The countdown continues for the 2013 high school football season. Only a few days remain until the 44 teams in District 10 kick off the year under the bright lights of Friday night.
Leading up to opening night, The Meadville Tribune is going to take a look at the six regions in District 10. Today we’re starting with the big school leagues — Region 5 and Region 6.
Region 6 returns a defending state champion in Cathedral Prep and a couple other teams — McDowell and General McLane, to be specific — that are going to be hot on Prep’s trail. (The Region 6 preview can be found on Page B3).
Region 5 finds Meadville and five other teams attempting to unseat reigning champion Slippery Rock.
Slippery Rock Rockets
2012 record: 8-3 overall, 6-0 Region 5
Head coach: Brendan Hathaway (4th season at Slippery Rock, 6th overall)
Opening week opponent: Home vs. Brashear, Friday at 7 p.m.
Slippery Rock has some rebuilding to do. And much of that comes from the graduation of quarterback Ryan Currie, who was a straight up play-maker for the Rockets. Last year, he passed for 568 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 738 yards and 18 more TDs.
Former receiver Jake Whitmer is taking over at QB for Currie. He’ll at least have an experienced running back to hand off to as second-team all-region rusher Frank Conlon returns for his senior season. He led the team with 897 yards and seven TDs last year.
Whitmer will also have Currie’s favorite target from last year to throw to as senior Chris Reeseman (nine catches, 122 yards, two TDs) returns to the lineup.
The Rockets will need to replace some of their big boys with the graduations of first-team offensive linemen Dylan Neal and Forrest Christmann and first-team defensive lineman Spencer Rea.
Overall, the Rockets do have some holes to fill. But the program seems to have broke through since its 0-10 campaign in 2010, using coach Brendan Hathaway’s system to good effect. A repeat region title isn’t too far-fetched.
2012 record: 8-2 overall, 5-1 Region 5
Head coach: Frank Varischetti (7th season)
Opening week opponent: Home vs. Mifflin County, Friday at 7 p.m.
Where does DuBois keep getting these quarterbacks from? First there was Sean Sleigh, who threw for almost 3,600 yards in his career for the Beavers. Now there’s Gabe French, who tallied 1,540 passing yards, 17 TDs and just six interceptions as a sophomore starter last year. He’ll be back under center as a junior. And he’ll be welcoming back his top target from a year ago, junior Bryson Paulinellie, who caught 29 passes for 446 yards and nine TDs.
DuBois will have to develop some more options downfield, though. Receivers Garrett Miles and Jared Baummer both graduated. And the running game will be looking for new talent as well with the graduation of the Region 5 Player of the Year, running back Garrett Brown, who amassed 1,654 yards and 23 TDs on the ground in 2012.
Don’t feel too bad for DuBois, though. They bring back plenty of talent elsewhere, like two-way all-region lineman Tyler Fleeger; first-team kicker Josh Hnat; second-team linemen Matt Lingle and Nick Johnson; and second-team linebacker Cory Berquist. The Beavers are clear contenders for this year’s region title.
2012 record: 9-3 overall, 4-2 Region 5
Head coach: Greg Latimer (1st season)
Opening week opponent: Home vs. East, Friday at 7 p.m.
Greg Latimer, an assistant under Warren’s previous head coach Brad Wright, takes over the Dragons’ helm for the 2013 season.
One of his big tasks this year will be replacing standout quarterback Austin Jerman, who led Region 5 with 2,088 yards and 28 touchdowns through the air, and also led the team in rushing with 713 yards and seven TDs.
Jerman’s back-up last season, junior D.J Fehlman, will take over under center.
The team’s second-leading rusher, Matt Falvo, also graduated. However, senior Luke Wortman returns after gaining 521 yards and five TDs on 41 carries last season. He’ll also be the team’s top returning pass-catcher after grabbing 25 receptions for 377 yards and three TDs in 2012.
The Dragons will have to find replacements for their main passing targets of a year ago, wide out Jordan Willetts and tight end Marc Davis, both first-team all stars.
2012 record: 4-6 overall, 2-4 Region 5
Head coach: Jeff Puglio (5th season)
Opening week opponent: At Kennedy Catholic, Saturday at noon
Region 5 was loaded with dual-threat quarterbacks that could air it out as well as tuck it and run. Bradford’s Matt Yurkewicz was one of those guys, passing for 459 yards and three TDs while leading the team on the ground with 829 yards and 12 TDs.
Former slot back Sean Siffrinn, a senior, will be taking over Yurkiewicz’s spot this year. Siffrinn will most likely be handing the ball off to Justin Fishkin. He was the Owls’ fourth leading rusher last season (50 carries, 291 yards, three TDs), coming after Yurkiewicz and fellow graduates Aaron Fishkin and Josh Corignani.
Siffrinn was Bradford’s top receiver last year (nine passes, 157 yards). With him at QB, the Owls’ best returning pair of hands belongs to junior tight end John Pantuso, a second-team all-region pick.
2012 record: 4-6 overall, 2-4 Region 5
Head coach: Mike Feleppa (2nd season)
Opening week opponent: At Northwestern, Friday at 7 p.m.
The 2013 Meadville Bulldogs football team is nearly an even split between returning players and new faces.
For instance, first-team all-region running back Ryan Harkness is back. He gained 1,130 yards and 13 TDs on 206 carries as a junior. He’s moving from fullback to halfback this year. But mostly new to the backfield will be halfbacks Jarrid Miller and Nathan Martin, both juniors, and Derek Niemann, a senior. Miller and Martin both had just a handful of carries last year.
Senior Caleb Schweter is a returning starter at wide receiver.
The line is another split. Senior Josh Trimble returns to center. Guards Jake Jageman and Louis Crawford are both returning starters. But the tackles — senior Caleb Graham and sophomore Jimmy Silvis — are new.
Overall, the Bulldogs have 11 seniors on the team. And their leadership is really going to help to bring those new starters along.
Oil City Oilers
2012 record: 4-7 overall, 2-4 Region 5
Head coach: Matt LaVerde (6th season)
Opening week opponent: At Corry, Friday at 7 p.m.
Oil City is going to be tough this year. The Oilers return their leading rusher from a year ago, Kevin Daly, who gained 1,374 yards and 16 TDs on 207 carries; and their top three receivers from a year ago, Logan Way (62 catches, 1,100 yards, 11 TDs), Jesse Rice (27 catches, 274 yards, one TD) and Frank Serbati (13 catches, 263 yards, one TD). The Oilers are also touting a good group of linemen, headlined by second-team all-region pick Quinton Reed, a senior.
The only real area of concern for the Oilers is at quarterback, where Taylor Stamm graduated after completing 76 of 144 passes for 1,274 yards and 11 TDs.
His replacement will be senior Trent Zdarko. Last season, Zdarko was a tight end and running back and was a second-team all-purpose back on offense and on the line on defense. This year he’ll continue his uncommon two-way duties, playing QB while lining up at nose guard on “D”.
Zdarko’s last consistent quarterbacking job was reportedly as a freshman. If he can manage to get the ball to the Oilers’ stable of receivers, this team could enjoy an exciting year.
2012 record: 1-9 overall, 0-6 Region 5
Head coach: Tom Haynes (1st season at Franklin, 17th overall)
Opening week opponent: Home vs. Titusville, Friday at 7 p.m.
Franklin’s new head coach, Tom Haynes, is a familiar face to Crawford County folks. For 16 seasons he was head man for the Cochranton football team before leaving two years ago. And when Franklin’s previous head coach Dave Smith left the Knights program after last season, Haynes decided to dive back in.
Haynes is installing a new triple-option attack on offense, offering some flexibility for talented senior quarterback Kyle Ritchey, who completed 105 of 217 passes last year for 1,518 yards, 10 TDs and 11 INTs.
Franklin’s running back corps will be new. It will feature senior Kyle Uber at fullback while seniors Ryan Madden and Jake Hernan will play halfback.
The Knights graduated quite a few good receivers last season in A.J. Cooley, Forrest Wested and Chris Kahle. But senior Isaiah Rutherford returns after leading the team in receptions (29 for 274 yards, three TDs). He’ll be joined by Khalil West, who grabbed eight passes for 131 yards in 2012. Senior Cleo McKinney and sophomores Tyler Moon and Rayquan Gray-Law will also go deep.