Strong junior class aims to carry Belle Vernon across finish line

Thursday, August 11, 2022 | 5:50 PM

The past five seasons of Belle Vernon football have been equal parts scintillating and frustrating. The Leopards proved they were one of the best teams in Class 4A, reaching the WPIAL title game twice and the semifinals three times.

The down side? There are no gold trophies in the case to attest to what the program has achieved under coach Matt Humbert.

So the theme for the 2022 Leopards is “finish.”

“We feel like the momentum the program has built over the past five years … it’s just one of those times we need to finish now,” Humbert, in his eighth season at BVA, said. “These kids are eager to not only finish for themselves but also for the kids who have come through over the past five years.”

A couple of factors suggest the Leopards should get at least a couple of bites at the apple in the very near future. First, they moved down to Class 3A this year, where they will shed playoff nemeses Aliquippa and Thomas Jefferson.

Secondly, the roster is stocked with 22 juniors, many of whom played key roles last season. That number accounts for what Humbert believes will be close to half of his uncharacteristically small roster.

“There is a select few of them who were playing last year,” said senior Evan Pohlot, who is projected to man one of BVA’s receiver spots. “So they were sophomores playing on varsity, so that experience is probably going to help them. That’s what’s going to help us most, those juniors.”

Of course, the discussion of the junior class begins with Quinton Martin. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound do-everything athlete is one of the nation’s top recruits for the Class of 2024.

But even if Martin was taken out of the equation, there is plenty of talent to go around among the 11th graders.

Besides Martin, who will line up in a variety of positions, six other juniors are projected to be in the starting lineup on offense: Tanner Moody at fullback, Colton Lee at receiver, Aiden Johnson at tight end, Dane Levi at left tackle, Luke Bryer at center and Dylan DeWitt at right guard.

Two others, Braden Laux and Adam LaCarte could nudge into the starting lineup as camp progresses. Laux is battling senior Tanner Steeber at quarterback, and LaCarte is among a deep corps of receivers.

On the other side of the ball, five juniors, not counting Martin, are projected to start, with two others vying for roles. Laux, at 6-5, 215, is likely to start at defensive end along with Levi. Jake Gedekoh and Moody will play linebacker, and LaCarte will line up at free safety.

DeWitt and Perry Riggle are jockeying for time at defensive tackle.

Gedekoh also will bring another dimension to the offense: He is hard-nosed runner who will complement Martin’s speed and athleticism.

“He’s a kid who runs hard as hell,” Humbert said. “He’s just a hell of a football player.”

And he, along with 21 others, will be around for two years, giving the Leopards a favorable chance to, finally, finish.

“Anytime you have a class with a lot of kids, you typically will have a well-rounded group,” Humbert said. “We have almost every position in every category covered in that class.

“I think the kids are just dialed in. Not that they weren’t dialed in last year, but I also think that there’s a little pressure that comes with the group that’s finally supposed to do it.”

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