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For Schaffer, football success echoes recent basketball frenzy at Kittanning

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Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Kittanning's Alek Schaffer catches a third-quarter touchdown pass in front of Greensburg Central Catholic defender Jason Gulding on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, at Greensburg Central Catholic.
Top high school sports
Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, 12:56 a.m.

For almost all of Kittanning's football players, the playoff-fueled frenzy sweeping through the high school hallways is an unfamiliar sensory experience. But senior Alek Schaffer has been at the epicenter of this kind of energy before.

Last winter, Schaffer started at guard on the basketball team and averaged 11.3 points per game for the Wildcats, who won a playoff game for the first time since 1984 and ultimately went as deep in the postseason (quarterfinals) as any team since 1925.

This fall, he's a starting wide receiver and cornerback for the football team, which enters the playoffs unbeaten for the first time since 1976 and seeks its first playoff victory since 1975.

Schaffer, who has 13 receptions for 304 yards and five touchdowns as well as two interceptions, did not play football as a sophomore and junior because of concussions he suffered during his freshman season and earlier in his career. Family members and friend talked him into playing this season.

Q: Were your basketball teammates among the people who pushed you to come back to football?

A: Yes, (Nick) Bowers and Max Mechling, they're my closest friends, who I hang out with almost every single day. Them and David Grafton. They were all playing football, and I didn't really want to, but with them, it got to the point where I was just like, “All right, I'm going to.”

Q: How worried were you about additional concussions?

A: I kind of considered it, because there were a couple times this year where I got my head rung, and I was like, “Oh man, I can't get another concussion.” But I just kind of overcame that and didn't care anymore. It was just like, if I get one, whatever.

Q: Comparing the basketball and football seasons, was one run more surprising than the other?

A: Football, most definitely. Basketball, I kind of knew it was possible, because Sterling (Henry, a 2013 graduate), I'd played with him since like second or third grade, and we'd always go to championships at tournaments or be the team to watch. But football, we went to the (youth league) Super Bowl one year when I was younger and that was it. … I did not expect us to win maybe even a game this year, because this is the same team we had in ninth grade, and I don't even know if we won a game that year.

Q: Is basketball your greater passion?

A: Quite honestly, I've fallen in love with football again. I don't want hoops to start yet. I like football; I love it. Right now, it ranks higher. I've been playing it since I was a child.

Q: On Twitter and elsewhere, you point out that you have Native American ancestry. What tribes, and why is it a point of pride?

A: Cherokee and Blackfoot. My mom's side is almost all full Native American. … I like to represent and be the one in school that's different. All these kids are like, “Yeah, I'm Italian or whatever.” I just say that I'm Native American, because it's sweet. I'm referenced in school as “the Native,” which is sweet.

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