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Class AA: Prexies a commanding presence in Class AA

Thursday, August 30, 2001

By Paul Zeise, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Washington has long been a football powerhouse and, at least for the past 22 seasons, a big reason for the Little Prexies success has been Coach Guy Montecalvo.

Washington lineman Dan Mozes gets a full-fisted dose of instruction in a blocking drill from Coach Guy Montecalvo. (Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette)

Montecalvo's teams have gone 171-67-2, with 15 playoff appearances, eight conference titles, five trips to the WPIAL title game and one WPIAL championship.

That's why it should be a little scary to Interstate opponents -- and the rest of Class AA -- that Montecalvo feels this year's team may be one of his best ever.

"We have a veteran squad returning," said Montecalvo, "so our expectations are to challenge for the WPIAL title."

Looking at the talent in place, and the number of key personnel losses by other Class AA heavyweights, the Little Prexies should not only challenge for the title, they are favored to win it. The team begins the season as the PG's No. 1 Class AA team.

Leading the way will be senior quarterback Justin Gregula, who last year set a school record by throwing 21 touchdown passes, and a pair of excellent running backs in Vontey Johnson (6-0, 191, Sr.) and junior Travis Thomas (6-1, 192). Up front, the line is anchored by West Virginia recruit Dan Mozes (6-3, 286) and Tommy Sypula (5-9, 205, Sr.), both three-year starters.

Washington's top challenge will come from Waynesburg Central, the three-time defending champions and 1999 WPIAL Class AA champs. The team was hit hard by graduation, particularly in the skill positions where the Raiders must replace quarterback Lee Fritz, who last year passed and rushed for more than 1,000 yards, and 4,000-yard rusher Lanfer Simpson.

But Red Raiders Coach Dave Sarra said his team is still the conference champs until proven otherwise and he expects the team to win it for the fourth time in a row.

at a glance

Favorite: Washington

Next in line: Waynesburg, Brownsville

Top players: Joe Delsardo, Seton-LaSalle (RB-LB, 5-11, 195, Jr.); Seth Dorazio, Brownsville (K, 5-9, 170, Sr.); Jared Dumm, Charleroi ( QB-S, 6-3, 180, Sr.); Tom Giles, Washington (OT-DT, 6-3, 255, Sr.); Justin Gregula, Washington (QB-K, 6-0, 185, Sr.); Vontey Johnson, Washington (RB-DE, 6-0, 191, Sr.);Derek Mears, Waynesburg (FB-DE, 6-2, 215, Jr.); Dan Mozes, Washington (OT-DT, 6-3, 286, Sr.); James Rockymore, Quaker Valley (TB-DB, 5-9, 175, Jr.); Justin Samel, Brownsville (HB, 5-8, 165, Sr.); R.J. Soeder, Seton-LaSalle (WR-FS, 6-1, 190, Sr.); Justin Spada, Charleroi (FB-LB, 6-2, 210, Sr.); Tom Sypula , Washington (OG-LB, 5-9, 205, Sr.); Cory Walsh, Waynesburg (QB, 5-11, 185, Jr.); Mike Wilmus, Carlynton (QB-S, 6-3 1/2, 180, Sr.).

Game of the year: Waynesburg at Washington, Oct. 5

Best band: Quaker Valley


Senior fullback Derek Mears (6-2, 215), who will shoulder most of the team's rushing attack, is the Raiders key player. Replacing Fritz at quarterback will be junior Cory Walsh (5-11, 185) and the team has four of five starting offensive linemen returning.

If either of the two conference heavyweights slip, Brownsville may be the team who slides to the top. The Falcons return 10 starters from a playoff team so there is some talent already in place. And the team has been a consistent winner over the past five years, with three trips to the WPIAL semifinals in that span.

The Falcons' strength is probably at linebacker, where juniors Mark Battaglini (5-11, 200) and Ross Martini (5-11, 200) are patrolling the middle and make life difficult for opposing running backs. Another one of the team's strengths is its kicking game, as senior Seth Dorazio (5-9, 170) is one of the WPIAL's best.

Charleroi has had two losing seasons in a row, but the Cougars expectations are very high this year because of their experience and talent at the skill positions. Overall, the Cougars return 18 starters, including 12 seniors who have started for two years.

Senior all-conference fullback/linebacker Justin Spada (6-2, 210) is the team's top player as he led the Cougars in both tackles and rushing yard last year. Savvy veteran quarterback Jared Dumm (6-3, 180) threw for 700 yards last year and will look to big tight end Derek DiPiazza (6-3, 185, Sr.).

Seton-LaSalle returns 14 starters from last year's playoff team, including all-conference senior wide receiver R.J. Soeder (6-1, 190), who last year had one of the best years for a receiver in the history of the WPIAL (89 receptions, 1,261 yards, nine touchdowns). They also have talented junior Joe Delsardo, who last year caught 50 passes as a receiver, but this year has moved to tailback.

But the Rebels must replace superstar quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who has taken his talent to the University of Toledo, and still have some holes to fill on defense. But if either junior Anthony Doria (6-0, 180) or junior Chris Boffington (6-1, 160) are able to step in at quarterback and play well, the team should return to the playoffs.

Quaker Valley was 4-6 last year and has a lot of experienced players returning, but depth could be a problem as the Quakers entered training camp with only 26 players. With four starters returning along the offensive line with junior tailback James Rockymore (5-9, 175).

The Interstate's best quarterback may be at Carlynton. Senior Mike Wilmus (6-3 1/2, 180) passed for 815 yards and five touchdowns last year for a 1-9 team. Wilmus is one of 16 returning starters.

In any other conference, Beth-Center may indeed be a playoff contender. But in this conference, particularly this year when it may be the best top-to-bottom in Class AA, it may be a tall order for the Bulldogs to go from 0-9 last year to playoffs this year. The team is loaded with sophomores and juniors so next year the playoffs may be a more realistic goal.

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