Seasoned veterans line both sides of the ball for Burrell
In number of returning starters, Burrell looks like it received a bonus.
How bright are things on the experience front for the Bucs? Well, they graduated their starting quarterback but welcomed back another quarterback who started a handful of games over the past two seasons.
Last year, Burrell relied heavily on juniors and sophomores, and the young Bucs just missed forging a three-way tie for the Allegheny Conference title. With the return of nine starters on offense (10, including the quarterback) and eight on defense, the Bucs could be poised to seize the crown.
“You can't knock experience,” Burrell coach Kevin Horwatt said. “This year, we definitely have some good experience coming back. Going into last year, we were inexperienced.”
Last year's varsity inexperience extended to Horwatt, who was a rookie coach. But Horwatt surrounded himself with veterans, including previous coach Tom Henderson, and the Bucs made a run at the conference title.
Burrell (6-4, 5-2) tied Ford City for third place after dropping a 14-13 decision to the Sabers in the regular-season finale.
Leading Burrell's returning starters is senior Cole Bush, who collected all-conference first-team honors at running back and outside linebacker last year. Bush rushed for 1,024 yards and 22 touchdowns on 161 carries and hauled in 12 catches for 233 yards and a touchdown. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, he has impressive size for a ball carrier and is receiving Division I interest.
“Cole has put in the time to get even bigger, faster and stronger,” Horwatt said. “I think he has a lot more to offer and show this year.”
Senior James Liput became Burrell's No. 1 quarterback following the graduation of Zack Middleby. Liput filled in as a starter in 2010 and '11 when Middleby went down with injuries, and that experience could benefit him. Last year, Liput completed 20 of 45 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown.
“We're not sticking him in there for the first time,” Horwatt said. “You can almost call him a seasoned veteran.”
Liput will be protected by an offensive line that returns all five starters, including all-conference second-team offensive tackle Chad Tonks.
In addition to Bush, junior Derrick Beattie is a solid two-way player. Beattie was named to the all-conference second team at inside linebacker last year. As a running back, he gained 259 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries.
Horwatt believes experience and depth will play crucial roles in a conference that appears to be on the upswing. Freeport and Shady Side Academy, last year's conference co-champions, return many of their key starters. Kittanning and Valley were moved into the mix after two seasons in Class AAA.
“Because of the experience, there's a lot of flexibility,” Horwatt said about his Bucs.