Highlands linebacker Mazur hopes to duplicate strong 2011 season
On a team loaded with question marks, few are asking about the strength of Highlands' linebackers.
With Valley News Dispatch Defensive Player of the Year Allan Cratsenberg, junior Zach Mazur and sophomore Weston Bernath returning, Highlands looks set to repeat last year's solid defensive performance.
The Golden Rams gave up just 91 points in six Greater Allegheny Conference games. Even in their opening-round WPIAL playoff loss, they held a Ringgold team that was averaging 32 points to two touchdowns in a 14-10 setback.
Mazur, who was selected to the conference's first team, blossomed into a top-notch defender last year.
He grabbed attention as a 13-year-old eighth-grader with a five-touchdown showing Oct. 24, 2009, in a youth league football championship game. The Highland Hornets defeated Kiski Valley, 39-14, at Deer Lakes.
He earned a high school varsity spot as a freshman before last year's breakout season.
“The team helped me come along last year,” Mazur said. “It makes it easier on you when everybody helps out.”
Even before last season, Golden Rams coach Sam Albert had a high opinion of Mazur.
“He reminds me of Billy Devlin,” Albert said, referring to a key member of the 2008 Highlands team that earned a spot in the WPIAL semifinals. “He's a little bit bigger than Billy, but he's the same kind of player.”
Highlands, with just three seniors, will look for juniors like Mazur to be leaders.
“We're so young, and in a conference that's so loaded, we have to have people like Zach guide us,” Albert said. “He's in the National Honor Society, a straight-A student and a leader.”
Said Mazur of his fellow classmates: “We expect to have to step it up. Most teams around here have about 20 seniors; we've got three. But we'll be all right.”
Most Highlands players will play both ways, but Albert will use Mazur on offense sparingly.
“We told him there would be a little offense, but he's so important on defense, we need him to be healthy, ” Albert said.
George Guido is a freelance writer.