Brentwood stronger thanks to diligence in weight room
Brentwood advanced to the WPIAL playoffs for the fourth year in a row and fifth time in six seasons in 2011.
The Spartans have the look of a serious playoff contender in 2012, as well.
Head coach Kevin Kissel welcomed 10 starters back this year, including key skill-position players such as running back Justin Vickless, quarterback Chris Shortley, wide receivers Zach Sniadach and Mike Andrews, fullback Justin Bauer and tight end Mike Kish.
"I believe our team will be good," Kissel said. "I'm looking for us to have a pretty big year. We have to stay healthy."
The versatile Vickless led Brentwood in rushing, receiving and scoring in 2011, and totaled 1,199 yards offensively.
A 5-foot-10, 162-pound junior, Vickless ran for 1,017 yards and 14 touchdowns on 165 carries, good for a solid 6.2 yards-per-carry average.
The third-year starter also nabbed 19 receptions for 182 yards, and scored 18 touchdowns on the year to rank among the WPIAL's leading offensive players.
"Justin is our main ball-carrier. This year it will be the same way; he will be the main part of our offense," Kissel said. "We need Justin to have a big year. He's a tough kid. He's wiry, but he's got some muscle. He looks a lot like Ryan Mendel, our all-time leading rusher.
"He's a born runner; he makes people miss. And he's been starting for three years; he has more experience this year."
Shortley, a senior, completed 79 of 162 passes for 1,011 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. He also was the team's second-leading rusher with 300 yards.
Casey Phillips, an assistant coach who works with the Brentwood quarterbacks, expects Shortley will have a big year.
"I believe we really have a good one in Chris Shortley," Phillips said. "This will be his second year as a starter. He is a very hard worker, he had a great summer, and he is poised to have a great senior year."
Kish is a 6-foot-5 1⁄2, 253-pound senior tight end/defensive end who has made a verbal commitment to Akron.
"He's a legitimate Division I player," Kissel said. "His best days are ahead of him. He's improved so much since last season. He worked in the weight room, and he worked on his conditioning. He dedicated himself - he wants to be good.
"He's a weapon for us. We're going to throw him the ball. He has good hands and can move. He should cause some havoc, and give us some mismatches in Class A."
The other returning starters for the Spartans line up in the trenches - John Schmitt, a senior tackle; Jeremy Cenci, a junior center; Josh Gallagher, a junior tackle; and Robert Domer, a senior guard.
They are joined on the line by starters Joe Farrah, a senior transfer from Brashear, at left guard; and junior Tyler Stadelman, at right guard.
Providing depth up front are the likes of sophomore Brendan Mulholland, junior Jeremy Redlinger, senior Ryan Vickless; plus sophomore prospects Cody Conroy, Zach Donnelly and Nick Balkovec.
"This could be one of the strongest teams we've had at Brentwood in all my years here,"Kissel said. "The offensive linemen are strong, and they're experienced. They're pretty strong in the weight room; they did a lot of work in the weight room. Hopefully that will translate to the field this year.
"Since I've been here, this is without a doubt the strongest team we've had as a group. This could be our strong point. We did well on the offensive line last year, and we lost only one player on our offensive line. We had a pretty good group. I'm hoping we do as well this year."
On the defensive side, the Brentwood lineup will include Cenci, Shortley and Ryan Vickless, at linebacker; Bauer, Schmitt, Kish, Andrews, a senior, Stadelman, Dave Bushman, a junior; Gallagher, Domer, Redlinger and Farrah, rotating on the line; with Sniadach, a senior, and Jack Muranhogue, a junior, at the cornerback posts, and Justin Vickless and Bill Madeja, a sophomore; at safety.
Senior Zack Eisengart, junior Matt Yasko and freshman Patrick Carr also should see playing time in the secondary.
Bauer (DL), a senior, Schmitt (OL), Justin Vickless (RB), Chris Shortley (QB) and Andrews (DL) were all-conference selections last season.
"Justin Bauer is a very good football player,"Kissel said. "He's a full-speed guy, whether at practice, in the game, whatever. He's the fastest kid on the team, the fastest sprinter. He's pretty unique."
Kissel was expecting a strong performance from junior Ryan Shortley as a starting linebacker this season. Unfortunately, Shortley suffered a broken ankle prior to the start of preseason practice.
"Ryan really blossomed in the weight room (in the offseason)," Kissel said. "He was big and strong in the weight room. He might miss the whole year."
Juniors Derek Hogue and Bushman, along with sophomore Tyler Paranzino, a sophomore, will supply linebacking support for the Spartans.
Along with the Ryan Shortley injury, Kish also suffered a twisted ankle prior to preseason practice.
"That's four positions we lost out from those two guys. They're two of our key players," Kissel said. "Mike Kish is a stud for us; he's going to be featured on offense and defense. I'm hoping to get him back before our first game."
Other players expected to help out in reserve roles include sophomore Connor McWilliams and Paranzino, at the quarterback position; Madeja, at running back, and Hogue, at fullback; Muranhogue, Yasko and Eisengart, in the receiving corps; plus Bushman and senior Stephen Wobb, at tight end.
Returning lettermen on this year's squad include Chris Shortley, Ryan Vickless, Sniadach, Schmitt, Andrews, Kish, Bauer, Justin Vickless, Cenci, Gallagher, Redlinger, Domer, Hogue, Stadelman, Muranhogue, Ryan Shortley and Madeja.
"We're not that deep. We have a solid 15 kids we can count on,"Kissel said. "If we can get some guys to give the starters a break, we'll be a better team."
Senior Jason Pilarski, a basketball/ soccer standout at Brentwood, will handle the kicking duties this season.
The Spartans will compete in the new-look Black Hills Conference, along with Clairton, Monessen, Bishop Canevin, Chartiers-Houston, California, Fort Cherry, Serra Catholic, Carlynton and Imani Christian.
"I'm looking for us to have a pretty big year, but our conference is a killer,"Kissel said. "Seven of the 10 (conference) teams made the playoffs last year.
"Our conference schedule is brutal. We're going to be good, but I don't know how good our record will be. If I was in last year's conference, I'd be a lot more confident. I don't see any weak teams in this conference."
The Spartans jump immediately into conference action, traveling to Serra Catholic on Aug. 31. Their home opener, versus Monessen, is set for Sept. 7.
"There are no exhibition games. We better be ready,"Kissel said. "We have to stay healthy, but everybody's in the same situation in Class A."