Pace picks up with high school football camps set to open
Saturday, August 10, 2019 | 7:50 PM
Watch a Penn-Trafford football practice, and the first thing you notice is structure. Players know where to be, when to be there and the effort required in each drill.
An exercise in precision.
The whole process is machine-like with its station-to-station mechanics and monotonous attention to technique. An ordinary workout in July isn’t all that different from a heat practice or a full-on camp session.
Official training camp starts Monday around the WPIAL, and the Warriors will continue the preparation they have been building with for weeks. The only difference will be contact — and a calendar that shows Week Zero is approaching fast.
“We have depth here,” senior quarterback Gabe Dunlap said. “Our coaches want to get the best out of us. Everyone wants to be on the field.”
The Warriors return Dunlap, senior running back Caleb Lisbon, do-it-all senior Ethan Carr and their entire offensive line — among others.
Coach John Ruane and his staff do not take summer workouts lightly. Each time together is a chance to improve and learn something, no matter how trivial, about his players.
That has made Penn-Trafford a title contender for the better part of the last six years, and it will ascend the Warriors to the top tier in Class 5A this fall.
Of course, they won’t be alone. Gateway, Peters Township, defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Penn Hills, Woodland Hills, McKeesport — and a few more — are jockeying for preseason notoriety at the top of the classification.
“There are so many great competitors in 5A,” Dunlap said. “Every game is a battle. We have to be the smarter team and play harder. We have to want it more.”
Ruane isn’t one to “talk up” his teams. He lays out the facts and lets others draw conclusions. While he won’t label Penn-Trafford as a favorite in Class 5A, he did say this: “I really like our team.”
“It sounds cliche, but our goal every year is to win a championship,” Ruane said. “That is what we prepare for. You don’t look ahead. Right now, our focus is on Norwin.”
Penn-Trafford was a quarterfinalist last year but was the 5A runner-up two years ago and finished second in Class AAAA in 2015.
The Warriors will get little reprieve on their schedule. They open against Class 6A rival Norwin, then comes the Big East Conference opener against Gateway, and matchups against McKeesport and Massillon, Ohio, all before October.
“Our first five games are all killers,” Ruane said.
Some other storylines to follow as camp commences:
• Line of duty: It appears to be the year of the lineman in Westmoreland with a number of Division-I prospects digging in up front to open rushing lanes and protect quarterbacks.
Ligonier Valley has two such players in seniors Michael Petrof (Navy) and Christian Jablonski (Lehigh), dubbed as the “Twin Towers.”
Petrof is a 6-foot-2, 275-pound, two-way tackle, and Jablonski (6-5, 260) plays tackle and defensive end.
Senior Wylie Spiker (6-3, 260), another tackle, has offers from St. Francis (Pa.) and Duquesne, and sophomore Jude Grzywinski (6-3, 275) is another Rams lineman to watch.
“This group has an unrivaled work ethic, and they love the weight room,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “They are willing to do things that many kids their age are not willing to do. They take their lunches to the weight room during the school year to get a lift in while eating. They lift after winter and spring sports that they participate in. They go the extra mile to increase their skill sets.”
Training camp allows linemen a chance to do more after watching quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs participate in 7-on-7s all summer.
It’s finally time for full-speed workouts with contact. And soon, it will be game time.
“I am excited to see them against an opponent,” Beitel said. “They go against each other enough, and they are sick and tired of facing each other but those reps have made them all better. I want to see what they can do when they are playing someone that they don’t share a locker room with.”
• Turf wars: Five area stadiums are undergoing renovations with new artificial turf projects.
Jeannette is getting turf at McKee Stadium for the first time in the field’s 82-year history, and Greensburg Salem’s Offutt Field, Panthers Stadium at Franklin Regional, Penn-Trafford’s Warrior Stadium and Norwin Knights Stadium are getting new playing surfaces, too.
Jeannette and Greensburg Salem still were awaiting the turf coating as of early last week, but that won’t affect camp plans.
Jeannette, which looks to have another Class A contender, usually practices on the grass area adjacent to the field, just to the right of the entrance to McKee. Greensburg Salem holds camp behind the high school.
• Can Southmoreland finally break its nonplayoff streak, which could reach 40 years this season?
“The coaches have nailed it into our heads,” senior receiver and safety Riley Comforti said. “We want to make the playoffs. It’s our main goal. Every practice we say, ‘40, on three.’ ”
• A Derry rebuild? Derry hasn’t had a problem reloading its rosters in recent years, but can the Trojans restock again after losing several key playmakers from a team that reached the WPIAL Class 3A title game?
• Belle Vernon appears to have an abundance of talent returning — at various positions — and the Leopards added Monessen transfer Devin Whitlock. Is this the year the Leopards finally unseat mighty Thomas Jefferson in Class 4A?
• Jacked up: Norwin has one of the WPIAL’s best quarterbacks in senior Jack Salopek, a Western Michigan recruit. He had trouble finding time to throw last season, but an improved line could change that.
• Greensburg Central Catholic will look to get back to the WPIAL Class A playoffs under a new coach: Bret Colbert, the nephew of Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .