Trib HSSN Football Player of the Week for Week 1

Sunday, September 13, 2020 | 9:34 PM

Anytime a key player changes position, there is a little hesitation, a little anxiousness and a whole lot of finger crossing.

Belle Vernon made the move from an offense built around a pocket passer the last few years to an run-option dynamic by putting the ball in the hands of a standout athlete.

Safe to say, Devin Whitlock passed his first test with flying colors.

“Dev had a solid outing vs. McKeesport, but there is always room for improvement,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “He had a dropped touchdown in the end zone and another called back on a penalty. He needs to continue being a dual threat.”

While the junior did not light it up through the air — he was 4 of 11 passing for 35 yards — he more than made up for it on the ground. Whitlock rushed for 239 yards on 18 carries and scored on the third play from scrimmage on a 73-yard run to help lead Belle Vernon to a 20-0 victory over host McKeesport in a Class 4A Big Eight Conference opener.

“We needed a spark right off the bat, and he provided that,” Humbert said of the long score that put the Leopards up for good.”

As a sophomore wide receiver last year, Whitlock had 22 receptions for 291 yards, and he also was the Leopards’ second-leading rusher with 507 yards on 66 carries and 10 touchdowns.

So what impressed Humbert the most in Whitlock’s debut at quarterback?

“His leadership and demeanor in leading the offense,” Humbert said.

Having a running quarterback gives Belle Vernon more versatility on offense.

“It just gives us an extra component on offense, a different dimension,” Humbert said.

It was a solid team effort for the Leopards as Whitlock guided the offense, and the defense pitched a rare shutout of new conference foe McKeesport. It was the first time the Tigers were blanked in six years.

“Great win for the kids,” Humbert said. “They put themselves in a good position right off the bat. Now they just need to keep moving forward.”

Week 1 Honorable Mentions:

Cole Spencer, Pine-Richland

What a start to the season for Pine-Richland, playing its first Class 5A game, and the reigning Trib HSSN Athlete of the Year.

For his outstanding seasons in football and wrestling last year, Cole Spencer was named the 2019-20 Trib HSSN Male Athlete of Year as a junior. He isn’t resting on his laurels as he was nearly perfect in starting his senior season.

Spencer connected on 15 of 17 passes for 338 yards and five touchdowns, all in the first half of the Rams’ 53-7 rout of Fox Chapel in the Class 5A Northeast Conference opener.

Teddy Ruffner, Mars

This likely won’t be the last time we salute one of the top running backs on a long list of outstanding runners who have worn a Mars football jersey.

The latest wing-T phenom is senior Teddy Ruffner, who eclipsed the 3,000-yard career rushing mark with a big season opener against Hampton.

Ruffner rushed for 261 yards on 24 carries and scored four touchdowns as the Fightin’ Planets knocked off the Talbots, 35-13, in a Class 4A Greater Allegheny lid-lifter.

Cadin Olsen, Armstrong

Like Mars and Hampton, Armstrong was hoping a move down in class from 5A to 4A would be a kick start for a program that finished last season with a 1-8 record and eight straight losses.

Hope springs eternal as the River Hawks might have moved south in classification but are flying high after a Class 4A Greater Allegheny opening win.

Sophomore quarterback Cadin Olsen might be one to watch as he completed 20 of 33 passes for 396 yards, including touchdown passes of 20, 42 and 11 yards as Armstrong defeated Indiana, 21-7.

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