Plenty of players to replace for WPIAL runner-up West Allegheny
Almost two dozen seniors from last year's roster are gone, and so too went the pressure that followed them.
At least, that's the feel.
“There's no pressure on these kids,” West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said. “The pressure on last year's team was incredible. Now you can just cut it loose and play.”
Only a handful of starters return from a team that went 11-2 and finished as WPIAL Class AAA runners-up. Gone are the team's leading passer, rusher and receiver. A pair of three-year starters at inside linebacker also graduated. They were a senior class that went 36-5 and won two WPIAL titles in a three-year span.
“We've got a lot to replace,” Palko said, “but that's the way it goes. It happens. You have to be patient. It's a different team. It's a different personality now.”
The Indians will build around two senior rushers and experienced linemen.
The backfield features Terence Stephens (6-foot, 195 pounds), a Bowling Green recruit who had 912 yards and 14 touchdowns on 131 carries last season. Joining him is Whitney White (5-9, 175), who had 655 yards on 61 carries and scored eight times.
Combined the pair had five 100-yard games. They shared the backfield last season with Chayse Dillon, who graduated after a 1,008-yard and 21-touchdown season. Stephens also starts at outside linebacker.
Three starters return on the offensive line: seniors Justin Baker (6-3, 285) and Derek Clontz (6-4, 270) and junior Kieran Firment (6-4, 270). Matt Holmes (6-1, 215), a junior, was an all-conference defensive lineman last season.
The team has an experienced kicker in junior D.J. Opsatnik, who made five field goals last season and 55 of 59 extra points.
Junior Nick Ross or senior Jake Cunningham could replace Andrew Koester at quarterback. The entire defensive secondary was replaced, along with three linebackers and a stable of wideouts.
“There are a lot of open positions for kids who've been waiting to get their opportunity,” Palko said. “We'll do what we can do to put the pegs in the right holes, but at the same time, let these kids go out and play. Really and truly, there's no pressure. We're not supposed to be any good this year.”