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Cupboard not bare for 3-time champion North Allegheny

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
North Allegheny head coach Art Walker talks with linebacker Layne Skundrich during practice Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, in McCandless
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
North Allegheny's Elijah Zeise works out Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, in McCandless

No player on this season's North Allegheny roster has played a prior season for the Tigers that didn't end with them as WPIAL Class AAAA champions.

Then again, only three Tigers enter this season having been a starter for a WPIAL title-winning team.

For North Allegheny to extend its WPIAL-record streak of consecutive Class AAAA football championships to four, they're going to have to do it with an almost entirely new starting lineup.

Pitt recruit Elijah Zeise, junior linebacker Layne Skundrich and junior offensive lineman Nick James are the PIAA champions' lone returning starters.

“It'll definitely be a little different from the standpoint of experience and stuff like that, but we still have a lot of guys who are very talented,” said Zeise, a wide receiver and defensive back.

“Looking at our schedule, for sure, there are a lot of games in which experience definitely would help us. But we've just got to find a way to overcome that. We've got a lot of leaders on the team and a plenty of talent and some great coaches. The only thing that seems to be lacking is experience — but we've got enough of everything else that it'll still be a great season.”

Zeise had 23 catches for 677 yards and seven touchdowns last season and was named an all-conference defensive back. He knows this season will be a different challenge, though, without all-conference quarterback Mack Leftwich throwing him the ball, all-conference running back Alex DiCiantis keeping defenses honest or last year's other all-conference receivers, Brendan Coniker and Gregg Garrity, drawing attention.

Zeise is the only one of the eight all-conference honorees who did not graduate. Four others signed with Division I colleges for football and a fifth as a wrestler.

“You need to get used to being on the field with all different guys and not always just being on the field with Mack and (Michigan recruit Patrick Kugler) and all those guys,” Zeise said. “I definitely wouldn't count us out at all.”

In addition to the three returning starters, coach Art Walker Jr. pointed to senior linebackers Riley Sullivan and Jason Monper, senior running backs Sean Idowu and Josh Bergman and junior defensive back/wide receiver Clay Byerly as new leaders and breakout candidates.

Senior Cage Galupi and juniors Jeff Clemens and Cory Cavanaugh entered camp vying to replace Leftwich — who's now at UTEP — as North Allegheny's starting quarterback.

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