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Top QBs return for senior seasons in WPIAL

| Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011

This year's crop of top-tier WPIAL quarterbacks appears to be notable for its quality, as well as its quantity.

One name dominated the quarterback conversation in 2010: Christian Brumbaugh, the prolific passer who led South Fayette to the WPIAL Class AA title, along with setting league records in career passing yardage (7,163) and touchdowns in a season (52).

Those records appear safe, but that doesn't mean the region won't see a fair share of dominant signal-callers. Six players who finished in the top 10 of WPIAL passing yardage return this season, including Montour's Dillon Buechel, whose 2,657 yards were second only to Brumbaugh's WPIAL record total of 3,726 yards.

Buechel foresees another big year for passers — and, of course, himself.

"The game (in the WPIAL) is changing a little more. Some other teams are looking to spread the defense out, get it to different guys, get some more touches," said Buechel, who threw for 25 touchdowns last season and has most of his skill players back.

"Definitely, with our offense, we have three or four receivers who could start on any other team in the WPIAL. Just being able to survey the field, with all those guys, they'll make it easy. And our coaches make it easy for us to succeed."

Other top-10 quarterbacks returning from 2010 include California's T.D. Conway, Laurel Highlands' Jake Riddell, New Castle's John Matarazzo, Central Catholic's Perry Hills and Aliquippa's Mikal Hall.

Of that group, though, Hills is the only quarterback committed to a Division I BCS program — Maryland.

With a 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame and a strong arm, Hills has the physical tools to do well at the next level. And he's got the self-belief needed to excel once he gets there.

"One of my best attributes, I think, is my leadership," said Hills, who threw for 1,580 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. "All quarterbacks have to have it. If you walk in the huddle and you don't know what you're doing, they won't believe in you. You have to look them in the eye and make them believe in you."

If his confidence comes across as cockiness, it should be noted that Hills also stars in a sport built around individual achievement — wrestling. Hills was the WPIAL Class AAA champion at 189 pounds last winter and has more than 100 victories in his career. And despite committing to a college, he intends to wrestle in the upcoming season, as well.

"From wrestling, I take my mental toughness and my physical toughness," Hills said. "In wrestling, you're out there alone. It's all on you."

Toughness, confidence — Upper St. Clair quarterback Dakota Conwell has both, and he didn't even throw for 1,000 yards last season.

The Panthers senior has committed to play linebacker for Pitt next fall, but he also stands out as one of the area's top dual-threat quarterbacks. In 2010, Conwell completed 50 percent of his passes for 916 yards and seven touchdowns. He also led the Panthers in rushing, gaining 1,085 yards on 167 carries with 16 touchdowns.

"Offense is obviously a lot of fun, but I'm excited to play defense full-time next year," Conwell said. "I get about the same satisfaction out of throwing a touchdown as I do getting an interception and scoring a touchdown off of it."

But before he makes attacking the quarterback his top priority, he'll enjoy one last fall under center.

"I like playing quarterback a lot," Conwell said. "It's always been a dream."

Sensational six

Six of the WPIAL's top 10 leading passers from last season return this year. A look at the senior signal-callers:

Player (school) 2010 yardage (WPIAL rank) TDs

Dillon Buechel (Montour) 2,221 (2nd) 24

T.D. Conway (California) 1,906 (4th) 25

Jake Riddell (Laurel Highlands) 1,776 (7th) 11

John Matarazzo (New Castle) 1,708 (8th) 9

Perry Hills (Central Catholic) 1,580 (9th) 10

Mikal Hall (Aliquippa) 1,537 (10th) 19

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