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Numbers, speed on rise for Fox Chapel

| Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, 9:08 p.m.
VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH
Fox Chapel defensive back Chad Garnett presses coverage on a pass play during practice at Fox Chapel High School on Monday, August 13, 2012. ERIC FELACK | VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH
VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH
Fox Chapel running back Nigel Garnett breaks through the line for a gain during practice at Fox Chapel High School on Monday, August 13, 2012. ERIC FELACK | VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH

Fox Chapel is climbing out of the red in two crucial categories — number of players and team speed.

The Foxes completed last season with less than 30 varsity players, a troubling total for a Class AAAA school, but expect to put around 50 in uniform this fall.

Also, quick, dynamic athletes such as identical twins Chad and Nigel Garnett and 6-foot-6, 200-pound Brandon Mitchell, a transfer from Penn Hills, could lead Fox Chapel in an exciting direction.

Last year, despite its small roster, the Foxes (3-7, 3-3) slipped into the WPIAL playoffs.

Still, second-year coach Eric Ravotti knows increased depth and speed don't guarantee a return to the postseason.

“It gives us hope, with numbers increasing, of being a more competitive football team,” said Ravotti, a former Penn State and Steelers linebacker. “Hopefully, we'll take another step. But I think we're in an even more competitive conference now.”

Due to the WPIAL's biennial realignment, Fox Chapel landed in the same conference as two-time defending champion North Allegheny and perennial power Central Catholic.

On the positive side, because of improving turnout, Fox Chapel will count on greater varsity depth and can field a freshman team again. Last year, the Foxes cut back to only varsity and junior varsity games. Someday, Ravotti would like to have at least 75 players available for varsity action.

The Garnett brothers, now juniors, could turn out to be gems. Last season, they started both ways, with Chad at wide receiver and cornerback and Nigel at running back and cornerback.

Nigel earned first-team all-conference honors at defensive back and is the Foxes' top returning rusher (72 carries, 369 yards, two touchdowns). He also recorded 11 catches for 175 yards and a pair of scores.

“Nigel got the accolades, but I thought Chad was just as deserving (on defense) last year,” Ravotti said.

Mitchell arguably is the most intriguing player at Fox Chapel. The tall junior was on Penn Hills' junior varsity squad last season before transferring this past winter. In the spring, he qualified for the state Class AAA championships in both hurdling events.

Mitchell could start at quarterback or wide receiver for the Foxes and is drawing Division I interest, Ravotti said.

“He's steadily progressed on offense, and he also plays free safety,” Ravotti said. “His speed is unbelievable.”

In recent years, Fox Chapel gained a reputation for producing Division I linemen, including Miles Dieffenbach (Penn State) and Adam Bisnowaty (Pitt). This year, the Foxes have good size in seniors Levi Kendrick and Tyler Lever and junior Pat Denny but a relatively inexperienced group of linemen. Now, the Foxes' main attractions could be speedy skill players.

“My goal coming in was to transition the team,” Ravotti said. “We needed the athletes to be there. The game is about speed and athleticism. But it still comes down to the offensive and defensive lines. If you can't stop teams and open holes for guys to make plays, your speed is nullified.”

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