Day two of "Going Camping." This is Varsity Blog's tour of high school football practices and camps in the WPIAL and City League. Updates will be coming throughout the day.
Today, we headed to McKeesport in the morning and Gateway in the afternoon. But look below for some other news and notes that don't concern McKeesport or Gateway.
Gateway lost a four-year starting quarterback when Rob Kalkstein graduated in June. But the Gators' players and coaches are talking about big things for a sophomore quarterback who will take over for Kalkstein this year.
In fact,Gateway coach Terry Smith went as far as to say that Tom Woodson will be one of the top quarterbacks in the country by the time he's a senior.
"This kid is good. He has everything," Smith said. "He can run. He's tough and he has a great arm. His arm strength resembles [former Penn Hills QB] Anthony Morelli and his mindset resembles Robbie Kalkstein. ... We went to Michigan's camp this summer and they're already interested. He'll have a lot of colleges after him."
Mike Booth, Gateway's defensive coordinator, said, "There isn't a throw that the kid can't make. He has a great arm."
Woodson, pictured to the left, is 6 feet 1, 180 pounds and has some pretty good bloodlines. He is a first cousin of former Sto-Rox quarterback Paul Jones, who is now at Penn State.
"My mom and Paul's mom are sisters," Woodson said.
Woodson played on the freshman team last year at Gateway. Dondi Kirby, a Gateway senior who is out with an injured knee, said Woodson will be one of the top five quarterbacks in the country by the time he's a senior.
This kid is getting some pretty big hype. I didn't get a chance to see him practice this afternoon. We'll see.
The below photo is of the wall outside Gateway's locker room
But these Gators haven't been allowed in their usual "Swamp" the first two days of preseason practices. Smith said mold was found in the school library, so school officials are not letting the football team in the school or the locker room, at least for now. The team is dressing in another building and eating lunch in another building.
Could Kirby be back?
Gateway senior receiver-defensive back Dondi Kirby is one of the most heavily recruited players in the state. But he sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee this summer while participating in 7 on 7 drills at the University of Michigan camp. Kirby had surgery a few weeks ago.
But get this: Kirby is talking about possibly returning late in the season.
"It's only been three weeks since the surgery, but [doctors] are telling me that I'm way ahead of schedule," Kirby said. "I don't know how, but they said I'm at about three months right now instead of three weeks."
It's tough for Kirby to watch practices.
"Yesterday brought me to tears a little when I saw all the hitting going on, because that's what I love to do," Kirby said.
Kirby said his top five schools are Florida, Maryland, Iowa, North Carolina and USC. All have offered and he plans to visit all five and maybe make a decision in October.
The web site for MSA Sports previews a different conference every day.
The losses hurt
Gateway coach has taken his team to the WPIAL championship game four times, but has lost every time, including three in a row. Smith hadn't spoken publicly much about the losses since last year's defeat to Woodland Hills. But today he talked about the losses and the pain.
"Obviously, we want to win a championship here," Smith said. "But one thing that comforts me at night is the fact that there has not been a program more consistent than Gateway.
"We feel like we might be cursed or something. Two years in a row we fumble the opening kickoff and that's one of our strengths - kick returns. Things have happened down there. But I tell our kids that we've been prepared - both mentally and physically each time. The better team won that night and such is life.
"The Bethel Park loss [in 2008] was the worst one. Going into Woodland Hills last year, I thought that was an even matchup. Central Catholic [in 2007] was even, too, and they may have been better than us. But Bethel Park is the worst one because that's the one we should have won - no doubt."
Watch out for Lebo?
Smith is pleading that his team shouldn't be in the top five in WPIAL AAAA entering the season. "No way. No way," he said with a laugh.
The Gators do have a lot of holes to fill. "We lost 23 seniors from last year and we've lost over 20 the last three years. This is the year that it's finally hitting us," Smith said.
His top teams?
"Woodland Hills is definitely No. 1, and I keep telling people that Mt. Lebanon is good," Smith said. "I'd put North Hills in there, too. They have all their line back, the quarterback Taylor Schmidt and the [Danny] Heinauer kid on the line is good. Two years in a row, the only team to beat our ninth-grade team is Mt. Lebanon and they really beat us. I'm telling you that they're going to be good."
New Gateway baseball coach
On Monday, Gateway hired Mark Wardzinski as its new baseball coach. Don Nania resigned to become an assistant coach at Central Catholic, where his son plays.
And one last coaching note concerning Gateway. Former Pitt offensive lineman Matt Morgan is now an assistant coach at Gateway.
Williams recruiting update
Gateway linebacker-receiver-tight end Armstead Williams said he has narrowed his college choices to Maryland, Iowa and Purdue. Maryland is recruiting him as a linebacker while Iowa and Purdue like him at receiver.
"I'm the type of player who just wants to get on the field. I don't care where," Williams said.
Comcast releases TV schedule
Comcast cable television will once again televise a WPIAL game of the week, which will be shown the following night on the FYI channel and then be available on "On Demand."
The Papa John's Comcast High School Game of the Week begins with Clairton at Washington, which will be shown Sept. 4. Some other top matchups include Hopewell at Montour in Week 2, West Allegheny at Upper St. Clair in Week 4 and Keystone Oaks at South Fayette in Week 6.
Chris Shovlin will once again handle the play-by-play and John Sanders the color commentary. But the telecasts this year will also include Ellis Cannon as a sideline reporter.
Here is the schedule:
Sept. 4 - Clairton at Washington; Sept. 11 - Hopewell at Montour; Sept. 18 - New Castle at Central Valley; Sept. 25 - West Allegheny at Upper St. Clair; Oct. 2 - Highlands at Plum; Oct. 9 - Keystone Oaks at South Fayette; Oct. 116 - Trinity at Thomas Jefferson; Oct. 23 - Shaler at North Allegheny; Oct. 30 - Central Catholic at Fox Chapel.
Nov. 6 - First-round playoff game; Nov. 13 - Quarterfinal game; Nov. 20 - Semifinal game.
"Going Camping" at McKeesport
The Santa Fe car made its first stop this morning at McKeesport, where Jim Ward is in his first year as coach. He has big shoes to fill as George Smith won two WPIAL and PIAA titles. Below, Ward addresses his team after practice:
Some feel McKeesport could challenge for a conference title. Two of the reasons are Branden Jackson and Delvon Simmons. Both have a number of Division I college offers. Jackson plays tight end-receiver-defensive end, but is being recruited as a defensive end. He plans to visit Texas Tech. Pitt, West Virginia, Michigan and Michigan State are some of the other schools that have offered scholarships.
Now get this: Don't be surprised if this 6-5, 223-pounder lines up at quarterback a few times. He did it today at practice. Jackson likes the idea of stepping under center for a few plays. He certainly is an impressive looking athlete. Just take a look at his photo to the left. He's long and fairly well built.
"I've been a backup quarterback here before and I was the quarterback in ninth grade and JV teams," Jackson said with a smile. "I just never played it the last couple years. It's fun. You have all the pressure on you when you're the quarterback. I like that. ... I'm more of a runner, but I can throw, too."
Ward said Oregon might offer a scholarship to Jackson and Simmons soon.
Ward said two weeks ago that he was looking at three candidates to be the starting quarterback, but said yesterday that sophomore Eddie Stockett has won the job. "He has great command and he's our best passer by far," Ward said. "But he can still run and be effective with his feet."
After today's morning practice, Ward said one thing he has noticed is Simmons is better than he thought. Simmons is being recruited as a defensive tackle.
"I thought he would be more raw than he is," Ward said. "He splits double teams better than most college seniors."
Simmons is is now 6-5, 265 pounds and said he has not narrowed down his list of colleges.
Simmons, pictured to the left, is a youngster who seems to have an upbeat attitude and quick to flash a smile. When he was talking about his talents in junior high, he said, "I wasn't very good. I'm more dedicated now. Years ago, I didn't even used to show up for practice. I'm a lot different now. This is my senior year. I'm trying to go hard."
Ward said he believes Oregon also might offer Simmons.
"I'm going to seriously consider Oregon," Simmons said. "It's a bit of a ways away, but I can handle that."
Simmons will play defensive tackle and offensive guard.
And lastly, below McKeesport players do some stretching exercises in between practices.