WPIAL Class A football breakdown: Defending champion Bishop Canevin the team to beat

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Saturday, August 20, 2022 | 12:01 AM


Bishop Canevin does not have a lot of players who might be considered NCAA Division I prospects — at least not according to the feedback from college coaches.

“We’re kind of on that (5-foot-9) threshold,” Crusaders coach Richard Johnson said. “There are a lot of D-3 schools interested but not D-1s.”

That’s all right. Bishop Canevin is more interested in winning than recruiting at this juncture, as the team seeks a repeat performance of 2021.

The Crusaders are the preseason favorites in Class A after winning the WPIAL championship, 42-7, their first title since 1990.

“They’re loaded at the skills,” Greensburg Central Catholic coach Marko Thomas said.

Most of the team’s starting offense and defense return to compete in a new-look classification.

“We’re not overlooking anyone, I can tell you that,” Johnson said. “The goal is to see how we react to being the target.”

The Crusaders, who finished 13-2 after falling to Redbank Valley in the PIAA playoffs (23-14), feature wide receivers/defensive backs Xavier Nelson and Lesae Lacks and quarterbacks Jason Cross and Cole Olzewski, among others.

Bishop Canevin has moved from the Eastern Conference into the Big Seven with Avella, Burgettstown, Carlynton, Chartiers-Houston, Cornell, Fort Cherry and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart was the runner-up last season and has a new coach in Donnie Militzer, who took over after the resignation of Dan Bradley.

Militzer has coached at Robert Morris, Carnegie Mellon, Washington & Jefferson, Charleroi and Bishop Canevin, among other high school stops.

Chargers quarterback Nehemiah Azeem is a playmaker, and lineman Ryan Farrell is a force at 6-3, 277.

“We believe we remain a contender. We get all of our skill back and our linemen are hungry,” Azeem said. “We know what we have to do to get back there, and it starts with the offseason. We’ve been grinding.”

While Bishop Canevin won’t play Clairton in conference, Johnson knows it’s never a good idea to turn your back on a bear.

“They could be young, old, ineligible … doesn’t matter,” Johnson said. “Clairton is always a factor.”

Clairton brings back quarterback Capone Jones and lineman Tyrese Law.

“We have some very good young talent,” Clairton coach Wayne Wade said.

Johnson also expects Cornell to be a tough out in his conference. EJ Dawson is a player to watch. Given space, he is dangerous.

Two teams from the Eastern Conference to watch are Leechburg and Greensburg Central Catholic.

Leechburg features senior tailback and linebacker Braylan Lovelace, who ran for 1,506 yards and 29 touchdowns last season. Pitt recruited him as a linebacker.

GCC has depth and skill, particularly at running back and receiver. Senior Jaydin Canady could have a big season in the backfield.

Class A is the smallest in the WPIAL by enrollment, but it grew in size this season. It now has 30 teams — up from 24 — and goes from three conferences to four.

Newcomers down from 2A are Frazier, Beth-Center, Carlynton, Chartiers-Houston, Laurel, South Side and Summit Academy.

Several coaches pointed to perennial contender Rochester as a top five-caliber team.

Laurel could be an X-factor after winning a conference title in 2A. But the Spartans lost their leading passer, rusher and receiver.

“There was already great football in Single-A,” Laurel coach Brian Cooper said of the new teams in the class. “It just makes it that much deeper of quality teams and that much more difficult to win a championship.

“We were in Single-A a few years ago and we know it is strong football there. We are up for the challenge.”

West Greene features running back/linebacker Colin Brady, a junior who ran for 1,444 yards and 20 touchdowns last season.

Carlynton senior running back Shawn Curry had a 256-yard rushing game against Riverview.

Also keep an eye on Shenango senior running back CJ Miller (1,013 yards, nine TDs), who will run behind James Madison commit Kyle Lenhart (6-3, 280).

THE FAVORITE

1. Bishop Canevin (13-2)

The Crusaders are stacked with talent after winning their first WPIAL title since 1990. A number of skill players return and the offensive line is a year older.

Preseason rankings

2. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (9-4)

3. Clairton (7-3)

4. Cornell (9-3)

5. Leechburg (9-3)

THE STARS

Nahemiah Azeem, Sr., QB

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

A dual-threat quarterback, he threw for 1,815 yards and 23 TDs as a junior.

Capone Jones

Clairton, Sr., QB/DB

Shifty and accurate, Jones can move the football multiple ways.

Braylan Lovelace

Leechburg, Sr., RB/LB

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Pitt commit has been wreaking havoc in the Eastern Conference for three years.

Xavier Nelson

Bishop Canevin, Sr., WR/CB

A catch-and-go threat, he was a big reason why the offense was so successful last season for the WPIAL champion Crusaders.

Landan Stevenson

Mapletown, Sr., RB/LB

A candidate to push for the WPIAL rushing title, he has 3,651 career yards and 57 career TDs.

DON’T MISS

9.3: Greensburg Central Catholic at Bishop Canevin

Bishop Canevin won last year’s matchup when the teams were Eastern Conference opponents, 20-14.

9.10: Clairton at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

A rematch of last year’s first-round playoff game won by OLSH, 29-15.

10.8: Cornell at Bishop Canevin

Skill and depth could produce an offensive shootout late in the regular season.

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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