Mergers made Perry, Brashear stronger, but Allderdice looks to be City League favorite
Brashear and Perry have combined to win two-thirds of the City League championships in the past three decades, so it's no wonder they are considered perennial contenders.
The City has been reduced to a six-team league following the closings of Langley and Oliver, whose students will now play football for — you guessed it — Brashear and Perry.
Which makes the obvious favorite ... Allderdice?
Nevermind that the Dragons haven't won a City League football championship since 1967, or that they lost a major-college talent from last season's City runners-up in Pitt recruit Tyrique Jarrett.
“I think we've got a good chance,” Allderdice coach Jerry Haslett said. “I don't know what Perry, Brashear or University Prep have, but I'm pretty excited thinking about what we have. The following year we might be in trouble, but this year,we're pretty good.”
Allderdice returns the top running back in the City in Patrick Ferguson, a 6-foot-1, 250-pound senior who has nearly 2,900 career rushing yards. A two-time 1,000-yard rusher, Ferguson is surrounded by a strong supporting cast that has Haslett believing the Dragons have a chance to snap their streak after 45 seasons.
“I think Allderdice, with some of the kids coming back, should be good,” Brashear coach Rick Murphy said. “The Ferguson kid is going to help them. They're always strong running the football. It helps to have a back like him.”
What can't be discounted, however, is how two strong programs will be affected by the additions of students from Langley to Brashear and Oliver to Perry. After all, University Prep won the City championship in its inaugural season, after the closings of Peabody and Schenley.
“It seems to be a recurring theme lately, trying to get two schools together,” Murphy said. “It's a different situation than University Prep because they're not closing one of them. Perry's always been good, and Oliver always had some tough, hard-nosed kids.”
Perry has won seven City titles since 2000, including six consecutive at one point. Adding players from Oliver, the 2006 champion, only makes the Commodores more dangerous. University Prep coach Lou Berry believes putting players from rival programs on the same team can bring out the best in them, especially after watching it happen last season.
“I walked into a situation last year where these kids blended together because they had so much respect for each other,” Berry said. “Perry has always done a great job — that's been proven the past 20-some years — but if they're blessed with that opportunity, those kids will continue to foster. If the kids bring a great attitude and work ethic, that leads to success.
“That whole neighborhood thing, we didn't have to deal with that at all. It'll be interesting to see that North Side dynamic, but if they win, everybody loves success.”
Perry linebackers coach Eric Asongwed used the Oliver-Perry merger to team his organization, Young Men & Women's African Heritage Association, with Venture Outdoors and take the players kayaking on the Allegheny River as a bonding activity.
“Everybody is from the North Side,” said senior receiver-safety Shakeem Cox, who played at Oliver, “so there isn't much commotion going on.”
Perry coach Bill Gallagher calls the merger a “shot in the arm for our school,” pointing out that the Commodores will wear orange paw prints on the back of their helmets this season, a nod to Oliver's school colors and Bears logo.
“The transition went well,” Gallagher said. “I think the camaraderie is really the strong point on this team. Everybody is pulling the rope the same way. Sports is the great equalizer, especially when you like to compete.”
Brashear is gaining Langley students while dealing with a shrinking border in parts of Brookline and the Hill District.
“We're losing areas that since Brashear has been around, we were familiar with,” Murphy said. “Langley's numbers were down, but we're excited about the kids that are coming in. The kids that we've had come over, they're pretty excited. We've had some success, and the kids are excited to be part of that.”
Not only does Allderdice have a promising star in Ferguson, but Haslett is counting on a strong senior class and the maturation of quarterback Bishop Gethers.
“There's more than just Patrick,” Haslett said. “There's pieces all over the place. It's scary. We could be pretty good, but you never know.
“At this time of the year, it really don't matter what anybody says. I know my team, the way we are and core group we have coming back, at least 15-20 have played 20 games. We've got a 3,000-yard rusher, were in the championship last year. Does that makes us contenders? In all honesty, I guess we could be.”
The Dragons return leading rusher Ferguson, a power back who rushed 1,016 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
“He's got big legs and a big behind, so if you hit him, you better hit him upstairs,” Haslett said. “Most of the people are nipping at his ankles.”
Allderdice will complement Ferguson with senior Sean Monroe and the cannon-armed Gethers, a 6-3, 225-pound senior Haslett calls “the key” to the offense.
The 'Dice lost top receivers Will Graham and Jay Barlow but return three-year starter Cornelius Ray along with D.J. Muldrow and Gerrard Hardrick.
The Dragons have size up front with 6-7, 330-pound tackle Shawdi Parker and 6-3, 270-pound junior Brody Miller.
The Bulls were hit hard by graduation, but that could create an opportunity for senior receiver/outside linebacker Deshaun Roberts, who had a strong summer on the camp circuit.
“He's started for us for two years on defense but was behind some kids on offense and didn't get a whole lot of looks,” Murphy said. “But he's working on that side of his game, and we're expecting him to do big things.”
That could depend on the development of quarterbacks Russell Paige and Angelo Reed, who also have a talented target in receiver-defensive back Jamal Smith. The Bulls return three of their starting five on the offensive line.
Defensively, they will be led by Roberts and Diondre Faulk, a 6-2, 215-pound junior inside linebacker Murphy predicts can develop into a Division I prospect.
“He's going to be able to do big things,” Murphy said. “He has great size.”
Jeff McCafferty believes his Raiders are blessed with two of the fastest receivers in the City League in seniors Orlando Harvard and Marlon Igles.
“Orlando's got great hands,” McCafferty said. “He's a special kid. He would be a starting receiver on any team in Western Pennsylvania. And he's also my best defensive back.
“I wish we had more to go around them.”
Carrick also returns top rusher Joe Kalsek, who ran for 288 yards last season as a freshman, but much will depend on the development of junior quarterback Devon Cruse.
“He's a work in progress,” McCafferty said. “The better he is, the better we'll be. But my real concern is depth on the line. I just don't have many linemen.”
The Raiders return an All-City lineman in 6-foot, 320-pound sophomore Josh Walker.
“Josh never gives up on a play,” McCafferty said. “Very seldom do you see defensive linemen run down a play, but he does. If there is a play downfield, he's pursuing. He plays to the whistle.”
The Commodores are set at the skill positions. Running backs Curtis Edmonds and Robert Willie return, and the receiving corps of DaRon Clark, Mallory Claybourne and Darius Barnes is boosted by Oliver transfers Davon Kidd and Shakeem Cox, who averaged almost 25 yards per catch last season.
“He's good,” Gallagher said of Cox. “He's a great kid, a quiet leader who speaks to the kids on the side. He's not a rah-rah guy, but he's become one of our leaders.”
That gives plenty of options to quarterback Ahmed Turner, who replaces 1,300-yard passer Darrell Carson.
“That's what we're hoping,” Gallagher said. “We definitely want to establish the run game, but we want to spread the field and utilize them. This is the fastest team we've had in years.”
The line returns two-year starters in guards Lloyd Reid and Jermaine Herring and 280-pound tackle Genet Moore and adds 6-3, 240-pound tackle Carlton Williamson, who played basketball at Oliver but not football.
Defensively, Reid and Herring will play up front, with Edmonds, Turner and Willie at linebacker and a strong secondary led by Clark and Cox at safety.
The Panthers learned in their inaugural season that an athletic quarterback and a Division I running back/linebacker was a City League championship combination.
Dante Forte and Jaylen Coleman are gone to graduation. Instead, University Prep coach Lou Berry is counting on quarterback Akil Young and H-back Myles Catlin to carry the Panthers.
“My philosophy is, if you have a quarterback coming back, you're ahead of the game,” Berry said of Young, who replaced Forte late last season. “Akil got some great experience in the state playoffs, so we're anticipating that our offense will be clicking on all cylinders.”
The 5-11, 215-pound Catlin had 15 catches for 295 yards last season and is receiving interest from Temple and Toledo. Junior Marcus Johnson and sophomore Stephon Hawthorne also will be top targets.
Prep returns starters on the offensive line in guard Jermaine Brown, center D'Andre Caviness and tackle Neondre Harbour. Defensively, linebacker Lamont Butler and end Ryan Daniels will complement Catlin. But the entire secondary has graduated, and the Panthers will look for contributions in both backfields from speedy juniors Adner Roberts and Clay Moorefield.
“There's not a ton of experience, but we remain fairly confident that we'll be a contender in the City this coming season,” Berry said. “I feel bad for some of these kids because of the big shoes they have to fill. But we're excited because we have a lot of young talent that will get better as the season progresses. They have that winning taste in their mouths.”
Bulldogs coach Monte Robinson took the team to Slippery Rock for training camp for the first time in school history, hoping that it would be a “game-changer” for his program.
“We're going to do a lot better,” Robinson said. “The plan is always to get to the City League playoffs. Once we get there, all bets are off.”
Westinghouse hasn't won a City championship since 1996, and it is now by far the smallest of the six schools in the league, not to mention one of the youngest.
The closings of Peabody and Schenley last year and Langley and Oliver this year didn't draw new players for the Bulldogs, so they will rely mostly upon underclassmen.
“Our biggest challenge is (enrollment) numbers,” Robinson said. “We have what we had.”
Sophomore Ronald Brown returns at quarterback, giving Westinghouse an offensive foundation.
“He can throw the ball. That's his strong point,” Robinson said. “He can throw it a mile, and with pinpoint accuracy.”
Brown has a pair of talented basketball players at receiver, as 6-2 senior Robert Bailey came out for football this season and the Bulldogs have high hopes for 6-1 freshman Sean Lyons.
“He has a chance to be a real good one,” Robinson said.