Render rates nationally ..... Predictions: WPIAL Class AAA

Written by Mike White on .

Before we get to the Class AAA playoff predictions, this piece of information comes from Jim Stout of Two of the top 20 winningest active coaches in the country are from Pennsylvania, including one from the WPIAL.

According to a piece on MaxPreps, Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render ranks 16th nationally in wins with a record of 375-119-7. George Curry of Berwick High School in eastern Pa. is fourth with a record of 437-96-5.

The winningest active coach is 88-year-old John McKissick of Summerville, S.C. He enters his 63rd season coaching and his record is 613-151-13. Wow. Sixty-three years is mind-boggling.

Jim RenderRender (pictured) is now 72 and entering his 46th year of coaching. He started at Carrolton, Ohio, and then went to Uniontown. He has been Upper St. Clair's coach since 1979. This will be an interesting season for the Panthers as they have only one starter returning. But you can bet Render will have USC near the top of the Southeastern Conference again. 

The Panthers also have an interesting opener at Penn Hills. This is supposed to be a much-improved Penn Hills team.

But back to the coaches. The coach with the longest tenure in the WPIAL is Blackhawk's Joe Hamilton, who begins his 49th season. He has coached Midland, New Brighton, Hempfield and Blackhawk.

Class AAA predictions

Here is the third in a series of predictions for who will make the playoffs from the WPIAL. Today: Class AAA.

Five teams from each Class AAA conference make the playoffs, plus one wild-card team. So we will give you the top five from each conference.

Class AA predictions and Class A from previous days.


1. Thomas Jefferson - What else is new? The Jaguars have won or tied for the conference title eight consecutive seasons. Austin Kemp was a 1,000-yard rusher a year ago and a few linemen return. Developing a QB will be vital, but doesn't coach Bill Cherpak always seem to do that?

2. Ringgold - How good are the Rams? Well, we should know opening night when they play Thomas Jefferson. Ringgold has a new coach in Nick Milchovich and the Rams feature one of the most exciting players in the WPIAL in Nico Law, who passed and ran for 1,000 yards during the 2013 regular season.

3. West Mifflin - The Titans lost speedy running back Jimmy Wheeler but colleague Terry Shields saw West Mifflin's first scrimmage and said coach Ray Braszo has a formidable team again. We'll trust the wily veteran Shields.

4. Belle Vernon - New coach Matt Humbert left behind a pretty good team at Ringgold, but the Leopards have potential with QB Travis Snyder (not the Buccos Travis Snyder) and RB Jimmy Levis, who are both returning from knee injuries.

5. Elizabeth Forward - But what will the Warriors be like without stud QB-DB JaQuan Davidson?


1. Mars - Coach Scott Heinauer returns a number of players, including running back Josh Schultheis (pictured), who has more than 3,000 yards the past two seasons.

2. Gateway - One of the most intriguing teams in the WPIAL. How will the Gators do under new coach Tom Nola and after dropping down from Class AAAA? I've heard from a few people the Gators' scrimmage Saturday against Penn-Trafford was a little eventful. A fight????

3. Franklin Regional - It wouldn't totally surprise me if this team knocked off one of the top two teams. Brett Zanotto is a University of Maryland linebacker recruit.

4. Knoch - QB Daniel Farinelli and RB Cody Milsom give the Knights a nice one-two offensive punch.

5. Indiana - WR Riley Stapleton caught 50 passes a year ago.


1. West Allegheny - The Indians might get their third third title in a row and coach Bob Palko might get his eighth WPIAL title overall. A number of starters return. And after seeing the Indians practice and seeing some of the impressive non-seniors on this team, this program is like a machine now.

2. Central Valley - WR-RB-DB Jordan Whitehead is one of the WPIAL's best players, but the Warriors have more than him.

3. New Castle - Only three starters return on offense and three on defense, but the Red Hurricanes still have enough to make some noise.

4. Montour - The Spartans better be ready early. They open with Central Valley.

5. Moon - After making the playoffs last season, the Tigers are looking to move up a few more notches in the Parkway. Nick Yaramus is one of the best linemen in Class AAA.


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Predictions: WPIAL Class AA playoff teams

Written by Mike White on .

One in a daily series on predicting playoff teams in each conference:


Century Conference

1. South Fayette - The defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Lions have reigning P-G Player of the Year Brett BrumbaughBrett Brumbaugh (pictured), a senior QB who likely will break the WPIAL passing record this season. Graduation definitely left some holes, but there is still plenty of talent. Besides Brumbaugh, FB-LB J.J. Walker, TE Logan Sharp and lineman Anthony Davidson were all-conference. Watch for RB Hunter Hayes.

2. Seton-LaSalle - Don't be surprised if the Rebels and first-year coach Damon Rosol make a run at South Fayette. Tyler Perone is back at QB and WR Danzel McKinley-Lewis has committed to Toledo. A number of other starters also return.

3. Quaker Valley - QB Dane Jackson is one of the best dual-threat QBs in Class AA.

4. Steel Valley - DeWayne Murray ran for over 1,000 yards as a freshman.

Allegheny Conference

1. Highlands - A move down from Class AAA should help the Rams. Five starters return on offense and six on defense. Nick Bowers

2. Kittanning - The defending conference champion Wildcats feature WR-TE-LB Nick Bowers (pictured). Plus the "Boy Toy" is back - 5-6 quarterback Braydon Toy.

3. Shady Side Academy.

4. Freeport

Midwestern Conference

1. Aliquippa - No more Dravon Henry. No more Terry Swanson. But these are still the Quips. Say no more. QB Darrien Fields is back as well as RB-LB Kazeon Pugh.

2. Beaver Falls - The Tigers lost a truckload of seniors, but still will finish near the top of the conference.

3. Beaver

4. New Brighton

Interstate Conference

1. Washington - This conference was weakened a little by Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette dropping to Class A. The Little Prexies return five starters on offense and defense, including QB Jonathan Spina.

2. McGuffey - This could be one of McGuffey's best seasons in a while as eight starters return on both offense and defense. QB Nate Whipkey is back and James Duchi is a 1,000-yard rusher.

3. Mount Pleasant - Only three starters return on both offense and defense, but the playoffs still are in the Vikings' future.

4. Charleroi - The Cougars are under new coach Donnie Militzer and could be playoff bound.

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Predictions: WPIAL Class A playoff teams

Written by Mike White on .

This is first in a daily series on predicting what teams will make the playoffs in each conference.

Today: WPIAL Class A


1. Beth-Center - This conference struggles big time in the playoffs (0-12 the past three seasons). Maybe Beth-Center can get a win this year. The Bulldogs have lost only one conference game the past three seasons and are an easy pick to finish first again. 

2. Carmichaels

3. California - Back in the Tri-County South after a few years in the Black Hills.

4. Frazier


Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic moved down from Class AA and the WPIAL put them in the Eastern, Wayne Wademaking this conference extremely top heavy.

1. Clairton - Another WPIAL title could be in the future for the Bears under Wayne Wade (pictured), who goes from defensive coordinator to head coach. Aaron Matthews, who has some Division I college offers as a junior, has moved from QB to receiver. 

2. Greensburg Central Catholic - Tommy Pellis showed some promise last year as a sophomore QB.

3. Jeannette - Julian Batts returns at QB.

4. Monessen


1. Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic - Running back-slotback P.J. Fulmore (pictured) is probably the preseason choice as Class A player of the year. Adam Sharlow returns at QB after a torn ACL forced him to miss the second half of last season when the Trojans won WPIAL and PIAA titles and finished 16-0.

2. Avonworth - The Antelopes' only two losses a year ago were close calls to North Catholic.

3. Fort Cherry - Running back Koltan Kobrys (2,000-yard rusher last year) has graduated, but the Rangers are still a team to watch after moving from the Eastern Conference.

4. Brentwood


1. Neshannock - Two of the top three teams in this conference a year ago are now in Class AA - Sto-Rox and Laurel. That weakens this conference, but Riverside moved down from Class AA. Neshannock lost a number of key players, but maybe the Lancers have established a winning tradition the past two years. Senior Eli Owens rushed for 1,469 yards last season.

2. Western Beaver - Hunter Roknich was a first-team all-conference running back a year ago.

3. Rochester - They won't be as good as their glory days, but the Rams should rebound from last year.

4. Riverside

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Goin' Campin': Seton-LaSalle and coach talking state championship

Written by Mike White on .

Goin' Campin' is Varsity Blog's series that hits the road to give you notes, quotes, anecdotes and everything else from district football preseason camps.


Before we get to football talk on Goin' Campin's tour, first we bring you a wonderful practical joke at Seton-LaSalle today.

Seton-LaSalle carPlayers park their cars down the hill near the practice field. The photo on the left shows how senior receiver-defensive back Ryan Sago truly got "post"-erized while he was at practice. Or at least his truck did. There were post-it notes all over it.

After practice, first-year Seton-LaSalle coach Damon Rosol was talking with quarterback Tyler Perone and receiver Danzel McKinley-Lewis while they all looked at the car.

"One of the girls soccer players did it," Perone said with a laugh.

Rosol said, "So does that mean she likes him?"

"No," Perone said. "He parked too close to her yesterday and she couldn't get out so she did this."

Tremendous, I say. So football players, watch where you park. And watch those girls soccer  players.

Talking big

Rosol isn't shy about what he wants his team to do this season. He's not afraid to bring up lofty goals, even though this is his first season since taking for Greg Perry, who went across McNeilly Rd. to become Keystone Oaks' coach. The players also don't try to hide such great expectations.

When the entire team huddles together and then "breaks down" they say together "state champs!"

Damon Rosol hatRosol, 39, displays his goals on ... his hat. He wears a green hat with "GET 16" on it. Translation: Go 16-0 and win a state championship. Even the players wear T-shirts with "GET 16" on them.

Confident group, wouldn't you say?

"The state championship is our goal," said Rosol, a former Seton-LaSalle player and assistant coach who spent the past nine seasons as Montour's offensive coordinator under Lou Cerro. "What are we supposed to do, say 'lose in the semifinals?'

"We respect everyone. But like I said to these kids from day one. Embrace the expectations. Don't run away from them. This is Seton-LaSalle. If I would've went to another school, we'd  probably break and say 'conference champs.' But the last time I was here, we were 33-5 in the last three years. Why shouldn't we think big here?"

But Seton-LaSalle is in the same conference as South Fayette, who went 16-0 last season.

There is reason to be optimistic, though. Perry left Rosol a top team. The Rebels have seven starters returning on bothTyler Perone shirt offense and defense. Among the returning starters is quarterback Tyler Perone, who completed 169 of 184 for 2,326 yards and 24 touchdowns last year. (Perone is pictured sporting one of those "Get 16" shirts).

"I think he's a Division I quarterback," said Rosol. "Old Dominion and schools like that are looking at him. I think he's come to the realization that Pitt and Penn State are out. But there are a lot of [Division I-AA) schools out there for him. He's going to make some school happy."

Danzel McKinley-LewisDanzel McKinley-Lewis is a Divison I recruit who returns at receiver. McKinley-Lewis, a 6-foot, 180-pound senior, has already verbally committed to Toledo. McKinley-Lewis is a speedy receiver who caught 40 passes a year ago.

One of the other top returnees is tight end-linebacker Adam Ottaviano, a 6-0, 220-pound senior who is called by Rosol "the heart and soul of the team."

Ricky Mellick was the team's leading rusher last year with close to 400 yards.

A promising newcomer is Paris Ford, who transferred from Central Catholic. He is a 6-2, 170-pound sophomore who started on Central Catholic's basketball team as a freshman. Ford has a good chance to start at defensive back.

"He looks as promising as you can look for a sophomore," said Rosol.

Ford should also have a big impact on Seton-LaSalle's basketball team.

More on Seton-LaSalle

**** Liam Sweeney is a returning starter at fullback and linebacker. He is a 6-1, 210-pound junior and the son of former Seton-LaSalle (South Hills Catholic) star lineman Jim Sweeney. The elder Sweeney had an excellent career at Pitt and played in the NFL for a long time.Bill Gallagher

**** Rosol has five assistant coaches who are graduates of Seton-LaSalle (or the old South Hills Catholic). One of them is Bill Gallagher. It seems strange to see Gallagher (pictured) not wearing a blue Perry shirt or coat. He was Perry's coach in the City League for a number of years before resigning after last season.

"The kids love him," Rosol said.

Gallagher coaches the lines.

**** Former Seton-LaSalle quarterback Shawn Lamonde is another assistant coach as well as Perone's father, Mike.

**** One guy's top five teams in WPIAL Class AA:

1. South Fayette

2. Aliquippa

3. Seton-LaSalle

4. Washington

5. Beaver Falls

**** And we end with Seton-LaSalle "breaking down." Did they say "State Champs?"

Seton-LaSalle team helmets



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Goin' Campin': Even 88-year-old mother of coach helps at West Allegheny preseason camp

Written by Mike White on .

Goin' Campin' is Varsity Blog's series that hits the road to give you notes, quotes, anecdotes and everything else from district football preseason camps.

I won't profess to know how every WPIAL team operates its preseason training camp. But over the decades, I've seen a lot of training camps - and must say West Allegheny's is one of a kind.

The camp is so well managed and organized. That's impressive. But that's not what makes this camp different. How how many teams have boosters cook lunch with homemade food every day for the players and staff? Good food, too. And how many teams have an 88-year-old mother Croutonsof the head coach helping to cook lunch? Laverne Palko, mother of head coach Bob Palko, has been helping with training camp lunches for a few years, and there she was today, in the kitchen of the cafeteria, slicing Italian bread and making her famous homemade croutons (pictured).

"People eat them like potato chips," said Bob Palko. 

Laverne and Bob Palko are pictured below.

Laverne Palko

And how many teams have people who have no affiliation with the team drive from the other side of the state every year and spend two weeks helping with lunch and whatever else at camp?

But that's what you have at West Allegheny. Coach Bob Palko creates an atmosphere that isn't found at many places. Booster club members cook lunch every day in the school cafeteria. And this isn't bad cafeteria food. It's as good as a restaurant. You might have anything from ham and scalloped potatoes, to today's meatball sandwich and potato soup (few sports writers turn down free food). And don't forget those Mama Palko croutons for the salad.

Also at the camp, high school girl students are managers and help with trainers at camp. Pre-teenage sons of assistant coaches sometimes spend two weeks at West Allegheny, acting as managers or just wanting to be around Dad and the team. Heck, Tyler and Luke Palko (Bob's sons) were fixtures at the camp as tykes before they played at West Allegheny.

"Dad what's a jagoff," said the young son of offensive coordinator Dan Marshall as they left the cafeteria today.

Too funny. I couldn't hear Marshall's answer.

"It really is like a family here," said defensive coordinator Bryan Cornell, an assistant for 17 years. "I'm not just saying that. It's true. It's really all because of Bob."

Cornell's young son was on the sideline during morning practice and ate lunch next to his Dad.

Palko has been doing camp this way for years and it must work, right? Is he at legendary status yet? The guy has won seven WPIAL titles in 19 years as coach. No other WPIAL coach has won seven outright.

And check this out: Palko and his program are so highly thought of by 65-year-old Bill Hanczar and his wife, Deb, that they drive from Williamsport every year at this time, stay with family in the West Allegheny district, and help cook food and serve lunch to the team.

Crazy? Well Bill Hanczar is a 1967 West Allegheny graduate who comes to some games every year. But he has no child or relative on the team.

"Coach Palko knew that I was coming to games, so he invited me to get closer to things if I wanted," said Bill Hanczar. "I've been coming and helping at lunches and hanging out at camp for 10 years now."Bill from West Allegheny

But his wife didn't go to West Allegheny and she also helps out. (Bill is pictured taking lunch trays from players today).

"We just love it," said Bill Hanczar. "I pretty much stay on the cleanup side and she stays on the kitchen side. It really is just a family here."

Then there is Laverne Palko, smiling while she slices the bread for those croutons. So what makes an 88-year-old spend August afternoons for two weeks, working in a cafeteria for high school football players? Shouldn't she be playing bridge or watching game shows?

"My husband has been gone for nine years," said Laverne Palko. "He used to come to all the practices. It's for the kids and I want to support my son. He's all about the kids, and that means so am I."

The blonde boys

There are a lot of white heads at West Allegheny.

Per tradition, many of the players dyed their hair blonde before the start of preseason camp. Coach Palko is pictured below addressing the blonde bombers

Golden heads at West A

Championship caliber - again

West Allegheny has won two consecutive WPIAL titles and has to be considered a favorite for a third. A number of key players return. Running back-defensive back Chayse Dillon is one of the best players in Class AAA. Quarterback Andrew Koester already has committed to St. Francis, Pa. Tight end-linebacker Sean Orsini is a force and Armand Dellovade returns at linebacker and running back.

Plus, there are some other good-looking athletes and linemen who might not have seen loads of varsity time in the past. It should be just another in a long line of top teams at West Allegheny.

"I think we've all improved as a team," Koester said. "Our goals are the same, but we're thinking a little bigger this year. Obviously, Erie Prep has beaten us the last two years [in the state playoffs]. We'd like to go far enough to get another chance at them."

Here is one guy's Class AAA preseason rankings.

1. West Allegheny

2. Thomas Jefferson

3. Mars

4. Central Valley

5. Gateway

More West Allegheny

**** Watch 6-4, 270-pound lineman Derek Klontz. Only a junior with a lot of potential.

**** West Allegheny ran out of the wildcat formation with great success the past few years. You wonder if we will see it as much this year because of Koester, who is more of a dropback QB.

Highpod**** Many high school teams now film their practices, especially in the preseason. West Allegheny also films all of its practices - from two angles. From the side and the end zone. Palko always seems to be up on technology and has new "toys." The film from the end zone is taken from a "HI-POD." It is a camera on a long pole (pictured to the left).

Actually, Palko said his team has used the "HI-POD" for three seasons. I'm sure some other WPIAL teams have it, but I just don't remember seeing it a lot.

**** Koester (6-4, 190) has committed to St. Francis. He also is a talented basketball player and he said he could possibly have a Andrew Koesterchance to join St. Francis' basketball team at some point. But as Koester said, "It definitely would be difficult with the time commitment to do both. Football is my priority. But if it's possible, it would be fun to try."

**** So far this week, it has been unusually cool for preseason football practice. But the West Allegheny "blonde bombers" cool off in ice tubs after practice. (picture below). Actually, it's just to ice down sore muscles.

West A bath

And finally ... 

Transfer news

Shawndale Jones, a basketball guard who averaged 18 points a game last season as a sophomore at North Hills, has left the school and enrolled at Kiski School, a prep school in Saltsburg. Jones "reclassified" and is a sophomore again at Kiski. He also will play football at Kiski School.

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