Monday was the first day of "official" football practice in Pennsylvania. That means the return of "Goin' Campin'." What is that? Maybe it should be called "Goin' up camp" because we are in Pittsburgh, but basically "Goin' Campin'" is me filling the tank and stopping by practices around the WPIAL and giving you a smorgasbord of notes, quotes, anecdotes and opinions about district high school football. Maybe you will find some of the info useful and some useless.
But off we go...
First stop: Baldwin
I had never seen Baldwin offensive lineman Sterling Jenkins in person. He is, in a word, big. In two words, real big. He is every bit of 6 feet 8 and 301 pounds. Geez, he looks like a senior in college already, with arms that seem to stretch to his toes. It was a cloudy this morning at Baldwin's practice. I think Jenkins was standing in front of the sun. But he is not a "sloppy" 301 pounds. He has a great build and frame.
Jenkins will be featured in our Post-Gazette daily series "Blue Chip Chat" tomorrow and you can read comments from him on a variety of subjects. But he is a most interesting player. He is rated by scouting services as one of the top 10 offensive tackles in the country. Impressed? Well, he did not even make first-team all-conference last year. Those all-conference teams are picked by opposing coaches.
I've heard everyone from fans, to coaches, to other high school players criticize Jenkins, saying he is "sooooo overrated." Well, that's the way it goes with offensive linemen. They get offered college scholarships and get rated highly sometimes based a lot on size, potential and agility. Jenkins has a lot of all three. That's why he had many scholarship offers before committing to Penn State in the spring. And also, kids get reputations now on how they look and move in shorts and T-shirts at camps, especially linemen. That's the reality of recruiting nowadays.
Will Jenkins be a much better player this year? We'll see. Baldwin coach Pete Wagner said Jenkins has worked very hard in the offseason. And I give Jenkins a lot of credit. He fully admits that he was not worthy of an all-conference selection last year. He is not trying to fool anyone. He knows he must get better and he is intent on proving himself this season. He only started playing football in seventh grade and said he wasn't really into playing football until maybe the past year or two.
"It's just a matter of him getting the reps and finding the aggression within himself and finding that fire that makes him a good linemen at the high school level," said Wagner. "It's a large task to deal with, in terms of the naysayers. The comments and stuff on social media is something people may tell you not to look at. But it kind of motivates him and we have fun with it."
More from Baldwin
**** No one is predicting Baldwin to beat out Woodland Hills or Upper St. Clair or anyone else for a conference championship. But Baldwin does have some potential and Wagner, a second-year coach, likes the future of his program. Two of Baldwin's top players will be brothers - senior quarterback Doug Altavilla and junior receiver Nick Altavilla. Their last name is full of A's and so is their report cards. Both have grade-point averages better than 4.0.
**** The biggest dish washer in the world? It has to be Jenkins. He worked some this summer as a dish washer at Eat 'n Park.
**** I hadn't really seen this before at other preseason practices. While the football team was practicing, the cross-country teams were running on the outside of the field (see picture). I know some coaches who would complain, complain, complain about the distraction.
**** Talking to Wagner and others, it seems everyone is pegging Woodland Hills and Central Catholic as the top two teams in Class AAAA.
**** I never knew Ed Helbig has been an assistant coach in the Baldwin football program for 38 years. He is Mr. Track at Baldwin and also with the WPIAL. Who knew? But great to see. What has Helbig been through, about 18 coaching regimes at Baldwin?
Although Wagner said the roster sizes at the Baldwin junior-high and midget levels are good, he said Baldwin has canceled its ninth-grade program. The ninth graders are now with the JV and varsity. Baldwin will have a JV team but also have a JV-B team that will play six games.
Speaking of small rosters, how about Bethel Park? The Black Hawks have only 45 players right now. Wow. You just keep hearing of football teams losing players. We ran a story last year on it.
Next stop: Central Catholic
Walk around the locker room in between practices, see Central Catholic's players milling around and I just say to myself "man, the players and athletes at this place." They just keep churning them out in Oakland.
Central Catholic lost a number of key players from last year's team, but don't kid yourself. The Vikings will be strong again.
Help from Gus
One of Central Catholic's assistant coaches is a former NFL quarterback. Gus Frerotte is in his second season as the quarterbacks coach. He also helps with the passing game. Is he doing a little dancin' at practice below? No, just showing a quarterback some footwork.
Frerotte was a high school head coach in the St. Louis area at John Burroughs High. He was the head coach for two seasons and had a 26-3 record, twice finishing runner-up in the state in Class 3A. A former star at Ford City High School, Frerotte moved back to the Pittsburgh area last year and has two sons on the Central Catholic team - junior Gunner and sophomore Gabriel.
Gunner might be the starting QB this season. Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said Gunner and junior Mike Navarro are battling for the job.
"[Gunner] looks good, but there is a competition between he and Mike Navarro," said Totten. "Gunner seems like he might be a little bit ahead. But we'll see what happens in scrimmages."
Hmmm. Dad is a former NFL QB and is the QB coach. I'm going to go way out on a limb and say Gunner Frerotte wins the job.
Sons of pros
Check this out: Gus Frerotte is one of four former NFL players with sons on Central Catholic's team. Grant Foster, the son of former Steeler running back Barry Foster, should be one of the top tailbacks, although he hasn't been cleared to play yet because he is still recovering from knee surgery.
Braxton Swann is a junior receiver for the Vikings. His father is former Steeler great, Lynn Swann. Jamain Stephens is an offensive lineman for Central Catholic. His father is former Steeler offensive lineman Jamain Stephens.
Central Catholic defensive back Johnny Petrishen (pictured) has turned out to be one of the most heavily recruited defensive backs in the WPIAL. His stock with the colleges took off in the offseason. He missed four games last year with a rib injury and a punctured lung.
Petrishen said his top three choices are Pitt, Wake Forest and Virginia. Petrishen will be featured in our "blue chip chat" series in the Post-Gazette later this week.
More Central Catholic
Graham Adomitis is staying at tight end.
Two years ago, Adomitis (pictured) began the season as the starting quarterback. J.J. Cosentino eventually became the starter and Adomitis moved to tight end last year. Cosentino is now at Florida State, but Adomitis said he is staying at tight end. Adomitis has some nice size and is getting some looks from colleges as a tight end.
**** Central Catholic defensive coordinator Dave Fleming said this might be the best defensive line he has ever coached.
"They're so big and talented," Fleming said.
The line consists of Richie Ryan (Harvard recruit), Rashard Wheeler, Jordan Scarborough and Braeden Hinish.
**** Nico Thorpe transferred from Shaler to Central Catholic as a sophomore and ended up being a Fabulous 22 linebacker last year as a senior. His brother is following in his footsteps.
C.J. Thorpe was a 6-2, 270-pound lineman last year at Shaler. He has transferred to Central Catholic.
**** Totten - and other coaches - are high on senior center Eric McAllister.
"He's a darn good player," said Totten. "He needs a push because he's right there maybe with BCS type colleges. He's just a little short, maybe 6-1, 270 pounds."