Trib HSSN Head of the Class: Player of the year in each of WPIAL football’s 6 classes

Friday, December 31, 2021 | 6:01 AM

Back in the day, when students did well in the classroom, they were moved to the front of the class.

With the return to school from virtual classrooms the year before, Trib HSSN is once again moving those prized students to the head of the class.

There were plenty of players that stood out for their performances on the gridiron around the WPIAL in 2021; however, these six players were a cut above the rest and deserve a classroom salute.

The following have reached the HSSN Head of the Class for this past season and are our players of the year in each of the six classifications. A gold star on the forehead to the following:

Class 6A

Alex Tecza, Mt. Lebanon

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. That may or may not have been the process is trying to determine which of the three Mt. Lebanon offensive dynamos should be the 6A player of the year. Seniors Joey Daniels, Eli Heidenreich and Tecza dominated like no other trio of quarterback, receiver and running back in the highest classification. The HSSN spin of the POY wheel ended up on Tecza. The Blue Devils running back finished second in the WPIAL in rushing with 2,079 yards on 259 carries for an average of eight yards per tote. He also scored 29 touchdowns for 15-0 Mt. Lebanon.

Class 5A

Cade Yacamelli, Penn-Trafford

He may not yet have known the words to the Wisconsin fight song, but this future Badger hit all the right notes in what turned out to be a huge hit season for Penn-Trafford. After starting the season 2-2, Yacamelli was among the seniors who made sure the Warriors did not lose another game. He finished fourth in the WPIAL in rushing with 1,866 yards on 194 carries, an average of nearly 10 yards per carry. Yacamelli also led P-T in receiving with 351 yards and in touchdowns with 29 as the Warriors won their first WPIAL and PIAA football championships.

Class 4A

Devin Whitlock, Belle Vernon

Game after game, opponents tried to find the right combination to slow down the Belle Vernon quarterback. Game after game, they failed. Whitlock rushed for the most yards of any WPIAL quarterback, finishing 17th in the district with 1,189 yards on 109 carries, an average of nearly 11 yards per run. The senior threw for 1,023 yards and nine touchdowns. He led the Leopards to a perfect regular season that ended with district silver. Whitlock provided one of the highlights of the year when he scored on a 40-yard run with four seconds left in a 28-21 victory over Thomas Jefferson.

Class 3A

Sean FitzSimmons, Central Valley

For the second straight year, this Pitt recruit turned playing defensive line into an elite skill position. No matter how many opposing players were sent out on a play to block FitzSimmons, he found a way to blow things up and shut the play down. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound offensive and defensive tackle had over 100 tackles for losses in his career, registered over 100 tackles for a second straight year and had 21 sacks in 2021, giving him 47 sacks for his career at Central Valley. He was a big part of the Warriors’ three straight WPIAL titles and back-to-back state championships.

Class 2A

Nijhay Burt, Steel Valley

Steel Valley fans were left to wonder what could have been after one of the most dynamic players in the district had his season cut short by injury. Burt was an unstoppable force, rushing for over 200 yards five times during the season and missing out on two other 200-yard performances by a combined 14 yards. The Ironmen finished the regular season undefeated and were the top seed in the 2A playoffs; however, a knee injury in the WPIAL quarterfinals ended his season, and Steel Valley was eliminated by Beaver Falls the following week. He ended with 2,044 yards on 153 carries and 35 touchdowns.

Class A

Tommy Burke, Leechburg

Even though there were no championships won, 2021 will still be remembered as a dream season for Leechburg fans. The Blue Devils ended a 33-year playoff drought and after a couple of near misses, enjoyed their first winning football season since 1991. Senior quarterback Tommy Burke was a big reason why, as he threw for 2,213 yards and 18 touchdowns. He finished second on the team in rushing behind Braylen Lovelace with 476 yards and eight touchdowns as the Blue Devils finished 9-3 and won a district postseason game as well. Not bad for a program that was 1-19 in 2016-2017.

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