High school football practice "officially" started today for schools around Pennsylvania and it brought back the return of "Going Camping," otherwise known as "I'm getting in the Santa Fe and stopping by at some practice."
First stop in the "Going Camping" series: North Allegheny
Before we get to some football talk... the sights and sounds of high school football were everywhere today. At North Allegheny, the band gets ready for a practice next to the stadium. I seem to remember North Allegheny's band has, like, 950 members, doesn't it?
Equipment managers are back at work. This one fixes a helmet at North Allegheny.
And now for some football talk.
North Allegheny is a good place to start "Going Camping." After all, this is the home of the first team to win three consecutive WPIAL Class AAAA titles. North Allegheny also won two of the past three PIAA titles.
As for this season, North Allegheny is ranked No. 23 in the USA Today national rankings. If there would be a word to describe the ranking, it would be:
Yes, Art Walker has built a terrific program and the Tigers have been strong the past few seasons. But when you have only three starters back, when you have question marks at many positions, when you just aren't as talented as the past, there shouldn't be a national ranking. I'd probably put NA at No. 4 or 5in WPIAL Class AAAA to start the season. But if North Allegheny is the No. 23 team in the country, then I'm 2 Chainz.
Don't get me wrong. North Allegheny has so many players on its roster every year and they will always be good. But not No. 23 in the country this year. Even Walker shakes his head.
"That ranking is based on a lack of research," said Walker (pictured in the yellow shorts at today's practice). "Those guys with those rankings look at stuff from last year and the last few years. Somebody told me we were No. 23, and I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' When you have to replace 18 or 19 guys, I don't care who you are replacing them with, you shouldn't be ranked that high."
It is next to impossible to replace players like linemen Pat Kugler and Jeremy Gonzales, quarterback Mack Leftwich, running back Alex DeCiantis.
The only returning starters are receiver-defensive back Elijah Zeise, linebacker Layne Skundrich (last year's leading tackler) and offensive lineman Nick James.
The running game might be OK, though. Sean Idowu carried the ball 53 times a year ago as a backup and Josh Bergman 54 times. Those two got at least a little experience.
The quarterback is a battle between senior Cage Galupi (pictured) and junior Jeff Clemens.
"Cage is a great kid and works really hard," Walker said. "Clemens is a little bigger and maybe more athletic. I can't tell you who it's going to be. Maybe we could play both. We'll see Saturday, evaluate our scrimmage and go from there."
Whoever is quarterback will undoubtedly look often to Zeise (pictured), who made a verbal commitment to Pitt earlier this summer.
"Obviously we want to try and get him the ball more this year," Walker said. "We had so many kids last year at receiver and our tight ends could do some things, too. This year will be different. We'll have to move him around some and do some different things to get him the ball."
Walker also said the coaching staff is approaching the preseason much differently than the past few years. There is much more evaluation going on of players during practice. In the past few years, more positions were set.
But in the long run, are things really that different at North Allegheny, at least in terms of expectations?
"I think we always have high expectations," Walker said. "I think that's the nice thing about our staff. I don't think we ever walk into a season and say, 'We want to just try and make the playoffs.' We want to win every game we can. We put too much time and too much effort into this thing to only say 'Let's just make a good show of it this year.'"
TOMORROW: A look at Class AAA