Valley News Dispatch names players, coach of the year
The Valley News Dispatch has selected its coach of the year, offensive player of the year and defensive player of the year, as well as the Top 22 area players and a second-team of all-stars.
Coach of the year
Chad Walsh, Valley
Valley needed a pick-me-up entering this past football season. Chad Walsh did more than just deliver a Hallmark card.
The first-year coach led a spirited turnaround that saw the Vikings leave a 22-game losing streak in the rearview mirror and floor it toward the WPIAL playoffs.
A staggering program showed it still had plenty of fight — and resilience.
“The kids bought in,” Walsh said. “From training camp on, they grew closer as a team and believed they could win.”
For his efforts, Walsh is the Valley News Dispatch Football Coach of the Year.
Springdale's Dave Leasure and Apollo-Ridge's John Skiba also were considered.
Despite starting the season with less-than-pleasing expectations and moving down a Class AA, Valley went on to finish 6-4 and made the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2008.
A rejuvenated team won five straight games to punch its playoff ticket. That streak was kick-started with a 9-8 upset over first-place Freeport in Week 4.
Offensive Player of the Year
Cole Bush, Burrell
Senior, running back
6-foot-2, 220 pounds
In many offensive systems at the Class AA level, Cole Bush might be a blocking tight end, or maybe an offensive lineman.
But at some point, someone decided to make the now 6-foot-2, 220-pounder the featured running back. Wise move.
Bush responded, running with the gentleness of a lumbering stampede, using his enviable combination of athleticism and power to put the big in Burrell's Big I.
A St. Francis (Pa.) recruit, Bush went on to become one of the most prolific and unique players in school history, and with that distinction reserved a couple of spots in the record book.
An All-Allegheny Conference first-team pick on offense and defense (linebacker), Bush was the WPIAL's second-leading rusher during the regular season with 1,794 yards and 33 touchdowns — both single-season school records. The Bucs finished 8-2 and shared the Allegheny Conference title. Bush averaged 7.8 yards per-carry and gained more than 100 yards in every game. He ran for 307 yards and six scores against Kittanning.
Who first said, “let's use Cole Bush at running back?”
Junior year at camp, coach (Tom) Henderson suggested it.
What's your full name?
William Cole Bush. My parents decided to go with just Cole.
Describe your senior season in one word.
Burrell had to play away from home in the playoffs because Buccaneer Stadium was too messy after all the rain from Hurricane Sandy. Did that make a difference?
It may have helped to play at home ,and it would have been nice to play one more game at Buccaneer Stadium, but Mt. Pleasant was a good team; they deserved it.
What do you remember most about the photo shoot for the Valley News Dispatch football preview section cover?
(Springdale's Sean) Dugan really struggled with the (game) faces.
Burrell shoots a canon when it scores a touchdown. What was you reaction the first time you heard it go off?
I couldn't hear the cannon — too busy celebrating with teammates.
How bad did coaches want you to wrestle or play rugby at Burrell?
Wrestling coaches never really bothered me. Peach (Matt Hess) was on me more than the coach about rugby.
Like many successful running backs, you often credited your linemen for your success. Ever take them out to dinner?
We went to Golden Corral last year, but I didn't take them out this year. It would take a year's pay to feed the hogs.
What position do you want to play at the college level?
Halfback, and that's where St. Francis said they'll use me.
You are a 4.0 student. What's your class rank and how do you manage to do so well in school?
Class rank is No. 17. School comes naturally to me. I really don't study that much, but don't tell my parents.
What's the No. 1 thing on your Christmas list this year?
A new car, but it would take some Christmas magic for that to happen.
How ugly was your Christmas sweater on Burrell's “Ugly Christmas Sweater Day?”
I probably looked good in the sweater, so not that ugly.
Defensive Player of the Year
Sean Dugan, Springdale
Senior running back/linebacker/defensive back
5-foot-11, 195 pounds
Springdale coach Dave Leasure believes Sean Dugan is one of the surest tacklers and hardest runners in the WPIAL.
To prove the point, Dugan wrapped up and ran away with both the Defensive and Offensive Player of the Year awards in the Class A Eastern Conference.
The relatively undersized but seemingly inexhaustible Dynamo warranted the double honor.
Playing at outside linebacker or safety — depending on the situation — Dugan collected 92 tackles, including 58 solo stops, 13 tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries, four pass breakups and 3.5 sacks.
He helped Springdale (6-4) notch four shutouts, limit opponents to 11.9 points per game and extend its streak of consecutive playoff appearances to 11.
Meanwhile, as a running back, Dugan rushed for 1,738 yards and 19 touchdowns on 227 carries. He finished his career with a school-record 4,262 rushing yards — the second-highest total in A-K history.
How did you react to being named Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year in the Eastern Conference?
I was absolutely shocked. There are so many great players in the Eastern Conference. I actually found out on Twitter. P.J. Fulmore (North Catholic running back) Tweeted at me with congratulations. I thought it was a joke at first. But that was nice. It was definitely a big surprise.
Against Apollo-Ridge, you carried the ball 39 times and played defense. Late in that game, were there times you were hoping they would call somebody else's number?
I was ready to pass out at the end of the game. Once we put the game in check, the coaches took me out. Guys were like, ‘Dude, you had 39 carries.' My jaw dropped. I never expected that. It's pretty sweet knowing I did that.
Describe the best play you made this year?
We were playing against Northgate, and they were near our goal line, and we stopped them. I shed a tackle and killed the kid. I hit him pretty good. That's my first play on my YouTube highlight video.
What do you think is your best position for college?
I think definitely on the defensive side at linebacker or strong safety. I don't care what level. The Division I-AA schools from the Patriot League have shown interest. Lately, Division II schools have started coming in. I want to do what is best for me academically and financially.
What is your favorite school subject?
I'm a big fan of math. I took trigonometry and algebra. I'm currently taking physics. It's a nice challenge.
Who is your favorite NFL player?
I'd say (Detroit wide receiver) Calvin Johnson. No one can stop him. I read an article about him and when a freshman quarterback came in and Johnson made the quarterback look like an absolute stud. He's that good.
What is your favorite movie of all time?
“Argo.” It's based on the (1979) Iranian hostage crisis. It was a really good move. I like stuff that is based on true events.
What is your favorite pastime or hobby?
I love weight lifting. I also love playing basketball and trash-talking with my friends. I don't play in high school. It's definitely my favorite sport outside of football.
What is No. 1 on your Christmas list?
An acoustic guitar. I'm currently learning to play in school.
VND football all-stars
Nate Anuskiewicz, OL/DE
Knoch, senior, 6-1, 215
Key guard was first-team All-Greater Allegheny Conference selection. ... Helped Knights produce one of conference's top rushing attacks and scored a TD on a fumble return on defense.
Kevin Barnes, QB/LB
Kittanning, senior, 6-1, 185
All-Allegheny Conference first-team quarterback and outside linebacker. … Completed 104-of-173 passes for 1,195 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 940 yards and six touchdowns on 221 carries.
Dakota Bruggeman, QB/DB
Knoch, senior, 6-4, 205
Completed 76-of-157 passes for 1,264 yards and 10 touchdowns … On defense, picked off five passes and received All-Greater Allegheny Conference second-team recognition as a punter.
Joey Brungo, WR/DB
Kiski Area, junior, 6-2, 185
Rising athlete led Kiski Area with 23 receptions for 296 yards and four touchdowns. ... First-team All-Quad East Conference at wide receiver.
Chaz Cheatham, WR/DB
Valley, senior, 6-2, 200
Valley's go-to receiver caught game-winning scores in two conference games. ... First-team All-Class AA Allegheny Conference on offense and defense.
Allan Cratsenberg, TE/LB
Highlands, junior, 6-3, 220
Received All-Greater Allegheny first-team honors at linebacker and tight end. … Recorded 102 tackles, 14 sacks and four fumble recoveries, along with 18 receptions for 313 yards and a touchdown.
Mike Cunningham, WR/LB
Knoch, senior, 5-10, 185
All-Greater Allegheny first-team linebacker and wide receiver. … Had 78 tackles, 11 sacks and two interceptions, and had 861 yards of offense with eight TDs.
Matt Hess, TE/LB
Burrell, senior, 6-0, 225
All-Class AA Allegheny Conference at tight end and inside linebacker. ... Caught team-best 15 passes for 303 yards.
Demetrius Houser, RB
Valley, junior, 6-1, 200
Helped lead Valley to its best season since 2008. ... All-conference back ran for 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Elijah Jackson, RB/DB
Highlands, sophomore, 5-7, 145
Rushed for 756 yards and nine touchdowns. ... All-Greater Allegheny Conference second-team running back.
Luke Kroneberg, TE/LB
Knoch, senior, 6-1, 210
All-Greater Allegheny Conference first-team linebacker and second-team tight end. … Collected 102 tackles and 6.5 sacks, and had 25 receptions and three TDs.
Shane Kuhn, TE/LB
Kiski Area, junior, 6-3, 220
All-Quad East Conference first-team linebacker was presence on both sides of the ball. ... Cavaliers' third-leading receiver at tight end.
Brendan Lynch, QB/DB
Freeport, senior, 5-11, 175
Area's top running quarterback rushed for 1,186 yards and 13 touchdowns. Named All-Allegheny Conference as quarterback and defensive back.
Zach Mazur, RB/LB
Highlands, junior, 5-10, 190
All-Greater Allegheny first-team fullback and second-team linebacker. … Collected 83 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions.
James Murray, OL/DL
Springdale, senior, 6-1, 250
All-Eastern Conference first-teamer as offensive lineman. … Had 56 tackles, 2.5 sacks as defensive lineman.
Connor Shinsky, OL/DL
Knoch, junior, 6-6, 245
All-Greater Allegheny first-team pick as offensive tackle. … Opened holes for proficient running game and had 45 tackles and six sacks.
Ben Tackett, RB/DB
Knoch, senior, 5-10, 175
All-Greater Allegheny first-team running back, defensive back and all-purpose back. … Rushed for 1,171 yards and 19 touchdowns and added 68 tackles, 19 pass breakups and three interceptions.
Tre Tipton, WR/DB
Apollo-Ridge, sophomore, 6-1, 155
Exciting playmaker led A-K Valley is receptions with 39 for 786 yards and 11 touchdowns. ... All-Class A Eastern Conference first-teamer on offense and defense.
Tim Wagner, WR/DB
Riverview, senior, 6-2, 175
Raiders' top offensive player rushed for 350 yards, caught 12 passes for 270 yards and scored six TDs. ... All-Eastern Conference first-team pick at WR and DB.
Brian Welsh, OL/DL
Freeport, senior, 6-2, 240
Part of an offensive unit that averaged 236.6 rushing yards per game. ... Two-way Allegheny Conference first-teamer and conference's lineman of the year.
Devan Willyard, RB/DB
Ford City, senior, 5-11, 170
All-Allegheny Conference first-team running back and defensive back. … Rushed for 818 yards and 10 touchdowns on 115 carries and caught 31 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns.
Jesse Zelonka, QB
Apollo-Ridge, junior, 5-11, 155
Dual-threat QB passed for 1,457 yards and 19 touchdowns while also rushing for 671 yards and eight scores. ... Named to Class A Eastern Conference second team.
Zach Burke, Deer Lakes, 5-11, 160, Sr., P/DB
Tony Devivo, Freeport, 6-1, 210 Sr., DE
Jake Digiullo, Plum, 5-9, 205, Sr., RB
Devin Dunmire, Leechburg, 6-0, 230, Sr., OL
Chad Garnett, Fox Chapel, 5-8, 170, Jr., WR
Nigel Garnett, Fox Chapel, 5-8, 165, Jr., RB
Ben Gemballa, Apollo-Ridge, 5-10, 175, Jr., RB/LB
Sterling Henry, Kittanning, 6-3, 185, Sr., DB
Jake Iellimo, Leechburg, 6-3, 210, Sr., TE
Cody Keenan, Deer Lakes, 5-10, 175, Sr., RB
Dustin Koedel, Freeport, 5-11, 175, Sr., DB
Mike Masarik, Highlands, 5-11, 165, Sr., K
Vince Mead, Kittanning, 6-4, 220, Sr., TE/DE
Nick Nitowski, Burrell, 6-0, 215, Sr., OL/DL
Brandon Peluso, Riverview, 5-11, 240, Sr., OL
Alex Smith, Apollo-Ridge, 6-1, 160, So., WR
Hunter Stiehler, Springdale, 5-11, 240, Jr., OL
Alec Stivers, Freeport, 5-11, 150, Sr., LB
Josh Wisniewski, Freeport, 6-3, 215, Sr., LB
Jonathan Whalen, Knoch, 5-11, 205, Sr., NG
Josh Wiskeman, Kiski Area, 6-2, 240, Sr., DL
Andrew Yohe, Kiski Area, 6-3, 270, Jr., OL