Mike White | 7:35 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, 2008
Thomas Jefferson was 16-0 last year and won WPIAL and PIAA championships. It's hard to get much better than perfection, but it says here that this year's Thomas Jefferson team might be better.
The reason? Tyler Wehner.
Wehner is Thomas Jefferson's senior quarterback. He has been excellent this season and is the difference between this year and last year. He has been a standout as a passer, but also hurts defenses with his running. His performance in the WPIAL quarterfinals was a perfect example. He threw for 208 yards and rushed for 75 in a 35-16 victory against Hopewell.
When Thomas Jefferson made its run through the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs a year ago, Zach DeCicco was playing quarterback. DeCicco was efficient, but he wasn't much of a threat throwing. The funny thing is DeCicco didn't become the quarterback until Wehner was thrown off the team near the end of the season.
Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak threw Wehner off the team a year ago, but Cherpak said Wehner has a much better attitude this season. With Wehner, teams can't gang up against the run, because he will burn them with a pass. If they play the pass, it opens up running room for halfback Brian Baldrige. And if teams blitz Wehner, they better make sure they get to him, because he is an adept scrambler.
While Thomas Jefferson might be better than last year, it doesn't guarantee WPIAL and PIAA championships. Remember this: Thomas Jefferson looked unbeatable two years ago, but got knocked off by General McLane in the PIAA semifinals. Also, Thomas Jefferson could have its hands full with New Castle's spread offense in the semifinals.
Heinauer has broken leg
North Hills quarterback Justin Heinauer suffered a broken tibia in his right leg during Friday's WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinal loss to Penn Hills. The outcome of the game showed what Heinauer meant to North Hills, as the Indians lost to Penn Hills, 27-0.
Heinauer might have surgery on the leg, but that will probably be determined this week. It was a tough way to end the season for Heinauer, who threw for the most yards in the regular season at North Hills since Eric Kasperowicz in 1993.
Shell is tremendous
After seeing Hopewell's Rushel Shell in the WPIAL quarterfinals, he is, without question, the best freshman running back I have seen in 30 years of covering WPIAL football. By the time he's a senior, he very well could be one of the top 10 running backs in the country.
One of the main reasons for his success is his strength. His thighs are large, and he's not afraid to run over a defender. But he also has speed and cutting ability. You could be looking at a future megastar, and don't be surprised if he has Division I scholarship offers by next summer.
But before we say Shell is certain for greatness, there are a few questions that have to be answered over the next few years. He's already 210 pounds, so will he grow out of the halfback position? If he gets too big, will he lose some of his speed? Will he stay motivated and get better each year? How will he handle all the publicity that is sure to come his way the next few years?
In conclusion, Shell could be one of the few big-time running backs to come out of Western Pennsylvania. Two of the top 10 running backs in NFL history are from Western Pennsylvania (No. 4 Curtis Martin and No. 7 Tony Dorsett). But they are the exception. Think about it. How many halfbacks have we produced in the past 20 years who have been a starter on the Division I level? You'll be hard-pressed to come up with more than a handful.