Leader Times area all-star football teams
The Leader Times picks the best area high school football players from the 2011 season:
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Freeport, junior, running back — 5-foot-10, 170 pounds
During the preseason, Freeport junior Damon Smith spent time on the sideline with a right hip injury and, as one of several candidates for the starting running back spot, wondered how many carries he'd even get during the season.
But by the second or third week of the regular season, Smith had evolved into the diesel engine of Freeport's grind-it-out offense, which averaged 29 points per game due in large part to its ground attack.
Smith, the Leader Times' 2011 Offensive Player of the Year, finished the season with the fourth-highest carry total in the WPIAL and rushing yardage that ranked in the top 20.
"I believed in myself, but I didn't think I would come close to that," said Smith, who finished with 240 carries for 1,381 yards and 18 touchdowns. "I certainly didn't expect that going into the season, but I felt confident that I could do it."
In the season-opener, Freeport used a spread offense scheme, and Smith carried the ball just 11 times for 29 yards.
The following week, the Yellowjackets placed more faith in their hulking linemen and focused on the run. Smith flourished, rushing for 131 yards on 19 carries.
From that game on, Smith became the feature back. In seven of Freeport's final eight games, he had at least 25 carries, and he failed to reach 100 yards just once in that stretch.
In Week 9, Smith carried the ball on 38 of Freeport's 47 offensive plays and finished with 199 yards.
"It wore me out, and the next day I wouldn't be feeling too good, but I just kind of did it for everybody else around me," Smith, a two-way starter, said of the weekly work load. "If I was feeling tired, I would just think about my teammates and that I shouldn't quit on them because they didn't quit on me."
Coach John Gaillot couldn't recall Smith ever objecting to the play-after-play punishment.
"The type of person he is, he'll say, 'If you need me, I'll carry it 68 times. I don't care,'" Gaillot said. "But it seemed like, as the games went on, he got better and better."
Smith credited his linemen for creating plenty of room to run.
"Our line, I trust anybody behind them," the junior said. "Anybody can succeed because they honestly pushed people all around the field and allowed me to make plays."
Gaillot praised the line's play, too. But he believed Smith churned out yards even when the contact came early.
"He just ran relentlessly," Gaillot said. "He was one of the biggest competitors, just refused to lose and refused to go down.
"It was surprising just that we had a 1,300-yard rusher. If you had told me that at the beginning of the year, I wouldn't have believed it."
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Freeport, junior, defensive tackle — 6-foot-2, 230 pounds
Freeport junior Brian Welsh is a big boy with a tiny ego.
While Welsh appreciated his Allegheny Conference co-Defensive Most Valuable Player recognition, he relished the Yellowjackets' shared conference title far more. And while he enjoyed each of his team-high 10 sacks, Welsh loved to deal with double teams and watch as his fellow linemen broke through to batter the quarterback, too.
"Our whole defensive line worked so well together," said Welsh, who tied linebacker Josh Wisniewski for the team lead in tackles with 80 and caused three fumbles. "I feel like any one of the guys on our defense could've got (the Allegheny Conference award)."
Welsh and his compatriots, Jon Turner, Alex Carson and Sean Carson, controlled the line of scrimmage for the Yellowjackets, who allowed just 11.3 points per game. They combined for 293 of Freeport's 883 total tackles (33.2 percent) and 23 of the team's 38 sacks (60.5 percent).
"(Opponents) couldn't really focus on just one of us, because then another one would get you and end up biting you in the butt," Welsh said. "We never looked at stats and compared them to each other. We're like four best friends, and it was just like, 'Let's do this.'"
What Welsh, one of the team's few experienced starters at the beginning of the season, did this fall actually failed to meet his standard for himself, he said. The junior, who moved from defensive end back to defensive tackle, compared himself to his predecessor at the position, Cody McClelland, a 2011 graduate who made 105 tackles, including 10.5 sacks, in his senior season.
"He was an awesome football player, and I kind of set goals based on what he did and tried to achieve what he did -- and I really didn't," Welsh said. "He was amazing. ... Every play last year, it just seemed like Cody was there. It was really something to play alongside him."
Coach John Gaillot is willing to put Welsh's determination up against just about any player's, he said.
"His motor never stops," Gaillot said. "All four of them on that line, they never stop. But (Welsh) just, there's something about him; he has that edge, and he just goes all-out, every snap. I see him buckled over, dead-tired and we're looking for somebody else to put in, and the next play, he sacks a kid for a 12-yard loss. It's like, where'd he get that• ... He just had that stamina, and that mean streak to him."
Welsh still questions what set him apart from his teammates. He did his part, just as they did theirs. Their efforts made them equals.
"I just try to go hard every play, try not to take any plays off," Welsh said. "Just do what the coach tells you, take that to heart and honestly say that you gave it your all."
FIRST TEAM OFFENSE
Quarterback, Freeport, Junior, 5-1 1⁄175
Second-team Allegheny Conference selection passed for 602 yards and seven touchdowns, rushed for 442 yards and seven scores.
Running back, Karns City, Junior, 5- 7⁄165
First-team Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference Large School selection rushed for 1,340 yards and caught 10 passes for 219.
Running back, Ford City, Junior, 5-1 1⁄168
First-team Allegheny Conference selection averaged 6.75 yards per carry and caught 27 passes for 362 yards.
Slot back, Kittanning, Senior, 5- 7⁄170
Senior averaged 5.75 yards per carry, rushed for four touchdowns and had 18 receptions for 279 yards and three touchdowns.
Wide receiver, Apollo-Ridge, Senior, 6-0/191
Allegheny Conference first-teamer split time between wideout and quarterback, still finished with 21 catches for 457 yards.
Wide receiver, Redbank Valley, Senior, 5-10/140
Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference Small School first-teamer had 24 receptions for 477 yards and two touchdowns.
Offensive lineman, Redbank Valley, Senior, 6-3/270
First-team Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference Small School selection helped Bulldogs rush for 2,034 yards.
Offensive lineman, Ford City, Senior, 5- 9⁄202
First-team Allegheny Conference guard earned his team's most valuable offensive lineman award.
Offensive lineman, West Shamokin, Senior, 6-3/215
Second-team Allegheny Conference guard helped the Wolves rush for more than 1,300 yards.
Offensive lineman, Freeport, Sophomore, 6-3, 280
First-team Allegheny Conference tackle helped the Yellowjackets rush for more than 2,000 yards.
Offensive lineman, Freeport, Senior, 6-2/230
Two-way first-team Allegheny Conference selection was a mainstay for the conference co-champion Yellowjackets.
Kicker/punter, Ford City, Senior, 5-1 1⁄162
Allegheny Conference first-teamer averaged 37.27 yards per punt and kicked seven touchbacks.
QB — Trevor Harmon, Kittanning, sr., 6-0, 175
RB — Zac Horner, West Shamokin, fr., 5-7, 160
RB — Alex Kinkela, Karns City, sr., 5-10, 205
RB — Mark Strothers, Redbank Valley, soph., 5-9, 160
WR — Sterling Henry, Kittanning, jr., 6-4, 180
OL — Tyler Crissman, Kittanning, jr., 5-7, 185
OL — Devin Dunmire, Leechburg, jr., 6-0, 200
First team defense
Defensive lineman, Freeport, Senior, 6- 3⁄195
Second-team Allegheny Conference defensive end had 67 tackles, including five sacks.
Defensive lineman, Freeport, Senior, 6-4/210
Twin brother, a first-team Allegheny Conference defensive end, had 67 tackles, four sacks and two fumble returns for touchdowns.
Defensive lineman, Karns City, Senior, 6-3/245
Two-way Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference Large School first-teamer made 80 tackles and forced a fumble.
Defensive lineman, Ford City, Senior, 5-1 1⁄204
Senior filled several roles for the Sabers and received the team's most valuable defensive lineman award.
Defensive lineman, West Shamokin, Junior, 6-2/210
Junior was a second-team Allegheny Conference selection on both offense and defense.
Linebacker, Apollo-Ridge, Senior, 6-2/223
First-team Allegheny Conference selection finished with a team-high 77 tackles and recovered a fumble.
Linebacker, Redbank Valley, Senior, 5- 9⁄170
Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference Small School first-teamer led team with 101 tackles and also recovered three fumbles.
Linebacker, Freeport, Junior, 6-3/305
First-team Allegheny Conference selection tied for team lead in tackles with 80, had four sacks and recovered three fumbles.
Linebacker, Ford City, Junior, 5-1 1⁄192
First-team Allegheny Conference selection helped the Sabers allow just 13.4 points per game.
Defensive back, Karns City, Senior, 5-8/141
First-team Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference Large School selection had 49 tackles, recorded two interceptions and knocked down six passes.
Defensive back, Redbank Valley, Senior, 5-1 1⁄160
Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference Small School first-teamer made 87 tackles, had two interceptions and forced two fumbles.
All-purpose back, Freeport, Junior, 6-0/170
Second-team Allegheny Conference defensive back averaged 21.64 yards per punt return and 33 yards per kick return.
DL — Hunter Bower, Ford City, sr., 6-4, 195
DL — Vince Mead, Kittanning, jr., 6-4, 205
DL — Fred Laird, West Shamokin, sr., 6-0, 280
LB — Ian Boylstein, Ford City, sr., 6-0, 205
LB — Alex Lane, Kittanning, sr., 5-8, 165
CB — Tre Tipton, Apollo-Ridge, fr., 6-0, 165
CB — Cody Coyle, Karns City, sr., 5-7, 152