Acclimatization prepares teams for football
Hot summer provides first test for high school teams
Craig Yarger holds the tackling dummy so as Kevin Boyle can practice his technique during summer conditioning drills at Bethel Park High School. The Black Hawks and all PIAA teams must complete a three-day heat acclimatization process before beginning training camp sessions. The high school sports season officially begins Aug. 12.
Are you ready for some football?
Area high schools certainly are. While most have been conditioning and lifting weights throughout the summer in temperatures that have exceeded 90 degrees, this season, the scholastic clubs must set aside three days to complete the heat acclimatization program adopted by the PIAA football steering committee.
During the heat acclimatization process, football players are permitted to wear helmets and shoulder pads the first two days. On the third day, full protective equipment is permitted.
Contact is not permitted during the first two days of heat acclimatization, but contact can take place on the third day.
No practice session during the heat acclimatization process can last more than three hours, and it must be followed by a break of at least two hours. Football teams are limited to a maximum of five hours of practice a day, regardless of the length of each session.
The process can be completed prior to the official start of practice or during the initial three days of workouts. Football camp begins Aug. 12 for WPIAL-participating teams. Many of the local high school grid teams plan to complete the acclimatization process during the week of Aug. 5-9.
“We are all in the same boat,” said Seton-La Salle head coach Greg Perry.
“It’s tough,” added Bethel Park skipper Jeff Metheny. “It’s wrecking havoc with kids’ vacations. And while I understand the concept, teams are already out there working on drills and conditioning during this heat.”
According to executive director Bob Lombardi, the PIAA is addressing an issue that has been a concern for at least the last decade across the country, particularly with the number of heat-related deaths that were preventable. The PIAA believes institution of this new program is a step in the right direction.
After the acclimatization period and the two-week training camp, which features multiple sessions of drills daily as well as two scrimmages, teams hope their preparations advance them in the direction of conference championships and playoff berths.
Action toward those objectives commences Aug. 30. The Road to Heinz Field begins nine weeks later and culminates in WPIAL championship action Nov. 22-23. The PIAA finals are set for Dec. 13-14 in Hershey.
Several South Hills teams should be in the hunt for conference championships and more based on the talent they return from successful campaigns in 2012.
While coaches give Woodland Hills the nod as the favorite to claim the Southeastern Conference, co-champions Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair, as well as Bethel Park, plan to contend for the title. Heading into training camp, each boast at least one major Division I college prospect.
Lebo already has a commitment to Penn State from Troy Apke, while Alex Bookser can write his ticket to any program. Colleges on the 6-6, 295-pound tackle’s short list are: Pitt, Alabama, Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio State.
While Boosker will anchor the offensive line, Apke and the Blue Devils must adjust to a new signal caller if they are to repeat their 2012 success.
Although the Panthers edged them in head-to-head competition, the Blue Devils shared the conference title with rival Upper St. Clair. Both posted 7-1 records in the division. Lebo finished 8-3 overall and the Panthers sported a 10-2 slate, falling to Woodland Hills in the Quad-A semifinals.
For the Blue Devils, a rookie quarterback may not be such a hurdle to clear. During Mike Melynk’s initial season at the helm, Lebo shifted from a predominant run offense to a potent pass attack. And, in his first season behind center, Tyler Roth shattered several school records before he matriculated to Princeton. Roth passed for 2,514 yards, 1,048 of them to Apke.
Meanwhile, USC, among others, boasts Rori Blair. He recently committed to Pitt. The 6-3, 225-pound tight end and defensive end earned another year of eligibility because of health reasons.
After his junior year, Blair suffered a stroke. While he nearly died from complications from the condition, he recovered but missed his senior season. When doctors granted him permission to play again, USC appealed to the WPIAL for an extension on his scholastic career. Because he met the criteria, the district granted Blair the eligibility.
Though lacking in numbers, Bethel Park boasts a talented line-up. Michael Grimm recently made a verbal commitment to the University of Pittsburgh. The senior anchors both lines. After a rookie campaign, in which he threw for 1,071 yards and seven scores, Levi Metheny returns to call the signals in his sophomore season.
Last year, Bethel Park finished tied for third place in the Southestern Conference with Woodland Hills. Both posted 6-2 slates. The Black Hawks finished 7-4 overall.
Peters Township broke even last year at 4-4 in the division and finished 5-5 overall after giving Gateway a stiff challenge in the Quad-A playoffs. The Indians feature plenty of big men up front as they recently won the strongman competition at the Pitt camp this summer.
Fresh will be the faces at the helm at Canon-McMillan as well as Chartiers Valley and Bishop Canevin.
Ron Coder, 58, takes over a program that has won only two games in three seasons. The Big Macs were 2-26 under Tim Sohyda and 1-8 last fall. A former NFL lineman, Coder played football at Penn State. Prior to coming to Canon-McMillan, he served as an assistant coach at Northgate and as a coach for the Pittsburgh Passion, a women’s professional team.
At Chartiers Valley, the Colts welcome Niel Loebig, 30. He replaces Chris Saluga. Despite last year’s 2-7 campaign, Saluga resigned as the winningest football coach in school history. Saluga coached 12 years at CV.
A standout quarterback, Loebig threw for 5,589 yards and 65 touchdowns in high school. The South Fayette product passed for more than 10,000 yards and 100 touchdowns while at Duquesne University. He led the Dukes to four straight conference titles and an NCAA Division I-AA mid-major national championship in 2003. Prior to coming to CV, Loebig served as an assistant coach with the Dukes and at Lely High School in Naples, Fla.
New at the helm, too, is Darren Schoppe, 40. He assumes the Bishop Canevin coaching position, vacated after 44 years by Bob Jacoby. An assistant under Jacoby for 13 seasons, Schoppe served as the defensive coordinator at South Fayette the past six years.
Schoppe played for Jacoby, too. He was a member of the 1990 WPIAL Class AA championship club that edged Washington, 21-20, but fell to Hanover Area, 20-19, in the PIAA finals.
Jacoby racked up a 288-170-7 record. In addition to coaching football, Jacoby taught American history, served as athletic director and softball coach, winning two district and one state title.
Last year, Canevin edged out Chartiers-Houston for the final playoff spot in the Black Hills Conference, tying Brentwood and Imani Christian for third with a 6-3 slate in the division. The Crusaders lost to North Catholic, 21-0, in the Class A playoffs, which were dominated by four-time district and state champion Clairton.
Meanwhile, over at South Fayette, Brett Brumbaugh promises to be the premier passer in the WPIAL this fall.
Brumbaugh ranked second in the district last season, behind Mark Leftwich, who led North Allegheny to the PIAA Quad-A title by passing for 3,331 yards and 45 TDs. While Leftwich has moved on to the University of Texas at El Paso, Brumbaugh returns for his junior season. He threw for 2,823 yards and 27 scores during the 2013 campaign, which ended with a 26-14 loss to rival Wash High.
Before the Lions can even engage thoughts of a rematch with the Little Prexies, who will again be led by Washington’s Shai MacKenzie, they must survive the challenges brought on by rivals such as Seton-La Salle and Keystone Oaks in the Century Conference.
Last year, with Brumbaugh’s brother, Luke, at the controls, Seton-La Salle battled the Lions for the top spot in the division. However, South Fayette won the league crown with an 8-0 record while the Rebels finished runner-up in the conference with a 7-1 mark. Overall, the Lions finished 11-1 while SLS was 9-2.
While South Fayette lost leading receiver Zach Challingsworth to Pitt, Brumbaugh has two returning receivers that should rank among the leaders in the WPIAL. They are Connor Beck, who had 29 grabs for 457 yards in 2012, and Justin Watson, who had 28 catches for 592 yards. Additionally, the Lions return tight end Jack Previte.
Tom Rizza and Rick Mellick are two of the players to watch at Seton-La Salle.
Despite a 2-7 showing in his first campaign as head coach, Matt Taylor looks for improvement at Keystone Oaks. One major reason for optimism is Kobe Phillippi. As a freshman, Phillippi passed for more than 1,000 yards and a dozen touchdowns.
Follow The Almanac throughout the pre-season and look for more in-depth previews of each of the teams in the readership region when the annual football tab hits the streets on Aug. 28.
Acclimatization prepares teams for football
Hot summer provides first test for high school teams
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