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Senior-dominated USC out for another conference title

Chris Adamski
| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Upper St. Clair tight end Rori Blair catches a pass during a Panthers' practice in Upper St. Clair.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Upper St. Clair tight end Rori Blair catches a pass during a Panthers' practice in Upper St. Clair.
Upper St. Clair's Steve Mackowick works out during a Panthers' practice in Upper St. Clair.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Upper St. Clair's Steve Mackowick works out during a Panthers' practice in Upper St. Clair.

During the 2012 season, the Upper St. Clair football team ranked second in WPIAL Class AAAA in scoring (10.0) and first in shutouts (five) and kept its opponent without a touchdown in exactly half of its 12 games.

The Panthers' defense, on paper, figures to be even better this season. Nine starters return on defense, and a Pitt recruit has been (re-)added to the mix.

“We're going to be an experienced group,” veteran coach Jim Render said. “We're going to have a senior-dominated team, so in that regard the personality of the team is a little older — and hopefully a little more mature.”

The Panthers have won at least a share of their conference title during eight of the past 12 seasons, including each of the past two years. With the notable exception of the quarterback position, the majority of starting spots are filled by returnees from last season's 10-2, WPIAL Class AAAA semifinalist.

As linebacker/quarterback Joe Repischak noted, it's possible that at many times this season all 22 positions on the field for Upper St. Clair will be manned by seniors.

“With that amount of experience, we're pretty confident we can do some big things,” Repischak said.

Repischak is involved in the most prominent position battle of preseason camp — he and fellow senior J.J. Conn entered it vying to be the Panthers' starting quarterback.

“They've waited their turn and now have their chance to prove they can play,” Render said. “They're both a little over 6-2, and they have long frames.”

While in recent years the Panthers' quarterbacks have been more of the “dual-threat” ilk, Repischak and Conn are known more for their passing. The running will be left to a deep collection of backs that includes Steve Mackowick, Mac Pope, Phil Saracco and fullback Trevor Morrow. All are seniors.

Upper St. Clair is so experienced and senior-heavy it even has the rare high school fifth-year senior. Tight end/Rori Blair, who late last month made a verbal commitment to Pitt, returns to the football team after missing last season while recovering from a stroke he suffered in 2012.

“Rori is a unique person who's got a lot of talent,” Render said of the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Blair, who will play both offensively and defensively. “He's got long arms and a big frame and he's quick. He hasn't played football in almost two years, so we hope we can teach him some things — and then turn him loose. But he will be an A-plus player for us.”

Blair will play on the line on defense for the Panthers, joining linemen Pope and Ben Huss, safety Morgan Lee and either Conn or Repischak at linebacker as projected leaders of what should be another dominant Upper St. Clair defense.

“Obviously, we want to set the bar high,” Repischak said. “Our goals are definitely to try to make it to Heinz Field (for the WPIAL championship game) — and I think we could make a run at a state title.”

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