Signing day punctuates season of change for Penn-Trafford, Jeannette stars

Wednesday, December 16, 2020 | 6:11 PM

One moved from wide receiver to quarterback. The other, from quarterback to receiver.

Both made sacrifices to make their teams better.

Now a pair of talented athletes from Westmoreland County will look to add to the quality of play at two in-state Division I FCS football programs.

Senior Ethan Carr of Penn-Trafford will return to his familiar receiver spot at cross-state Villanova, while Jeannette senior James Sanders prepares to play defensive back at St. Francis (Pa.) in Loretto.

The pair signed letters of intent Wednesday to cement their commitments as the early signing period opened around the country.

“It was definitely a long build-up (to signing day), and I’m just super relieved and excited especially after this crazy year of uncertainty,” Carr said.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Carr, the Tribune-Review Westmoreland County Player of the Year, played a handful of positions as a junior but shifted to quarterback this season and led Penn-Trafford to the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals.

He threw for 1,027 yards and 16 touchdowns and also ran for a team-high 687 yards and seven TDs as the Warriors finished 6-2 in a coronavirus-shortened season.

“He can honestly play any position on the field, other than line, I guess, and be successful,” Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane said of Carr. “He has athleticism, toughness, strength and intelligence. I know Villanova is excited to utilize his skill set.”

Sanders, meantime, helped lead Jeannette (10-2) to a WPIAL Class A championship and a PIAA runner-up finish as s big-play receiver and shutdown defensive back.

He committed to the Red Flash on Tuesday, accepting his lone D-I offer. He will join his brother, Gio Vonne, at St. Francis, possibly in the same defensive backfield. The elder Sanders is a redshirt junior defensive back.

“I’m very excited to just to get up there and meet the coaches and build relationships with the players,” Sanders said. “And get ready to work.”

Sanders, who said the door is open to possibly play an offensive spot at the next level, had 35 receptions for 702 yards and 11 touchdowns, a year after he passed for more than 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns from under center.

Jeannette moved Sanders to wideout to make room for budding freshman Brad Birch, who had a breakthrough season for the Jayhawks.

Sanders was one of his top targets.

“He is a true leader, true captain,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said of Sanders. “Never once was there ever any attitude. He took it with open arms. He handled it like a true champ … and turned into a dynamite receiver.”

Sanders also had four interceptions.

Carr was beaming after the opening drive of the Warriors’ semifinal loss at Pine-Richland, not just because the Warriors scored first, but because of how they scored. On a trick play, he caught a touchdown throw from Chase Vecchio. It was reminiscent of last year when he pulled in 42 catches for 764 yards and 10 scores.

He is eager to return to a pass-catching role for Villanova, which offered him last year.

“I’m definitely excited,” Carr said. “I kind of missed it throughout the year, but quarterback had some awesome moments of its own as well.”

Villanova came in first on a list of offers that also included Central Michigan, William & Mary, Akron, Kent State, Bowling Green, Duquesne and Robert Morris.

“Nova is such a great fit because it’s just family,” Carr said. “It’s a brotherhood that the coaching staff has installed over the years that makes it exciting to be a part of.”

Carr also registered 36 tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown this season from his strong safety spot.

Sanders, like his brothers who played before him at Jeannette, plays with a chip on his shoulder because of his diminutive size. He is 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds.

Small but mighty used to be a catchphrase at Jeannette. It also fits the Sanders boys.

“Always,” he said. “I’m going to prove that I belong at a Division I school, and it’s going to show. I also want to prove that no matter how small I am, I’m still going to get the job done at SFU.”

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

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