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Starting QB Niel Loebig
By Paul Paterra

Western Pennsylvania has long been known as the cradle of quarterbacks. After all, this is the area of the country that is the birthplace of John Unitas, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, George Blanda, Joe Namath and Jim Kelly, just to name a few. Many talented signal callers are plying their trade in the WPIAL again this season, but the top aerialist may be playing at Class A South Fayette. Niel Loebig is in his third year as the starting quarterback for the Lions and is having his third fine season at the helm of the offense.

This past Friday, Loebig may have had his biggest game. In a 35-0 blanking of Avella, Loebig completed 12 of 18 passes for 278 yards. Four of his tosses went for touchdowns. His 278 yards were the highest total in the entire WPIAL this past weekend. Loebig's season totals stand at 81 completions in 123 attempts for 1,231 yards, which places him third in the WPIAL behind Quad South gunslingers Mike Simpson, of Penn Trafford and Dan Bosnic, of Laurel Highlands. Loebig's 17 touchdowns are the most in the WPIAL. Only Simpson, with 14, is close to Loebig in touchdown tosses.

Loebig's outstanding performances do not come as a surprise to South Fayette coach Jeff Matty. Matty has been watching Loebig develop for some time, since he coached him in eighth and ninth grade. "He's progressed well," Matt said of Loebig. "He's able to think and read defenses better than he was before. In general, he's more confident in the pocket than he was before. His best quality may be his accuracy." Some more numbers may be in order to display Loebig's obvious talent. The 6-3, 210-pound senior has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in his career - a career that has also seen him throw 53 touchdown passes. Last year, Loebig was second in the WPIAL with 1,610 yards, which he attained by completing 97 of 186 passes. His yardage total was just 79 yards behind that of WPIAL leader Casey White, of Pine-Richland.

His skills are not limited to his passing arm. When he has to, Loebig can take off and run. As a sophomore, he rushed for more than 500 yards. "He can throw the 30-yard out. He can put touch on the ball; he can throw the ball to the backs," Matty said. "Of course, he has things he needs to work on. If he gets the right kind of coaching at the college level, he could be successful. He has the mind for it and the temperament. A lot of people have the skills, but don't have the temperament to play quarterback."

Such poise was needed earlier this season in what may have been the Lions' biggest win of the season - a 7-0 victory over Fort Cherry and the WPIAL's all-time leading rusher, Mike Vernillo. It was the first time Loebig defeated Fort Cherry. Loebig completed 13 of 21 passes for 122 yards, including a pair of crucial passes in a late fourth quarter drive that led to the game's only touchdown. "It was great," Loebig admitted about the drive. "I got excited, but I tried to keep everyone calm and told them we needed to get some points." Loebig also came up big defensively in that game. He delivered a hit on Vernillo that caused him to fumble just short of the goal line. "I talked to him after the game and he told me nice stick," Loebig said of Vernillo.

This complete package has attracted the attention of many colleges. Loebig has drawn interest from schools such as Boston College, West Virginia, Duke, Kentucky, James Madison and Hofstra. Kentucky would be an interesting choice, since it's the alma mater of a player Loebig admits is kind of an idol to him in Tim Couch, the current starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. Loebig also is the starting point guard for the Lions' basketball team, but it's the gridiron that has his passion. "I love football," Loebig said. "There's nothing better than going out on a Friday night and playing in a high school football game." Who knows? With the progress Loebig is making, that could lead to Saturday afternoons in college football. "I would love to play Division I (college football). That's my goal right now."