Expectations remain the same for young Belle Vernon squad
Coming off another playoff season, Belle Vernon Area will look to bounce back in a strong Big Nine conference.
The biggest key for the Leopards will be remaining healthy.
Snake-bitten by injuries the past few seasons, the Leps nearly knocked off Central Valley in the WPIAL playoffs last season before falling 17-16.
“Last season, we either played or scrimmaged all four WPIAL Class AAA semifinalists,” coach Aaron Krepps said. “I've always told the kids, and they know, that if you want to beat the best, you have to play the best. That's what we try to do every year.”
This year was no exception, as the Leopards faced Central Valley in their first scrimmage and hosted defending WPIAL champion West Allegheny in their final tuneup to the season.
Krepps is well aware of the effect injuries can have on a season.
“The way I look at it is that if a kid's going to get hurt, they're going to get hurt,” Krepps added. “It's football, it's going to happen. From a coaching standpoint, there really isn't much we can do to prevent that from happening.
“We're already knicked up, but the numbers are usually higher during camp so hopefully we're healthy for week one.”
There will be a lot of young faces in the lineup, but even with the youth of his team Krepps said high expectations remain.
“You have to keep them the same,” Krepps added. “These guys are going to go out there and write the story they want to write. It's up to them. We're young, but there's some talent out there and they're hungry.”
Having only six seniors on the roster doesn't concern Krepps.
“The competitive makeup of that group, these young classes ... that's something we haven't seen in any young classes that have come up. It really makes it exciting for us as a coaching staff.”
Back to head up the offense will be junior quarterback Travis Snyder, who has the potential to go down as another Leopard great.
“The tools are there,” Krepps said of his quarterback. “He's started since he was a freshman. It's time to see his growth in terms of maturity. Little things like being smarter when it comes to putting his head down or stepping out of bounds. It's all about decision making for him. Sometimes getting that extra yard doesn't really pay off. His job is to stay out there on the field.”
Lining up behind Snyder will be tailback Anthony Levis, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.However, Levis' status at presstime was in question as a result of an injury suffered in the second scrimmage.
Also seeing time carrying the ball will be junior Bradley Sloan and sophomore Luke Durigon.
“We have a couple different guys that can carry the ball,” Krepps said. “They each have a different running styles, so it won't be just one back all the time.”
Krepps will continue to use a constant rotation of guys on the outside at wide receiver, let by 6-foot senior Cody Menges. Also seeing time will be junior Vito Capozzi and sophomores Derek Verkleeren, Cameron Quinto and Max Durigon.
The offensive line features three of the Leopards' captains in Austin Fields, Aaron McCullough, and Devin Hannan, but will be hard-pressed to replace Under Armour All-American and multiple honoree Dorian Johnson. Trevor Gush, a sophomore, has impressed during camp, as has Nick Swietzer, a 6-4, 250-pound sophomore.
“Those guys are like their own team within the team,” Krepps said of his offensive line. “It's tough to replace a once-in-a-decade, or longer, type of player like Dorian. They're still a unit of five, though, and they have to work together.
Johnson is now competing for playing time on the offensive line at Pitt.
Jake Sweitzer returns at tight end for the Leopards.
Defensively, Jake Sweitzer will flip to defensive end, while Fields, McCullough, and Hannan will flip around to the other side of the ball. Junior Dylan Reed will also see plenty of time on the line.
Sloan and Levis will play outside linebacker with juniors Jeremy Indof and Zac Spate on the inside.
Menges and sophomore Philip Taylor are penciled in at the corner back position with Quinto and Luke Durigon slotted for duty at safety.
Krepps knows his young secondary will be targeted this season but remains optimistic.
“This group ... especially the sophomores, they know how to win. They've had success,” Krepps said. “They've got great knowledge of the game and have good football IQs. The question will be how soon they can bring it up to the varsity level.”
Krepps expects Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin to find themselves battling for the section crown, but knows the season is played one game at a time.
“TJ has the tradition, of course, and West Mifflin is big and has some speed,” Krepps said of the Leopards' competition. “Don't sleep on anyone, though. EF showed last year that they have a playmaker at quarterback and they have some explosive guys on the outside.
“Ringgold has some good athletes, and Uniontown has a good athlete at quarterback. We'll see how it all plays out on the field.”
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2667.