Westmoreland County linemen pass ‘the eye test’ in recruiting process
Saturday, August 17, 2019 | 11:51 PM
Ligonier Valley senior Michael Petrof has a photo of himself standing next to Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
And while no one is comparing Petrof with the former Penn Hills and Pitt standout, the fact Petrof (6-foot-2, 275 pounds) is taller than the best player in the NFL proves you don’t have to be the biggest player to compete on Sundays.
Donald wasn’t highly recruited coming out of Penn Hills. He originally committed to Toledo before Pitt came made on offer.
While Power 5 schools like offensive linemen in the 6-5 range or better and defensive linemen around 6-3, the 6-1 Donald proved the big programs wrong.
“Aaron had quickness and strength that overcame his height,” Metro Index director Joe Butler said. “His first move is unbelievable.”
Butler has been judging high school football players since 1977. He’s feels the 2019 class is pretty good.
He said in 1986 there were 65 players 6-4 or taller. Last year, there were 18.
“Football has changed a lot since 1986,” Butler said. “Western Pennsylvania used to be a Mecca for having big linemen. But enrollments are down, injuries have become a factor and social media is a problem.”
Donald’s achievements, however, have been a positive influence on a lot of linemen in Western Pennsylvania.
Many are working with Donald’s trainer, DeWayne Brown of 2Tenths Speed & Agility, and learning techniques and training practices Donald uses.
Some of that training has helped high school players hone their trade and receive NCAA Division I offers.
“Working with Mr. Brown has definitely helped me,” Hempfield senior Fintan Brose said. “I watched Aaron work out one day, and it was amazing the stuff he does. I watched how he gets around linemen so easy.”
A few Western Pa. linemen have received Power 5 offers, and others are getting Division I offers from smaller schools. Seneca Valley senior tackle Josh Kaltenbaugh (Purdue), Central Catholic defensive end A.J. Beatty (North Carolina), Mars tackle Michael Carmody (Notre Dame) and Westinghouse defensive end Dayon Hayes (Pitt) have committed to Power 5 programs.
“The Power 5 schools are looking for players that have height, big hands, length in their arms, strength and good hips in offensive linemen,” Butler said. “The defensive linemen have to be quick, have good hands, strength and good hips.”
This means shorter players — like Donald — sometimes get overlooked in the process.
Former Hempfield and Mt. Pleasant coach Bo Ruffner said one thing college recruiters want to see is the player.
“The eye test,” Ruffner said. “They want to see how big you are in person. They want to make sure the player they see on video is actually as big as reported.”
Greg Meisner, Hempfield’s athletic director and former football coach, believes the Power 5 schools get too enamored with the 6-5 player in the trenches. As a former Pitt defensive lineman and former NFL offensive tackle for the Rams, Meisner knows what it takes.
“I thought Pitt missed on Weston Banks years ago when Dave (Wannstedt) coached,” Meisner said. “I took Weston down to a workout against a 6-5 kid Pitt was recruiting, and Weston dominated him.
‘They offered the other kid instead of Weston because they didn’t think he was big enough. A Pitt coach called me the first week of fall camp and asked if Weston was still available. I told him it was too late.”
Banks had moved on from football and signed a track and field scholarship at Louisville.
“That other kid didn’t last at Pitt,” Meisner said. “Weston would have probably started at center for three seasons.”
There are numerous players from Westmoreland County who have received Division I offers, and some already committed.
Brose (6-4, 270) committed to Delaware, where he will join his brother, Braden. It’s a place Fintan said fit where he wanted to play in college.
Fintan Brose does have an offer from SEC school Vanderbilt, a place he visited and enjoyed some barbecue while in Nashville, Tenn.
“Brose is a great recruit for Delaware,” Butler said. “He’s a bull-rusher and runs well. Fintan is a Power 5 player. He’ll do well there.”
Petrof is one of three Ligonier Valley linemen to receive Division I offers. He already has committed to the U.S. Naval Academy as a nose guard.
“I’m really excited about my Navy offer,” Petrof said. “It’s a great place, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Butler said Petrof is a great fit for Navy.
“I know the Navy coaches are excited,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “I know he has a chance to play on either side of the ball.”
Teammate Christian Jablonski committed to Lehigh, and Wylie Spiker just received offers from St. Francis (Pa.), Duquesne and Robert Morris.
Derry senior lineman Max Malis has an offer from the Air Force Academy, and teammate Gavin Adams has one from St. Francis. Belle Vernon senior tackle Hayden Baron has an offer from Valparaiso, Kiski School’s Ben Nauenburg from Bryant and Penn-Trafford tackle Derek Sutherland also has a Valparaiso offer.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .