Linemen highlight numerous early football signings in Westmoreland County

Wednesday, December 18, 2019 | 5:15 PM

One of the best recruiting years for linemen in Westmoreland County reached its high point Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA Division I early signing period for college prospects.

A number of brawny frontmen made their verbal commitments official as they signed national letters of intent to block and tackle at the next level.

Ligonier Valley, the WPIAL’s newest member that will begin play in the league in all sports next school year, had three signees: Michael Petrof (Navy), Christian Jablonski (Lehigh) and Wylie Spiker (St. Francis, Pa.).

The trio helped form a unit that has been referred to as “The Great Wall.” They helped the Rams reach the Disrict 6 Class 2A championship.

Petrof (6-foot-2, 275 pounds) was recruited as a defensive lineman. Jablonski (6-5, 250) is expected to play defensive end, and Spiker (6-2, 260) is projected as an offensive tackle or guard.

“The three of them have such totally different stories that have brought them to this day,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “All three players have worked relentlessly to better themselves physically and develop their skill sets. The greatest things that they all have in common is strength, and each has taken total control of that aspect of their development.”

Petrof was asked if signing day marked the culmination of his recruiting process.

“I don’t feel like it’s is the culmination, or at least I hope it isn’t,” he said. “Yes, today is a big day, but it won’t be the biggest. I have more to give, and, hopefully, more opportunities to succeed.”

Other county linemen to sign included Hempfield’s Fintan Brose (Delaware) and Cole Graham (St. Francis, Pa.), Belle Vernon’s Hayden Baron (Robert Morris) and Scott Houseman (Albany), a Yough grad who goes to Lackawanna junior college in Scranton.

Brose (6-3, 285) will join his brother, Braden, a sophomore tight end, at Delaware. Fintan was a finalist for the Bill Fralic Memorial Award for the WPIAL’s top lineman for 2019.

Graham and Houseman are late-bloomers. Graham began to draw interest last month and verbally committed last week.

Houseman has been at Lackawanna for two years and earned a starting spot on the offensive line for the Falcons, who reached the JUCO national championship game. Offers poured in for the 6-4, 300-pounder, and he chose Albany earlier this week.

Norwin quarterback Jack Salopek signed with Western Michigan. The strong-armed senior finished his career as the career passing leader at Norwin and in Westmoreland County with 6,150 yards and 40 touchdowns.

“It feels great (to sign),” said Salopek, who once had an offer from Pitt. “I am so lucky to get an excellent education paid for.”

Two other players from WPIAL Class 4A runner-up Belle Vernon also inked with Division I programs. Kicker and punter Cameron Guess signed with Pitt, and wide receiver and defensive back Nolan Labuda accepted a preferred walk-on offer at Akron.

Guess is the No. 9-ranked punter in the Class of 2020 by Kohl’s Kicking Camps, and Labuda broke numerous receiving records for the Leopards. They join Baron (6-3, 260), who was recruited an offensive left guard.

“All three are prime example of what work ethic and coachability can do for you,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “They are great students, players and humans as well.”

Jeannette’s Jackson Pruitt is a unique case because he committed to and signed with Youngstown State on the same day. A possible safety down the line for the Penguins, Pruitt made an official visit this past weekend and received an offer.

YSU coach Bo Pelini was at a recent Jeannette basketball practice.

“This past week was very long for my family and I,” Pruitt said. “Ever since we went up to YSU, we said it was the best place for me. To be able to receive and offer from them is unreal. It proves to everyone that I have what it takes and that the sky is truly the limit. This is not the end for me, though. It’s only the beginning.”

Former Jeannette defensive standout Anthony Johnson, who played this season at Bowling Green, also signed with Youngstown State. He announced last week he had planned to transfer. Johnson played his senior season of high school at Cleveland Heights.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at

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