With plenty of talent returning and the program moving down from Class 6A to 5A, Pine-Richland was expected to dominate, and thanks to its senior quarterback, they did not disappoint. Spencer connected on 158 of 222 passes for 2,627 yards with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also ran for eight touchdowns in leading the Rams to a perfect 11-0 season.

Coach of the Year: T.J. Plack, Peters Township

After five years as head coach, T.J. Plack has helped turn Peters Township into a school known for success in futbol (soccer) to one gaining a strong rep in American football. The Indians won the Allegheny 6 Conference and earned a spot in the WPIAL finals for a second straight season with a thrilling 20-19 win over defending champion Gateway before suffering their only loss to Pine-Richland in the Class 5A title game.

Class 4A

Player of the Year: Vernon Redd, Aliquippa

Last year, Vernon Redd did his part to help Aliquippa reach another WPIAL title game before losing in overtime to Central Valley in the Class 3A final. This year, the senior running back played a bigger role as his team moved to a bigger class. Redd averaged 8.6 yards per carry and rushed for 1,292 yards and 18 touchdowns before the Quips lost another overtime heartbreaker in the Class 4A final to Thomas Jefferson.

Coach of the Year: Mike Warfield, Aliquippa

When it comes to enrollment numbers, Aliquippa is a Class A school that opted to play up one or even two classes for better competition and to keep some great Beaver County rivalries alive. However, a new PIAA competitive balance point system forced the Quips to play in Class 4A this season. Despite the enrollment imbalance, Mike Warfield led the Quips to a conference crown and a trip to a 13th straight WPIAL title game.

Class 3A

Player of the Year: Sean FitzSimmons, Central Valley

On a team filled with elite skilled position talent, this Central Valley wrecking ball up front led the way in shutting down the top talent on the opponent’s side of the line of scrimmage. The junior lineman led the Warriors in solo tackles with 51, in total tackles with 112 and in sacks with 18 as he averaged more than 9 tackles per game and had 36 tackles for losses. He provided the power for a lights out team that claimed WPIAL and PIAA titles in Class 3A.

Coach of the Year: Mike Collodi, Elizabeth Forward

In Mike Collodi’s first year at Elizabeth Forward in 2015, the Warriors won three games and finished in seventh place in the Class AAA Big Ten Conference. Each year, the program improved and the win total went up until a breakout season this fall. EF won the Class 3A Interstate Conference outright for only the third time in school history and then won a home playoff game and reached the WPIAL final for the first time.

Class 2A

Player of the Year: Josh Hough, Beaver Falls

If you’re not sure how to say Josh’s last name, it rhymes with tough, which is very fitting for this Syracuse recruit. The bruising running back was a big part of a district championship run for Beaver Falls. Hough rushed for a WPIAL-high 1,920 yards on 113 carries while leading the Tigers with 28 touchdowns. The most impressive stat was his yards per carry average of a mind-numbing 17 yards per carry.

Coach of the Year: LaRoi Johnson, Sto-Rox

It was the worst possible start to a season for the football coach and new athletic director at Sto-Rox. Hours before they were scheduled to face Carlynton in Week 1, the Vikings had to forfeit because of a lack of eligible players. But the bounce back was sweet and impressive as Sto-Rox won eight straight before losing in the WPIAL Class 2A final, a year after falling in the Class A championship game.

Class A

Player of the Year: Dontae Sanders, Clairton

Sometimes the true value of a player is evident when he’s not available. Such was the case for Clairton senior running back Dontae Sanders, who was second in the WPIAL with 1,780 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns. However, he was injured early in the WPIAL championship game and did not return, hurting the Bears’ chances of repeating in a loss to Jeannette.

Coach of the Year: Roy Hall, Jeannette

Jeannette coach Roy Hall and his staff started off by making some position changes to open the door for freshman quarterback Brad Birch, and despite a Week 1 loss to defending champion Clairton, it paid off. Birch was outstanding in leading the Jayhawks to the district finals. In that game, he was hurt, but the staff made another change and moved running back Roberto Smith Jr. to quarterback, and he nearly led them to a state crown. The Jayhawks won the WPIAL Class A title and finished second in the state.

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