Belle Vernon hopes to stay injury-free this season
In high school football, injuries are part of the game.
Still, few teams have been hit as hard in key positions as Belle Vernon.
The Leopards, who went 4-6 in 2012, lost top players from their backfield in each of the past three seasons yet have managed to make the playoffs in all four years under coach Aaron Krepps.
However, all of Krepps' teams in that time frame have hovered around the .500 mark, and the fifth-year coach said injuries made a difference in what could have been special seasons. He is hoping this year will be different.
“We have a very young team and a small senior class, so it is hard right now to say where the strength of our team lies,” Krepps said. “But while we don't have many starters back, the kids we do have are extremely battle-tested.
“Potentially, I can see us as being very good if, of course, we stay healthy. That has been our biggest issue.”
Senior lineman Austin Fields is a four-year starter who was all-conference on both sides of the ball a year ago.
Fellow lineman Aaron McCullough is back to start for a third year, and junior quarterback Travis Snyder is getting ready for his third season under center.
Snyder is one of those players who missed a big part of last season while injured.
“He's been in our system for three years now, and I'm anxious to see where he takes the level of his game this year,” Krepps said of Snyder. “He's a talented kid with a good head and nice ability.
“He's got to be consistent and make good decisions for us. If he does, we could be pretty good. It's kind of what any coach hopes from his quarterback.”
Another positive on offense is running back Anthony Levis. The junior burst on the scene to rush for 1,136 yards and six touchdowns in 2012.
Other returning offensive starters include all-conference tight end Jake Sweitzer and lineman Devin Hannan.
Defensively, Belle Vernon will have five starters back, including Fields, McCullough and Hannan up front.
The other returning starters are linebacker Austin Bell and defensive back Cody Menges.
Krepps says that Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin are the top teams in the Big 9 and Elizabeth Forward is a team “that you can't sleep on, because they have improved in a big way.”
Still, Krepps expects his team to be in the thick of the race at the end.