Unsung heroes help Belle Vernon to state championship game

Thursday, December 8, 2022 | 6:01 AM

Alonzo Wade always has three words in the back of his mind, whether he is lining up wide for a pass route or posturing to make a play at outside linebacker.

“Always be ready,” the Belle Vernon sophomore football player said.

That mantra has rung true across the roster this season as the Leopards made their run to WPIAL glory and a potential state championship.

Wade is one of a number of unsung contributors for Belle Vernon (11-2), which will take on Neumann-Goretti (11-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday for the PIAA Class 3A title at Cumberland Valley.

“Whether they need me on defense or offense, I’m ready to go,” Wade said.

Wade is tied with senior Chase Ruokonen for the team lead in interceptions with four. He has made 35 tackles for an active and deep defense.

“Zo is one of the best basketball players we have here,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “He has that big (6-foot-3) frame. He rotates for us when the opportunity comes up and doesn’t say a word.”

Just as impactful of late has been sophomore Anthony Crews, who returned the opening kickoff 68 yards for a touchdown to key last week’s 21-17 win over Central Martinsburg.

He also has earned time at cornerback for a defense that is allowing just 8.8 points over 13 games. He has 32 tackles.

Crews has filled in nicely for injured senior Evan Pohlot, who might play Saturday for the first time since Week 7 (leg injury).

Another key player who works in anonymity is junior tight end/defensive end Aiden Johnson.

“We don’t throw to the tight end too much, so he is a glorified lineman for us,” Humbert said. “We had some big shoes to fill when Cole Weightman left, but he has done a nice job.”

Johnson has 28 tackles, five of which came in last week’s win, along with a sack.

“My high school career started out rough because I hadn’t played much since middle school,” Johnson said. “But I found a love for it again.”

Others who clock in and out with little fanfare include junior Zach Zelenski, a fullback for the Leopards.

Junior Colton Lee and senior Dom Sasko stepped in when junior Tanner Moody (RB/LB) was injured this season.

“Zachary, same thing,” Humbert said. “He knows where to go. He works and does it with a smile on his face.”

The Bryer name long has been a staple at Belle Vernon, and junior lineman Luke Bryer has anchored the offensive line at center and sees reps as an interior defensive lineman.

Notice how most of the aforementioned players have a ways to go before graduating.

Belle Vernon basically will bring back its entire team next season.

“This is going to help me for my next two years of football,” Wade said. “It’s going to help all of us.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.


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