The 2019 high school football season kicks off today with 16 local teams in action while one will play its Week Zero opener on Monday.
Waynesburg Central at Jefferson-Morgan will be the first to play with a 4 p.m. kickoff due to a lighting problem at Parker Field.
There are four other matchups between area teams among seven 7 p.m. games, including the Herald-Standard Game of the Week with Connellsville traveling to Uniontown. Also Brownsville goes to Bentworth, Beth-Center hosts California, and Southmoreland is at Mount Pleasant.
In other games involving local teams, all at 7 p.m., Albert Gallatin graduate Mike Bosnic brings his Washington squad to Laurel Highlands, Frazier hosts South Allegheny, Mapletown hosts Avella, Ringgold entertains Chartiers Valley, Yough goes to Serra Catholic, and Monessen travels to Greensburg C.C., 7 p.m.
West Greene begins its season at 7 p.m. Monday at home against Cameron, W.Va. All are non-conference games.
Carmichaels, Belle Vernon, Albert Gallatin, Charleroi and Elizabeth Forward each begin their season next Friday.
When each of those teams takes the field, the one position that most fans will focus on will be the quarterback. He’s the one who takes the snap and runs the offense, and the player the coach usually relies on as a leader.
Keeping the starting quarterback healthy can sometimes mean the difference between a winning and losing season.
Many times quarterbacks at the high school level also wind up on the defensive side of the football though, especially at smaller schools.
It’s a decision coaches have to make. Is risking an injury to the player who runs your offense worth it to improve your defense?
Some coaches still aren’t completely sure going into this season.
Laurel Highlands coach Rich Kolesar said, “Possibly,” when asked if his quarterback will play both ways. Albert Gallatin coach Drew Dindl said on Monday, “Right now, yes,” of Colonials QB Tristan Robinson.
Uniontown coach Cedric Lloyd gave an emphatic, “No sir,” on quarterback CJ Soltis possibly playing defense.
The Mustangs play at the Class AAAA level, the Red Raiders are at Class AAA and the Colonials, a former Class AAAAA team, now plays an independent schedule.
At Class AAA and lower, keeping the QB as an offensive-only player is tougher to justify.
“The quarterback position is a very valued position, from youth leagues to the NFL,” Jefferson-Morgan coach Aaron Giorgi said. “Ideally you want your quarterback to be protected from any unwarranted contact as well as maintaining a clear focus. It’s important for coaches to be able to communicate with that player on a regular basis throughout the game.
“I consider it a luxury if that is able to occur at the single-A level.”
Giorgi pointed out most quarterbacks are among the team’s best players and many times end up in the secondary on defense.
Waynesburg Central coach Chad Coss agreed.
The Raiders play in Class AAA and have a 30-man roster. Last year, Caleb Shriver played both quarterback and defensive back for Waynesburg. This year, Shriver has been switched to tailback due to the rippling effect of an injury and Darnell Johnson will play quarterback as well as safety.
“Ideally you would like to be able to just have him play offense, however, most teams use one of their best if not the best athlete in that position,” Coss said. “Teams with smaller rosters, like ours, usually don’t have the luxury of resting their best athlete on defense.”
Mapletown coach George Messich has 22 players on his Class A roster and plans to use sophomore quarterback Max Vanata on defense at either linebacker or defensive back, depending on what defensive set his team is in.
“At the small Class A schools almost always the QB will play both ways because of numbers and he’s usually one of your better athletes,” Messich said. “If that means your quarterback’s on defense so be it. Sometimes he may be one of your toughest kids, so play him.”
Carmichaels coach Ryan Krull, on the other hand, prefers not to have his quarterback play defense, at least not all the time. Senior Kevin Kelly, a run-pass threat, suffered an injury just before last year’s opener and his play was hampered much of the season. Krull would like to do all he can to keep his quarterback healthy in 2019.
“Kevin will be a situational defensive back for us,” Krull said. “He won’t be in there all the time. He’s as athletic as anybody we have. But, and this is just my personal philosophy, our quarterbacks traditionally don’t play much defense just because, as we saw last year, we had him go down and then we’re really scrambling.
“You might see him a little bit back there.”
Giorgi may actually be able to play his quarterback solely on offense the way his roster sets up this season, which plays into his preference to have direct communication with his QB most of the game.
“With our quarterback situation now, Cole Jones will be our starter and only play quarterback,” said Giorgi, who has 30 players on his roster.
Jones, a freshman, and Colt Fowler, a sophomore, had been battling for the starting quarterback job.
“This is the first time I have had a quarterback only play that one position,” Giorgi said. “I’m very fortunate this year because of that. I feel more confident having Cole on the sideline with me during the other two phases of the game, being able to provide instant feedback as to what he’s seeing on the field and what we want to accomplish as a unit.”
Giorgi is confident Fowler can run the team’s offense effectively also but the drawback would be less interaction during the game.
“If we have to move to Colt Fowler, that will make things more difficult communication-wise because he plays on defense as well as special teams,” Giorgi said.
A good quarterback can make a good running back that much more effective, as is the case with the Pioneers.
West Greene features one of the WPIAL’s best running backs in senior Benjamin Jackson but one of the Pioneers’ other threats who gives the offense some balance is senior quarterback Gavin Scott, who can run and throw.
Pioneers coach Brian Hanson, who has a 23-man roster, feels Scott is good enough on the other side of the ball to warrant playing him there as well.
“For us, we have to play Gavin on defense because he’s a difference-maker,” Hanson said. “In six years as a head coach, I’ve only had one year where I didn’t use my QB on defense.
“I think if you have a quarterback who is the best choice at a specific position on defense, you need to play him. At Class A, we don’t have the luxury of large rosters, so we play a ton of guys both ways, quarterbacks included.”