South Fayette athletes sign their letters of intent
It is easy to see the success of the South Fayette athletic programs over the past year: four WPIAL team champions, one PIAA champion and several individual WPIAL and playoff bound teams.
The catalyst of that success was on display last week as senior athletes signed their letters of intent to continue their playing careers at the next level.
Defending WPIAL Class AAA golf champion Corey Long signed his letter of intent with St. Bonaventure. The private, Franciscan Catholic university located in Allegany, NY offered what Long described as the perfect mix of athletics and academics.
“Academics was the most important thing,” Long said. “They have a really good accounting program, which I want to major in. I knew some of the guys on the team and when I went to talk to the coaches, I really liked the campus.
“Academically and athletically, it had all I wanted.”
Long said he also was considering St. Francis.
“I have been working since my freshman season to play at the college level,” Long said. “I started playing golf in the fifth grade and I hated it. But my brother started playing and got good and I really wanted to beat him.
“I have been working at it ever since.”
The Bonnies are a member of the Atlantic 10 conference. Coach John Powers is in his second season and has St. Bonaventure competing at a high level, which includes a first-place finish at the Little Three Championship and a second-place finish at the Leo Keenan Invitational.
Long captured the WPIAL crown in October at Diamond Run Golf Club in Sewickley. The South Fayette senior finished tied with Indiana's Matt Holuta as each finished with a 3-under-par 67 to force the playoff.
On the fourth hole, Long finished with a bogey while Holuta was doomed by a water hazard.
“My main goal was to make it to states,” Long said. “I knew if I stayed patient it would come. I couldn't think of a better way to end my senior season.”
Two members of the WPIAL and PIAA Class AA champion football team also signed as receiver Justin Watson went with Penn while Ben Berkovich committed to West Liberty.
Watson – who broke the WPIAL single-single receiving yards record with 1,568 yards as a senior – committed to the Quakers before the season got underway. The receiver knew he wanted to go to an Ivy League schools and his choices came down to Cornell, Yale and Penn.
“I wanted to go Ivy League because of the academics,” Watson said. “After I made my visits and talked to coaches and met players, Penn felt like home. I got the feeling it was the right place when I got on campus.
“I talked to (former South Fayette and current Pitt receiver) Zach (Challingsworth) and he said if you feel confident, you can't be wrong.”
The Quakers are one of the most storied programs in college football. The team claims seven national titles, 16 Ivy League titles and has played the most college football games with 1,333.
Penn is also home to the oldest stadium in football – Franklin Field, which was built in 1895.
“They have a winning tradition that dates back to when college football first started getting played,” said Watson, who was accepted to the Wharton School to study finance. “It is exciting to join the team and continue that .”
Berkovitz, meanwhile, was weighing the options of several schools including California University of Pennsylvania and Alderson Broaddus University.
But the defensive end felt West Liberty was the best bet.
“I was talking to my friend from Chartiers Valley, Hunter Steel, about where we were looking to continue playing,” Berkovitz said. “West Liberty seemed like a good thing and I would have a chance to make an impact.”
The Hilltoppers are a member of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference at the NCAA Division II level. The team went 3-8 last season.
“Ever since my freshman year I have wanted to play college football any way possible,” Berkovitz said. “I am really excited about this opportunity.”
Berkovitz, who plans to study sports management, was a dominating force on the defensive line for the Lions as he recorded 64 tackles, 10 sacks, two forced fumbles and a safety. The senior also played on the Lions' offensive line.
For the duo, signing their letters of intent to continue their careers was an exclamation point on a strong senior season.
South Fayette went 16-0 behind an offense that averaged 44.9 points per game. The defense was dominating and gave up only eight points on average with six shutouts.
After defeating Aliquippa, 34-28, at Heinz Field, the Lions tore through the state playoffs and captured the school's first PIAA Class AA title after defeating Imhotep Charter, 41-0, in Hershey.
“It is the way you want to end your career,” Watson said. “I will always remember taking that last knee in the state championship game and jumping into Connor Beck's arms.”
The players said the championship and their future were the results of hard work.
“You can do anything if you set your mind to it,” Berkovitz said. “If you look back at the team in the summer, you might not think it was a state championship team. But with the right mindset, you can do anything.”
Not present at the ceremony was Grant Fetchet, who was with the wrestling team at the PIAA Class AA team tournament in Hershey. The senior chose to continue his career on the mat over the gridiron as he committed to the Columbia wrestling team.
As a senior, Fetchet ran for 1,389 yards and 21 touchdowns during the football team's run to a state title. But his success on the mat has been as great as he has recorded more than 100 career wins – including 30 as a senior
He will join older brother Mike, who is a 197-pound freshman for the Lions.