| home | about us | search | links | contact

Woodland Hills reloads from the ground up!
Second in a series of the top AAAA teams in Western Pennsylvania
By Jason Coleman

Some people have called Penn State "Linebacker U" because of the many great Linebackers who've played at Beaver Stadium. Some have now begun to call Woodland Hills "Running Back High". Woodland Hills has been blessed with a long line of great backs. That will not change in 1999. Where the running game should be solid, the Wolverines have a lot of holes elsewhere. Just 6 starters (4 offense, 2 defense) return to a team that finished 9-3 and was a WPIAL semifinalist in 1998. Head Coach George Novak points to an inexperienced QB, team chemistry, and the loss of team leaders Bill Ferguson and Lou Polite as some of the major obstacles. A rebuilding year for the Wolverines? This team is not rebuilding, they are reloading, and many coaches in the WPIAL have picked them as the team to beat. Novak disagrees. "There are 8-9 teams out there that have the talent to get hot and win the whole thing. McKeesport and Penn Hills from our conference (Quad East), Connellsville, New Castle, North Allegheny, Seneca Valley, and a couple others all will be strong this year." The Wolverines are entering their 13th season and have already been WPIAL champs once, semifinalists 5 times, and a playoff team 10 times. The Wolverines know that it is this reputation that leads to preseason accolades; but how does Novak keep the kids from getting too big of a head? "We just show them the tapes of what they did. They see what they do wrong." Which leads you to the question, where do they get all the running backs?

The Wolverines have had a steady run of great backs since their first season in 1987 with Craig Thomas. Thomas (Michigan State; World League), Gerald Thompson (1991 WPIAL AAAA player of the year), Melvin Cobbs (Rutgers; Geneva), Brandon Payne (Akron), and most recently Pitt recruits Lou Polite and Bill Ferguson all ran at the fabled Wolvarena. Five of these played in the Big 33 all-star Game, representing Pennsylvania. So when head Coach George Novak began preparing for 1999 knowing he had just 6 starters returning, it was the running game he looked to first. He seems to have found even more talented backs in seniors Curtis Hall and Maurice Walker. As one visiting coach said at a Woodland Hills scrimmage on August 21st, "It's criminal (all these running backs)." Hall, a 5-8, 165-pound tailback, runs a 4.5 40 yard dash and shows a tremendous ability to escape tackles. Walker, 5-6, 160 pounds, is even quicker at 4.4, and replaced an injured Bill Ferguson in the 1998 playoffs. To keep defenses honest, expect Novak to throw punishing fullback Mike Broadnax at them. At 6-1, 215 pounds, Broadnax can still be dangerous in the open field, running a 4.6 40-yard dash

Some of the other players receiving the preseason accolades are Jason Russell and David Bonda. Russell, a 6-3, 195 pound senior, has received a lot of publicity as a WR, but expect him to be heard of as one of the better safeties in the WPIAL. Bonda will anchor the offensive line, and even at 6-3, 275 pounds, Novak calls him "explosive". Senior Marty Speiler or senior Shawn Spencer will run the offense at QB. Fans of Woodland Hills should expect the hardest hitting defense in years, and will see what should be one of the best defensive backfields in Wolverine history. Russell, Walker, Rafael Smith and Shawn Spencer should give opposing quarterbacks fits, while linebackers Tyree Young and Chuck Cannon take care of the middle. Sophomore Austin Novak will take care of the place kicking duties.

The Wolverines will host the Tigers of Sharon, PA at 7:00 Friday evening, 9/3. They have their first real test in week 2, as a very strong team from Seneca Valley travels to the Wolvarena for a non-conference battle. They'll then have to wait to finish the season against the conference elite. Week 7 sends Woodland Hills to Franklin Regional, week 8 sees them hosting McKeesport, and week 9 is the showdown at Penn Hills. That stretch of games will decide the conference title and define the true contenders in the WPIAL playoffs. All contests can be heard LIVE or archived over the internet at http://www.nauticomsports.net

Many teams have the talent to win the 1999 WPIAL AAAA championship. The road to Three Rivers is a long one. Woodland Hills will need a lot of hard work, improvement, and luck to make it that far. They found out last year that a couple of injuries can derail all plans. But, year in and year out, one thing is almost a certainty: The Wolverines will be around come November, and they will probably have a pretty good running back.