What to watch in Week 1: Laurel Highlands vs. Belle Vernon matches 2 top college recruits

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Friday, September 2, 2022 | 6:00 AM


Don’t be surprised if a few college coaches make an appearance at Belle Vernon’s football stadium.

Two of the state’s top recruits will share the Leopards’ gold-colored field Friday night when Laurel Highlands visits Belle Vernon for a nonconference game with plenty of star power.

Laurel Highlands wide receiver Rodney Gallagher, a West Virginia commit, is ranked fifth in the state among seniors by Rivals.com. On the other sideline, Belle Vernon’s Quinton Martin, an uncommitted junior running back/safety, is ranked as Pennsylvania’s top recruit in the 2024 class.

The current evaluation period on the NCAA recruiting calendar runs from Sept. 1 to Nov. 26.

Martin has around 20 Division I offers, including Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia, along with Top 10 teams Ohio State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Michigan. His most recent offers came from Florida State and Tennessee.

Gallagher committed to the Mountaineers in May.

Laurel Highlands defeated rival Uniontown, 50-6, in Week Zero, led by a five-touchdown effort from Gallagher, who caught four TDs. This is the season opener for Martin and Belle Vernon.

A year ago, these two teams were in the same Class 4A conference, but realignment let Belle Vernon drop to 3A this season. The Leopards topped Laurel Highlands, 56-14, when they met in Week 6 last season. The Leopards won that day without Martin, who missed the game injured.

“We’re excited,” Laurel Highlands coach Rich Kolesar said of the matchup. “We know last year we were very competitive in the first half and the game kind of got away from us late. Our kids are excited for the real measuring stick here, to see how much we improved in the offseason if we’ve made that step to the next level.”

Begins with a bang

The WPIAL changed the way it goes about scheduling nonconference games a few years ago, a decision meant to avoid lopsided scores and long bus rides. This is technically the third year for the new system, but nonconference games were eliminated in 2020 because of the pandemic.

So, in reality, this is just the second year, but the pairings show some promise. The Week 1 schedule has a number of intriguing matchups, including five games where both teams are ranked in the TribLive HSSN rankings.

• Class 2A No. 3 Washington visits Class A No. 3 Clairton

• Class 2A No. 2 Steel Valley visits Class 2A No. 4 Sto-Rox

• Class 4A No. 4 Central Valley hosts Class 3A No. 2 Avonworth

• Class 4A No. 3 McKeesport visits Class 5A No. 2 Penn-Trafford

• Class 3A No. 5 Beaver visits Class 2A No. 1 Beaver Falls

Leaving the City

City League teams must see Labor Day weekend as a good time to get away.

Allderdice, Brashear, Perry and Westinghouse all have Week 1 games an hour or more from home. The longest drive belongs to Westinghouse, which is taking a 200-mile ride to the Harrisburg area to play Steelton-Highspire on Friday night.

Allderdice is traveling to Altoona, Brashear visits Wheeling Park in West Virginia and Perry is headed to Harrison Central in Ohio.

Carrick is the only team at home this week. The Raiders host Albert Gallatin Friday at Cupples Stadium.

Pittsburgh vs. Philly

The WPIAL wasn’t able to give Central Catholic a game for Week 1, so the Vikings instead found an opponent from the other end of the state. Abraham Lincoln, a member of the Philadelphia Public League, will play Central Catholic on Friday at the Wolvarena.

The school is in northeast Philadelphia. Among District 12 football schools, it’s the fourth-largest with an enrollment a little less than North Allegheny’s. Among its former students was actor Sylvester Stallone. It also served as the fictional high school of Rocky Balboa, his most famous movie role.

This one counts

Class 6A has the fewest teams of any WPIAL classification (five), but the big schools start conference play before anyone else. The first conference game has North Allegheny visiting Canon-McMillan at 7 p.m. Friday.

The teams played twice last season and North Allegheny won both times. The Tigers won 36-14 in the regular season and 49-26 in the playoffs.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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