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'Canes set to take WPIAL by storm again in '99
New Castle tops NSN's WPIAL Class AAAA pre-season rankings
By Rick Smith, August 21, 1999

1999 WPIAL Class AAAA Football Rankings

1. New Castle (11-4)
2. Woodland Hills (9-2)
3. North Allegheny (10-3)
4. Penn Hills (8-4)
5. Connellsville (6-4)
6. North Hills (6-4)
7. McKeesport (6-4)
8. Mount Lebanon (6-4)
9. Penn-Trafford (8-4)
10. Shaler (9-2)

Last season was a return to the glory days of lore for the New Castle football program. Head coach Gary Schooley's WPIAL champion and state runner-up Red Hurricanes evoked memories of past heroes such as Lindy Lauro, Bruce Clarke, and the ghosts of ten WPIAL championships and 628 all-time wins, more than any other WPIAL team. While the football-crazy fans of New Castle had to wait 24 years for WPIAL crown #11, the Nauticom Sports Network's pre-season WPIAL Class AAAA #1 team appears to again have the necessary talent to deliver title #12 just one year later.

Topping the list of returnees for the 'Canes is 6'6" 320 pound Nick Marmo. The senior guard is on everyone's recruiting list and is recognized as one of the top high school offensive linemen in the entire country. An honorable mention member of the Pennsylvania Football News 1998 Class AAAA All-State team, Marmo has already made an early commitment to play at Penn State next season.

Marmo will open holes for a running game that boasts the return of three productive running backs. Devin James, John Rosati, and Justin Sheldone were all major contributors for New Castle as juniors. Additionally, first team All-Quad North Conference WR/DB Corey Lemmon, a 6'1" 180 pounder, returns for his senior campaign, as does deadly accurate place kicker Pasquale Romano.

It should come as no surprise that #2 Woodland Hills is near the top of the NSN pre-season rankings. The perennial power has advanced to the WPIAL post-season playoffs in 10 of the 12 years since the school opened in 1987. Despite the loss of Big 33 All-Star game participants William Ferguson and Lousaka Polite, both University of Pittsburgh recruits, head coach George Novak's squad should once again be talented, deep, and very fast.

The Wolverine's top recruit this season is two-way lineman David Bonda, a 6'3" 275 pound senior. Bonda has excellent speed and quickness for a player who works in the trenches. He's been clocked at 4.9 seconds in the 40 yard dash. Another Wolverine player receiving interest from the college recruiters is wideout Jason Russell, a 6'3" 195 pound senior. Russell is also a star player for Woodland Hills high flying basketball team.

The offensive backfield for Woodland Hills will be manned primarily by three seniors and should also be a real strength in 1999. Quarterback Shawn Spencer, 6'1" 165 pounds, and tailback Maurice Walker, 5'6" 160 pounds, have both been clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Mike Broadnax, 6'1" 210 pounds, is both a punishing blocker and runner.

Defense will once again be the name of the game at #3 North Allegheny. Last year's WPIAL runner-up ranked #1 among WPIAL Class 4A teams in scoring defense, allowing less than eight points per contest. 1999 should be no different for head coach Jim Rankin's Tigers. Despite the fact that only two starters return on offense, North Allegheny should once again be at or near the top of the always-brutal Quad North Conference standings. The Tigers will fight it out with solid teams from New Castle, North Hills, Shaler, and Seneca Valley for the top spot.

Three year defensive starter Scott Canary, a 6'2" 230 pound first team All-Quad North performer, will anchor the defense from his inside linebacker spot. Canary, who can run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.9 seconds and bench presses 315 pounds, is drawing interest from smaller Division I-A and some of the top Division I-AA college teams. Fellow seniors Justin Hoot, 6'2" 190 pounds, and Chris Tolhurst, 6'4" 220 pounds, will give North Allegheny one of the stronger linebacking combinations in WPIAL 4A. Tolhurst, who has been clocked in the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, is starting to draw the attention of Division recruiters.

#4 Penn Hills returns a number of key players and should give Woodland Hills a real battle for the Quad East Conference crown in 1999. The Indians' trademark defense, swarming and relentless, should again be evident for head coach Neil Gordon's squad. Up front, 6'4" 260 pound senior lineman Howard Randolph will be a force. All-Quad West Conference linebacker Eric Mejia, a 6'2" 220 pounder, returns for his senior season. Troy Banner, a 6'3" 240 pound junior inside linebacker, is also a raging bull of a fullback for the Penn Hills offense.

The catalyst for the Indians' offense is tailback Melvin Kirby, a 5'9" 180 pound senior. Kirby showed flashes of brilliance in the WPIAL playoffs last season when he was given the opportunity to spell starter Terrence Dean. Despite the fact that Penn Hills seldom passes the ball, the Indians offense will benefit from the return of starting quarterback Glenn Hood, a 6'1" 175 pound senior.

Big offensive lines and a strong ground game are nothing new for #5 Connellsville. Head coach Dan Spanish's squad is led by 6'6" 275 pound blue-chip tackle Mike Shellenberger. The Falcons senior will be the lynch pin for an offensive line that should average well over 250 pounds per player.

The Falcons are no strangers to success, making the WPIAL playoffs in 15 of the past 18 seasons. Spanish is 175-86-11 in 25 years at the helm for the Falcons. Helping to make that success continue for the Quad South Conference power will be break-away tailback Marcus Furman, a 5'9" 165 pound junior. Furman was extremely impressive as a green, but lightening fast, sophomore in a 48-47 overtime loss to Mount Lebanon in the Kickoff Classic at Three Rivers Stadium early last season. All Furman did was race for 255 yards on 31 carries and score five touchdowns.

#6 North Hills, the alma mater of Penn State linebacker phenom LaVar Arrington, may still be a year away from greatness according to head coach Jack McCurry. But this junior dominated squad may have what it takes to turn more than a few heads this season. Class of 2000 players such as 6'3" 210 pound quarterback Dave Lamb, 6'5" 230 pound tight end Andy Richardson, and 6'2" 180 pound wide receiver Mickey Yokitis will highlight a dangerous passing game for the Indians.

Brian Stumpf, a 5'10" 170 pound running back, and All-Quad North linebacker Steve Smyers, 6'1" and 210 pounds, will add senior leadership. What Stumpf lacks in size, he more than makes up for in heart and tenacity. Meanwhile, Smyers is a four year starter who has amassed nearly 300 tackles during his varsity career. Smyers, an excellent student with a 4.4 GPA and an SAT score that exceeds 1,300, is being pursued by a number of Ivy League schools. Sophomore Mark Ferris, a 6'5" 230 pound lineman, started as a freshman and will be a blue-chip recruit in 2001.

Can #7 McKeesport contend with Woodland Hills and Penn Hills for a Quad East Conference title? If so, head coach George Smith's Tigers will have to get a huge season out of RB/DB Kinnan Herriott. Despite being one of the WPIAL's most exciting running backs, the 5'11" 170 pound senior is being recruited primarily as a cornerback by Division I schools. Herriott also excelled as a triple jumper for the McKeesport track and field team.

The #8 Mount Lebanon offense is in excellent hands with the return of starting quarterback Kevin Weidl. In the same Kickoff Classic game that Connellsville's Marcus Furman went wild, Weidl, also a sophomore at the time, led his team to the 1-point victory with a 9 of 15, 203 yard, 3 TD, 0 INT passing performance that earned him game MVP honors. Look for fellow junior RB Sam Mathews to lead the Mt. Lebo ground attack.The Blue Devils should have what it takes to outpace tough Quad West Conference competition from Baldwin, Ringgold, and Upper St. Clair.

You can't help but feel that Art Tragesser is starting to really build a very solid program at #9 Penn-Trafford. One of those teams that is always a dangerous competitor in the post-season. The Warriors have given the WPIAL's best teams fits during the playoffs in both of the last two years. Last year it was Woodland Hills that narrowly escaped a scalping. In 1997, the Warriors knocked off heavily favored Fox Chapel and lost in a heartbreaker in the WPIAL championship game by one point to eventual state runner-up Upper St. Clair. Is this the year Penn-Trafford reaches the Promised Land?

#10 Shaler is yet another Quad North Conference team with high hopes. With solid linemen like All-Quad North performer Jarrett Hryniszak, a 6'3" 245 pound senior, head coach Frank Rocco's Titans will be right in the thick of the playoff chase. Hryniszak recorded 63 tackles and 8.5 sacks last season. The third year starter combines strength, he can bench press well over 300 pounds, with excellent quickness. Junior running back Brandon Lehmeier, a 5'10" 195 pound pin-ball, will be one of the WPIAL's top running backs for two more years. 6'1" 180 pound WR/CB J.T. Hood has good hands and will add senior leadership. As will 6'1" 235 pound lineman Tom Torchia, also one of the WPIAL's top heavyweight wrestlers and javelin throwers.

Some other players to watch during the 1999 WPIAL Class AAAA season ..... Franklin Regional LB/G B.J. Evangelista (verbal commitment to Penn State), Latrobe QB Matt Kozusko (Cincinnati), Laurel Highlands QB Dan Bosnic, Penn-Trafford QB Mike Simpson, Ringgold P/PK Todd James, DB Jeremy Cole, and RB Jeremy Gerba, Norwin LB/FB Mike Croyle, Greensburg Salem G Greg Hutchinson, DB/WR Greg Jones, and junior QB Adam Bostick, Bethel Park G Nathan Baston, Upper St. Clair junior QB Justin Accamando, TE/LB Ron Blue, and OL/DL Todd Hondru, Baldwin WR Jake Godec, Seneca Valley DL Greg Ames and K Nate Lang, Hempfield QB Brad Dvorsky, and Pittsburgh Central Catholic TE Pat Arndt.

Prediction: 1999 WPIAL Class AAAA Playoff Qualifiers

Quad North
Quad East
Quad South
Quad West
1. New Castle 1. Woodland Hills 1. Connellsville 1. Mount Lebanon
2. North Allegheny 2. Penn Hills 2. Penn-Trafford 2. Ringgold
3. North Hills 3. McKeesport 3. Greensburg Salem 3. Upper St. Clair
4. Shaler 4. Franklin Regional 4. Hempfield 4. Baldwin