Mars' Wing-T intact despite graduation loss
Quarterback Owen Nearhoof could care less who is tabbed as the Greater Allegheny Conference preseason favorite. He knows what he and his Mars teammates have to do to repeat last year's conference championship performance.
“We're not worried if we're marked No. 1 (in preseason polls),” Nearhoof said. “We're worried about working hard right now. There's definitely a little bit of a different feeling that we're the champs.”
Mars' stiffest competition will be old foe Franklin Regional, which rejoined the conference last year after a two-year absence, only to finish second to the Planets.
“Franklin's definitely going to want us bad for beating them last year,” Nearhoof said of last year's 21-17 victory over the Panthers. “Everyone wants to come back and get you since we beat them last year.”
Mars lost 22 players to graduation, including all-conference performers Connor Biggs, Austin Bitzer, Jackie Mattus and Alex Smith, but coach Scott Heinauer sees it as business as usual and welcomed 70 players to camp, the most in his 22-year tenure.
“That's the ups and down of high school football,” Heinauer said. “Sometimes, you're going to be senior-heavy.”
The core of Mars' Wing-T attack is intact, though, with backs Josh Schultheis and Jordan Lozzi, along with three-year starter Nearhoof. Last year, the Planets racked up 3,210 yards rushing, good for fifth in the WPIAL. Junior Schultheis recorded 1,687 yards and 27 scores.
“Josh is a monster,” Nearhoof said. “I'm so confident in having him right behind me in the backfield.”
This year, offensive linemen John King, Trevor Heyl and Gabe Spurlock look to fill starting roles. Travis Ganter and Ori Rinamon will see more passes at wide receiver.
“For us to be successful, those kids have to step up,” Heinauer said.
One key player returning is all-conference punter/kicker Matt White, who averaged 38 yards per punt and landed 80 percent of his kickoffs in the end zone.
“He's a big factor,” Heinauer said. “A lot of people overlook kickers.”
Defensively, King, Heyl and Spurlock will hold the line. Lozzi and Schultheis will play linebacker as Ganter, Rinamon and White line up in the secondary.
The Planets won't have to wait long for the highly anticipated matchup with Franklin Regional. The Panthers come to the Mars Athletic Complex on Aug. 30.
“It doesn't matter if you lost half your team. You have to play the season anyway,” Schultheis said. “Expectations are just as high as they were last year.”