The quarterback-receiver duo of E.J. Banks and Milton Banks -- they're cousins -- can give Montour another shot at a WPIAL title. That means the rest of the teams, particularly Blackhawk and West Allegheny, must try to disrupt the Spartans' plan. Look for improved seasons from New Castle, which could surprise a few opponents, Ambridge and Moon.
Ambridge coach Don Yannessa likes a challenge.
In recent jobs -- at Aliquippa and Baldwin -- Yannessa succeeded, winning four WPIAL titles at Aliquippa and helping Baldwin to its only conference championship.
Now, Yannessa has his sights set on turning around an Ambridge program in his fifth season as coach.
"I like the challenges. I'd rather take over a bad program than a great program," Yannessa said. "You're better off going somewhere bad. Whenever you do better, people can see the difference."
Coming off 4-5 seasons the last two years, Yannessa thinks this team has the chemistry and character to get over the hump.
Quarterback Zach Nichi, fullback Darren Jones and running backs Frank Unis and Tyree Shepard should provide some excitement in the backfield.
Blackhawk coach Joe Hamilton is concerned about how far an undersized line and talented skill players will take him. He'll find out this season, as quarterback Zachary Hayward, running back Brian Stefanik and wide receiver Jake Delmonico are expected to impress at the skill positions. Hamilton added that his line isn't short of talent; rather, it lacks things it can't control: height and weight.
Typically a run-oriented team, Hopewell might switch things up a bit this year.
"People can't load the box and think you're going to run every time, so you will see us doing more with the passing game," coach Dave Vestal said.
Junior Mark Ross, senior Drew Falletta and senior Matt Ference will lead the receiving corps.
Christian Wilson carried Montour to an appearance in the WPIAL championship last season. With Wilson gone and playing for North Carolina, another Spartan will be expected to shoulder the load.
Enter quarterback/cornerback E.J. Banks, the state's No. 14 prospect.
"We'll go as far as E.J. takes us, and that's no secret," Montour coach Lou Cerro said. "Our kids got a nice taste of (the playoffs), obviously, but we graduated some very good players. We return eight on defense and seven on offense, and we have a nice nucleus coming back."
Moon was 1-9 last season and missed the playoffs for the third time in 14 years.
Quarterback Ryan Falbo, a three-year starter, will be the leader of Moon's offense. Running backs Justice Jordan and Mark Piccolo will provide some depth in the running game.
New Castle advanced to the playoffs last year after a five-year drought. Senior Michael Bongivengo, son of coach Frank Bongivengo Jr., will be the leader in the backfield after rushing for and passing for more than 700 yards last year.
There's a bit of uncertainty surrounding West Allegheny's young football team.
West Allegheny must replace two-year starting quarterback Zak Sinclair, who is at North Carolina State playing baseball.
West Allegheny will return eight starters, led by fullback/running back Jake Leninsky and linemen Tim Johnson, Julian Pendergast and Jesse Buck on offense.
|Predicted order of finish
||Last year's record
|3. West Allegheny
Tricia Lafferty can be reached at email@example.com or 412-380-5666.