Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The 2012 City League Preview

     The 93rd campaign of City League Football begins this Friday, and a league that consisted of as many as a dozen high schools battling on the oil-soaked dirt gridirons of the Seventies enters 2012 with exactly half that many entrants. Langley and Oliver are the latest high schools to enter the ranks of the fallen in the history of this storied league, where they take their place among such famous institutions as: Schenley; Fifth Avenue; Gladstone; Allegheny; South Hills; Peabody; and South. The players who wore the maroon and white of the Langley Mustangs and the brown and orange of Oliver's Bears have found new homes among Brashear's Bulls and Perry's Commodores.
     While there are no more high schools scheduled to close in the near future, there is the question of what will ultimately happen to the City League in general and football in particular. The recent acceptance of Allderdice, Carrick, Brashear and Obama Academy into the WPIAL for certain sports could be the the first steps towards what many who have watched the City League over the years including Your City League Advocate have argued about.
     And that is the eventual disbanding of the League and the merging of its athletics programs into the WPIAL. For now, the City League will still be contesting league championships and representing District 8 in the PIAA with all six schools in football, basketball, volleyball, track and field, and wrestling. Soccer, baseball and softball will have City teams participating, but no league playoffs or championships. The remaining sports will also have league competitions with varying numbers of schools participating, but in most cases, not Allderdice.
     But it is the Advocate's contention that this arrangement will last but a couple years and then the PIAA will step in and impose its will on the League to merge with the WPIAL. The Advocate's position on this matter has been made clear on numerous occasions so he sees no reason to expound upon it here.
The Advocate does believe that absorption into the WPIAL is inevitable. And he is not against it. One can tilt at windmills for only so long. But he still feels that the long history of the City League must still be preserved. And that is something that can only be done by those who have grown up in the League, and have followed it through its rise and decline.
     And make no mistake about it, the City League has been in decline for over 30 years. The disparity in competitiveness between the City and the rest of the state in many sports has never been wider. Fewer athletes are getting exposure to D1 colleges, and even fewer get looks from major college programs. A league that has struggled to stay relevant over the years may be on the verge of being erased completely, its schools subsumed by its larger all-consuming cousin, the WPIAL.
    But until that fateful day comes, the League still stands. Bending, but not broken. Streamlined down to its final six survivors. Ready to face its final days, however many or few that may be, with the grim determination that can only be found amongst kids who grew up in the inner city with all its pitfalls and challenges. Many of these kids come from broken homes, from neighborhoods in stagnation. They have seen friends cut down before their lives have even had a chance to bloom. They have been forced to grow up a lot faster than they'd like.
     But instead of embracing the life of gangs and drugs, at least for the time they are in high school, they turn their energies towards the field of play, towards spirited athletic competition. And while they lack the luxuries, and the necessities that their suburban brethren take for granted, they still have one thing...hope, a chance, a shot, an opportunity, if you will to make their lives better. To lift themselves out of the quicksand that claimed so many of their friends and relatives. Some will make it, some won't. But they all have the chance. Don't feel sorry for these kids. They won't let you. And they don't want you to. But they do desire and deserve your support. And the Advocate has their back.

   Okay, campers. Enough of the sentiment and flowery speech. It's time to play some football. Due to the small lineup of schools, and the changes in the WPIAL's method of scheduling, This season has posed significant challenges for the City League. Because the WPIAL no longer allows member schools to schedule a non conference game on their own in the first week as in the past, the routine of City teams opening their season against WPIAL competition is kaput.
   As a result, City League teams have had to scramble to pick up games when and wherever they could. Some of the perennial opponents from West Virginia like Wheeling Central Catholic, Wheeling Park, and Linsly Academy, and familiar District 10 opponents from Erie like Cathedral Prep, and Strong Vincent have stepped up to fill holes in schedules, but some new names and faces will lining up across the scrimmage line against City League squads this season. Schools like Slippery Rock, Gilmour Academy from Ohio, and Liberty Christian from Virginia will be gracing the George with their presence for the first time, while some City schools will be hopping on the bus and traveling to places like Grove City, Fort Hill in Maryland, Buckeye Local in Ohio, and for the first time in the league's history, a City team will be playing on the road against a team from New York. Every team will be playing at least one game against an opponent from outside Pennsylvania, and all but one will be making a trip out of state.
     Also due to there only being six football playing schools in the City League, there are only five games on the league schedule, making every game even more important towards getting that coveted playoff seed. Jockeying for playoff spots will begin as early as the first league games the weekend of September 13-15. The City Championship game, usually held on the second Saturday in November has been moved up a week to the first Saturday.


     The Post Gazette and the Trib have the Dragons as the team to beat in the City League this season. And the 'Dice has plenty of incentive to finally break what is now the longest championship drought in the City League. The last time the City Championship trophy paid a visit to 2409 Shady Ave in Squirrel Hill was 1967. The Advocate was only five years old, The Green Bay Packers won the first Super Bowl, the ABA was formed, Montreal hosted the World's Fair, and a team with a similar drought, the Toronto Maple Leafs won their last Stanley Cup.
     The 'Dice has been in the title game three times since 2000, and has come up empty each time. Two of the three times have been close affairs, but they had one thing in common. In both games, Allderdice had a great running game...and little else in terms of offense.
     Let's step back into the dusty halls of history to the year 1990, which was a banner year for the 'Dice because it was the one and only year that Pitt, and NFL Hall of Fame great, Curtis Martin wore the Green and White. The Advocate remembers that season well, because that was the year that the Dragons mowed down every team in the City League during the regular season.
     But despite having arguably the greatest running back and offensive weapon in City League history, Allderdice still didn't win the title. They didn't even get to the title game. Why is that?, you ask the Advocate. Simple. Curtis Martin was the entire Allderdice offense. The coaching staff ran him out of the backfield. They lined him up out wide as a receiver, and threw to him. And the vast majority of the time, he was a men among boys. But the coaches didn't have anyone else to keep defenses on their toes. Other than Martin, they had no passing game. Everyone knew what was coming, and they still couldn't stop him, but it still wasn't enough to get the 'Dice to the title.
     Last year, Allderdice and University Prep played for the City Title. Both teams got to the final game on the backs of swarming relentless defense. University Prep had shut out 8 of their 11 opponents and had a five game shutout streak going into that City final. Allderdice's four league wins were all shutouts, and they held a Brashear team that went undefeated in league play to a safety in their semifinal game. But the Dragons lost to the Panthers despite having a running back who rushed for more than 900 yards during the season. The Dragons had no passing game.
      Their offense, like it was in 1990, was one-dimensional. And the 'Dice have the same situation going into this season. Patrick Ferguson, (6-1,250) a 2,900 yard career rusher returns for his final season to anchor the Allderdice offense. But it's up to quarterback Bishop Gethers, who has a strong arm, but isn't very accurate, along with three year starter Cornelius Ray to provide a second dimension to this offense. Allderdice lost Pitt recruit Tyrique Jarrett, but will still have a large presence on the line on both sides of the ball. Shawdi Parker (6-7, 350), and (6-3, 270) Brody Miller will bring the beef to the lines. The Dragons will open against two teams from West By-Gawd Virginia. They'll head down to Morgantown to take on the Mohighans who beat Westinghouse in a shootout 58-36 last year. The next week will see Linsly Academy come up to the George to open the home part of the season. Allderdice has yet to beat the Cadets of Linsly, come to think of it, no one in the City League has. The Dragons first City League test comes on the 14th of September when they take on Perry.


     DaBulls lost a lot due to graduation. 18 players including quarterback Adam Lynch have put on the cap and gown. But Brashear has also gained about 15 players from the now-defunct Langley program. The question is, are the former Mustangs good enough to cover the loss of the former Bulls? The Advocate says...maybe.
     Langley was a doormat for the City League for as long as the Advocate can remember, which isn't very much these days due to his rapidly advancing age. AAAnyway, the new Bulls should be pretty excited to be a part of a program that makes a yearly appearance in the City playoffs instead of one that was always on the outside looking in. And it can't hurt to have extra bodies. Russell Page and Angelo Reed will compete for the quarterback spot, and Jamal Smith will play on both sides of the ball as a leading receiver and and defensive back. Former Langley lineman Antonio Rosa (6-4, 290) will provide bulk on the Bull's O and D-lines. Brashear went 7-0 in league play during the regular season and lost to Allderdice 6-2 in their playoff game. The Bulls open the season at home against Slippery Rock and go on the road the next week against Wheeling Park.


     The Raiders have an uphill climb if they are to improve on a record who's only win came against a school slated to close at the end of the season. The Tribe were shutout 4 times in 2011, and held to 8 or fewer points 4 times. Standout players for Carrick include All-City receiver Orlando Harvard and sophomore rusher Joe Kalsek. Devon Cruse will be under center as quarterback, and will be depending on a O-line anchored by All-City sophomore lineman Josh Walker (6-1, 320) The Raiders will open on the road at Grove City and will host Chestnut Ridge out of New Paris, PA, between Johnstown and Bedford.


     Like the Bulls, the One Stars also benefited from a nearby school closing, when their long time North Side rival Oliver got the chop. The major concern facing the Perry coaching staff was whether the Perry and Oliver kids would get along. The rivalry between the Bears and the Commodores was a long and heated one.
     And getting players from both schools to come together required some delicate work as well as numerous team-building activities. But it seems that those efforts were largely successful. The Advocate thinks that Perry upgraded their program with the addition of the Oliver transfers to a greater extent than Brashear did with the kids from Langley. Oliver had seen better days, football and academic-wise, but was still a better program than Langley. As usual, Perry will have studs on offense. Standout All-City receiver Shakeem Cox, a former Oliver Bear will provide an immediate impact. Cox's versatility is also apparent in that he can also play quarterback if needed, which should provide the potential for trickeration and gadgetry.
Curtis Edmonds and Robert Willie return to tote the pig. But the Commodores have lost their star quarterback Darrelle Carson who threw for over 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns. Replacing him will be (6-0, 205) Ahmad Turner. While their linemen are a tad smaller compared to the behemoths playing at other schools, never count out Perry's coaching staff. They teach the fundamentals, they inspire their players, and they have a bunch of trophies to prove it.
     Perry's tradition of scrimmaging and playing quality opponents anywhere continues as the One Stars open with two games on the road against perennial Catholic powerhouses, Erie Cathedral Prep and St. Pius X. Perry and ECP know each other very well having played multiple times in PIAA playoff games. And Pius X is a yearly contender in the PIAA's.
     On September 28, The Commodores will host Liberty Christian from Virginia, and the Advocate knows what you're thinking. Yes, that is the Liberty Christian founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell as a part of their massive Liberty University/Thomas Road Baptist Church empire. The Advocate did a little snooping around, and found out that Liberty Christian is a pretty good team. They went 11-0 last season. Perry will have their hands full. This could be the game of the season to check out.

**University Prep**

      The Panthers are now the Wildcats. U-Prep won the City Title last season in their first year of existence and came within one point of the being the first City League team to win a PIAA Class AAAA playoff game. U-Prep had an impressive 11-2 debut in 2011, beating perennial state playoff contender St. Pius X 24-12, and losing to State College in the AAAA playoffs in a thriller, 33-32. They outscored their City playoff opponents 32-0.
     Until their loss to State College, the Panthers/Wildcats had only one game where they gave up more than 12 points. And until they just added a road game for Sept 8th against Aquinas Institute of Rochester, NY, they weren't going to open their season until almost three weeks after the rest of the league. U-Prep will be the only team in the City League to have an open date this weekend. According to an article in the Tribune-Review, the Wildcats would have gone as far as Michigan to play this weekend. But the plans fell through, and the 'Cats are sitting idle.
     U-Prep graduated their stud rusher/linebacker, Jaylen Coleman, and their starting quarterback, Dante Forte. But the cupboard isn't bare. Akil Young will take up the duties under center, and Myles Caitlin will be the primary offensive target. Marcus Johnson and Stephon Hawthorne will also add versatility to the offense. The O-line is full of starters. And the linebacking corps should be competent, but they'll need to find people to step up in the secondary.


     The Big Bads are looking to transition from City League pretender to contender. The 'House hasn't added to their league-leading 35 City Titles since 1996. The 2012 Bulldogs are a very young squad, and being the smallest school in the City League, they are also battling attrition. And the closures of Oliver and Langley didn't add to the 'House's lineup. The one advantage of being so young is that it can pay dividends down the road. Ronald Brown will handle quarterback duties for Westinghouse. He has a strong arm and the coaches are impressed with his accuracy. Brown will have two good sized receivers to throw to in 6-2 Robert Bailey, who'll also play hoops for the 'House, as well as 6-1 freshman Sean Lyons. Westinghouse will open the season with two road games. This weekend, they'll travel to Buckeye Local, an Ohio AAAA school, and then six days later, down the road to Wheeling Central Catholic.

     So, after all this wordage, who does the Advocate see hoisting the hardware on November 3rd? If Allderdice can develop a passing game that can complement their strong running attack, then there is a good chance that the Dragons can win their first City title in 45 years. Although he's not as bullish on his Dragons as the pundits at the PG and the Trib. They will definitely be a playoff contender, along with Brashear, Perry and U-Prep. But as far as the Advocate can see, there is no head and shoulders team that he'd tell his readers to bet the kiddies college fund on.
     Brashear has a lot of new bodies from Langley, but only a few will be significant contributors this season, and they won't make up for the losses to graduation.
     Perry also has a transfusion of talent from Oliver, and unlike Brashear, they have harvested a bigger upside. The Advocate believes the Commodores are the only threat to Allderdice.
     U-Prep lost a lot of its defense, and that explosive running attack. But while they have players coming back, the Advocate doesn't see the Wildcats having the year they had last year.

Here are the Advocate's rankings and predictions:
  1. Allderdice
  2. Perry
  3. University Prep
  4. Brashear
  5. Carrick
  6. Westinghouse.
Allderdice and Perry in the City Championship game.

Allderdice wins the City title in a squeaker.

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