Franklin Regional sophomore rising quickly as football prospect
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As a child, Stephen Puhl always wanted to play football.
“His sister is one year behind him in school, and she was a cheerleader, so he would go to all the (Franklin Area Midget Football Association) games and he wanted to play,” said Michael Puhl, Stephen's father.
Michael Puhl and his wife, Julie, resisted Stephen's requests because they didn't want him to begin playing football too early. Puhl's uncle, David Paliscak, was a pro prospect as an offensive lineman at Tulane before tiring of playing football. Another uncle, Chris Paliscak, played quarterback at Temple.
As Stephen Puhl entered the seventh grade, his parents finally allowed him to play. Now, he's turning some heads of his own.
Puhl, a rising sophomore tight end at Franklin Regional, will participate in the Schuman's National Underclassmen Top Prospect Camp this weekend on the University of Oklahoma's campus in Norman, Okla. He will be the only WPIAL player attending.
“It's a huge honor to be invited to the Top Prospect Camp,” Puhl said. “(I've been) working really hard to get this far, and it's really an honor to be invited.”
Puhl received an invitation to the Top Prospect Camp after turning in top performances at the Schuman's National Underclassmen Combine in Hermitage in April and the Regional U100 camp in Delaware in June.
He won the tight end MVP award at the Hermitage camp and posted the best times for a tight end in the 40-yard dash and shuttle at the Delaware camp. He also surpassed fellow tight ends in the bench press, vertical and long jump at the Delaware camp.
The Delaware camp came just days after Puhl had 16 stiches removed from two fingers on his right hand after he sliced them to the bone with an electric hedge trimmer.
“It was very scary to get that finger cut,” Puhl said. “It's a huge part of catching the football. I just kind of tried to keep it positive through the process.”
While previous camps focused on strength and speed, this weekend's camp will focus on position-specific skills.
“It's really good to get noticed by going to these camps,” Puhl said. “Coaches can see you improving — he was (6-foot-1) going into this year, now he's 6-foot-4, he gained 20 pounds, got faster. That's what coaches like to see.
“I'm really looking forward to using my skills against most of the corners and the linebackers down there. I really want to see where I'm at compared to the top guys in the country.”
Puhl's physical and football growth has been evident over the past year, Michael Puhl said.
The rising sophomore grew several inches and put on 30 pounds in the past year. He now stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 180 pounds, and Michael Puhl said doctors told him Stephen could eventually grow to 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-6.
As he grew, Puhl switched from quarterback to tight end on offense and from cornerback to linebacker on defense. He played for the Franklin Regional freshman football team in 2012.
To learn some of the skills necessary to play tight end, Puhl began training with Sam Tranks, a former Seton Hill wide receiver who now plays in the Canadian Football League. Puhl approached Tranks at the Greensburg LA Fitness in January, and the two have been working out three to four times a week since.
“He already was a naturally gifted athlete when he first came to me,” said Tranks, a member of the 2012 Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts. “Now I'm just trying to help him fine-tune things, explain to him more about the ins and outs of the game.
“Someone will come here and be in the trees, or just come and watch from afar, and they would think Stephen was playing his whole life. But he's only been playing two or three years, which is amazing, the level he's at right now.”
Tranks said Puhl's growth is most evident in his ability to sink his hips and drive his arms coming out of cuts — skills necessary to create separation from defenders.
“A lot of guys can run 5 yards and stop (or) run 5 yards and cut to the left,” Tranks said. “But what separates guys is being able to sink your hips down low to the ground and explode in the direction you want to go. He changes every day with that.”
Puhl's background in baseball — he plays for the Murrysville Junior Legion team and was a member of Franklin Regional's freshman team this spring — also helps with his ability to catch the football, Tranks said.
As he continues to work out, Puhl said he would like to get better at making instinctive plays on the field, such as knowing where to be at a certain time.
While he wanted to play football sooner, he said starting as a seventh-grader taught him the importance of hard work as he fought to catch up.
“I feel like a lot of players I've played with have already been burned out or tired of the sport,” Puhl said. “Starting a little bit later, feeling like I have to work harder to get to where I'm at, has really helped me. It's definitely good for my future — it's teaching me that I have to work harder.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830, via email at email@example.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.
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