Familiar teams expected to contend for Heritage Conference title
In the Heritage Conference, it was a race to the finish line in 2012. Just two games separated the top five teams in the final regular-season standings.
Defending co-champions Ligonier Valley and Penns Manor have their sights set again on contending for the top spot despite losing key players.
They'll likely get pressure from Blairsville and Homer-Center, among others, in the race for another chance to advance to the District 6 playoffs.
“There's teams that are around (the top) every year, and those are the ones that have been there the last few years,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said. “We've been knocking on the door a few times. It's a matter of coming out and doing your job and getting better every day. We have seniors that really understand that.”
The Wildcats (6-4, 5-3), who tied Blairsville for fourth in the standings a year ago, return key players in skill positions on offense, including running back Mike Newhouse and quarterback Aaron Berezansky.
But what Page is most impressed with heading into the season is the leadership element with his offensive and defensive lines.
“We do have some starters back on our lines. Those guys are the heart and soul of our team,” Page said. “They love to lift. They love to come to the workouts. They have a great attitude. They're great with our other kids. They appear to have the qualities that you want to have in a group up there that knows that they're going to have to do the banging every day and every Friday night. I can't say enough about those guys.”
You might figure it's a rebuilding year for the Comets following the loss of two-way star Danny Ferens, who is in his first college season at Division I FCS Penn.
Ferens, a four-year starter at quarterback and defensive back, led Penns Manor to a combined record of 40-7 after a 9-2 mark (7-1 Heritage) in 2012.
Fullback/inside linebacker Ethan Marshall and two-way linemen Luke Ruddock (6-foot-2, 250) and Steven Dumm (5-10, 235) are among the experienced returnees.
Versatile senior running back/linebacker Dartagnan Suchar returns to help the Colts' efforts of staying on track after an 8-4 season with a 6-2 mark and a third-place finish in the conference.
They'll have to overcome the losses of a number of key players, including running back Adam Polites, quarterback Jeff Hogan and linebacker Alex Atkins, who enters his first college season at Brown.
The Stingers (3-7, 3-5) move on without their top player from a year ago. Running back/safety Brody Thompson led them in nearly every offensive category.
The Trojans (3-7, 2-6) will count on the combination of tight end Steve Richards (5-11, 225) and quarterback Tyler Frassenei for improvement from a year ago.
The Red Dragons (2-8, 2-7) will rely on quarterback/safety Alec Sunderlin to lead the way in former Purchase Line standout Brandon Overdorff's second season as coach.
The Lions (0-10, 0-8) enter the season with a new coach. Lance Holupka succeeds Greg Mytrysak, who compiled a 19-21 record over four years.