Laurel Highlands looking for replacement players after graduation losses

| Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, 8:55 p.m.

Laurel Highlands second-year coach Zack Just is looking for a few playmakers.

The Mustangs lost a significant portion of their offense after quarterback Jake Riddell and all-everything back Danzel Beasley graduated.

“We knew we could count on those two,” Just said. “That's two big holes to fill.”

Left tackle Shane Guthrie, left guard George Teslovich, tight end/wide receiver Keith Liptock and wide receiver Joe Pegg are all returning senior starters on offense.

Just has two candidates to replace Riddell — senior Nick Copeland and junior Raphael Cannon.

“Both have done some really good things,” Just said. “Nick is a very smart football player. He understands the game and is an extremely hard worker. His work ethic makes him a natural leader. Raphael is a great athlete, and he brings a different dimension to the position. He can run the option; we can call plays designed specifically for him to run or we can roll him out. Having an athlete like Raphael makes your offense more diversified.”

Beasley was diminutive at 5-foot-7, but he was also a threat to break a big play every time he touched the ball. His playmaking abilities earned him Keystone Conference first-team honors.

It looks like senior Brandon Williams will get the nod as the Mustangs' go-to back.

“He hasn't missed one workout, and he's shown flashes of having pretty good ability,” Just said. “I'm pleased with our new guys on offense so far, but Friday night is a lot different than summer mornings.”

With all the new faces on offense, Just believes Liptock and Pegg's experience could pay dividends.

“The fact that these guys know what it's like to play at a high level means they can give the quarterback a little bit of guidance,” Just said. “He can put the ball up and they will make a bad play turn out good.”

Laurel Highlands returns four senior starters on defense: defensive end Xavier Daniels, defensive tackle Zach Delpinto, middle linebacker Jake Kearns and defensive back Steve Deli.

The Mustangs sneaked into the postseason a year ago with a 3-4 conference mark, but defense was a concern for Just. Opponents put up 40 or more points seven times, and Laurel Highlands allowed 60 or more on three occasions.

“We struggled with some fundamentals last season,” Just said. “We weren't very good tacklers. We're really going to stress that this season. To be honest, I wasn't pleased with how we lost games last season. We want to compete week-in and week-out. We didn't do that last season. We want to challenge those top teams.

“We had a great win at Hollidaysburg in Week 8 and followed that up with another big win over Albert Gallatin to get into the playoffs, but our goal is not to be a bottom-of-the-pack team. Our goal is to play with the top teams.”

Laurel Highlands will compete in the revamped Big 9 Conference in Class AAA, along with Albert Gallatin, Belle Vernon, Elizabeth Forward, Ringgold, Thomas Jefferson, Trinity, Uniontown and West Mifflin.

“It's going to be a very good conference, and we're excited about that,” Just said. “There are some great, great football teams. Every week you will have to be ready to play. All nine teams are going to be battling for those five playoff spots.”

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