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Five schools still seek football coaches

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Here we are, more than six weeks into the new year, and five WPIAL schools have yet to name a football coach.

Those conducting a thorough search to find the right people are Seneca Valley, California, Ringgold, Washington and Bentworth.

Good for them. The last thing those schools need, with a total overall record of 18-30 last season, is a shabby coach search.

Still, the superintendents, board directors, administrators and ADs should know this:

If a coach isn’t named soon, players will get a late start on offseason conditioning. Plus, getting to know the new man, especially if he comes from outside the district, will be difficult for football players concentrating on spring sports.

Seneca Valley athletic director Greg Caprera recognized as much when he said the district wants to name a coach in February, “so our kids have a leader.”

But Seneca Valley’s regular monthly meeting date has passed, and at least one candidate — North Hills assistant coach Eric Kasperowicz — will get a second interview Monday.

Kasperowicz is an intriguing candidate. He was a four-year starter at quarterback for North Hills and helped lead the Indians to WPIAL and PIAA championships in 1993. Tribune-Review readers voted him the best player in WPIAL history in a poll conducted in 2006, and he was a two-starter at linebacker at Pitt.

He also has directed a popular youth football camp for players between the ages of 6-14 for the past 14 years at Blueberry Hill Park in Franklin Park. He knows how to play the game, and he has experience teaching it. Sounds like a combination any school would want in a coach.

Meanwhile, reports of the district’s interest in former Pitt coach Walt Harris are accurate, although Harris, 62, wants to keep all his options open in the event a college or NFL opportunity emerges.

After missing the past two seasons, Harris has the itch to coach again. But he must choose wisely. After leaving Pitt and failing in two seasons at Stanford, the last thing Harris needs on his resume is a 1-8 record at Seneca Valley in 2009.

No matter who gets the job, Seneca Valley will struggle next season, with quarterback C.J. Brown and wide receiver Matt Plautz graduating. But there is hope of some talent growing in the younger grades. The new coach must be patient.

By the way, you can count out Pine-Richland coach Clair Altemus, a Seneca Valley graduate who still holds his alma mater close to his heart. Altemus has one of the strongest programs in Class AAAA and a peach of a job that includes his duties as Pine-Richland’s athletic director. His name pops up every time the Seneca Valley job opens, but the school lost its chance to hire Altemus several years ago.

Two other known candidates are veteran assistants Larry Wendereusz and Pat O’Shea, who teach in the district and have been on past staffs at Seneca Valley and other schools. Both men have been popular with their players at every stop in their careers.

The football program at Seneca Valley, the third-largest school in the WPIAL, has struggled since former coach Terry Henry resigned after the 1995 season. It has reached the playoffs only four times in the past 13 years. But three of its former head coaches have found success elsewhere — Rick Shepas as the head coach at Massillon (Ohio) High School and Waynesburg University — and Mike Buchert and Bob Ceh as trusted assistants under Art Walker Jr. at North Allegheny.

AAAA basketball musings

After the first weekend of the WPIAL basketball playoffs, an interesting development emerged in the Class AAAA boys bracket. With the quarterfinals set for next weekend, six of the eight teams come from two sections (3 and 4). Seneca Valley, Central Catholic and North Hills from Section 3 and Peters Township, Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair from Section 4. The outsiders are No. 2 seed Latrobe (Section 1) and McKeesport (Section 2).

It’s going to be tough to predict the outcomes of the games.

· No. 1 seed Peters Township draws Central Catholic, one of the favorites coming into the season. Central Catholic has had two 6-1 streaks, with a 3-6 slump in the middle that included a trip to Florida immediately after Christmas.

At present, the Vikings are hot again. Central’s 6-foot-6 senior forward Evan Tsudis had his ninth double-double of the season (20 points, 13 rebounds) in a 61-51 victory against Hempfield in the first round. Point guard Lucas Mickens had 18 points, three assists and three steals. Peters Township will be tough to beat, but the Indians have no easy trip to the semifinals.

Prediction: Central Catholic.

· Upper St. Clair’s Christian Shea is healthy again, joining teammate Brett McCormick with high-scoring honors in a 58-48 victory against Penn Hills. The Panthers play Seneca Valley in the quarterfinals in a rematch of a 2008 playoff game won by Upper St. Clair.

The Panthers are 17-6, with 19- and 17-point defeats to Peters Township and Mt. Lebanon among their most recent four games. Still, they will be dangerous, thanks to the return to form of Shea.

The coaches in this game also are among the best in Class AAAA. Danny Holzer has been the head coach at Upper St. Clair for the past 14 seasons, and Victor Giannotta of Seneca Valley has been around since the ’90s, winning a state championship at Sewickley Academy in 1997 and later spending three seasons as the head man at Peters Township. Yes, there is something to be said for experience and longevity.

Prediction: Seneca Valley.

· North Hills takes a nine-game winning streak into its quarterfinal against North Hills. Here is another case of great coaching by North Hills’ Buzz Gabos, who helped keep the team together after a 1-4 start in the section.

Prediction: Latrobe.

· The other quarterfinal matches Mt. Lebanon and McKeesport. Mt. Lebanon has won eight in a row and McKeesport, with the only Division I recruit in the WPIAL in Zeke Marshall, has lost 5 of 7. But it opened the playoffs by stopping North Allegheny, 52-38.

Prediction: Mt. Lebanon.

Final thoughts

· Seneca Valley basketball fans should love the way Maryland football recruit C.J. Brown kicked up his game a notch against Fox Chapel and willed his teammates to victory. I’ll say it again — the Pitt and Penn State football programs are going to second-guess the way they recruited Brown, who was one of the best quarterbacks in the state last season.

Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley occasionally hung around the Seneca Valley campus last year when the prize he really wanted was Jeannette’s Terrelle Pryor. When Pryor jilted Bradley and chose Ohio State, Penn State turned its back on Brown. Puzzling.

· Also, too bad for Hempfield’s Nate Perry, whose season is finished. He scored 35 of his team’s points (nearly 70 percent) against Central and proved to be a rare player in the WPIAL these days — a true, go-to scorer. Perry is only a junior, so we haven’t heard the last from him.

· Doesn’t anyone know how to shoot anymore? Of the eight winners in the AAAA playoffs Friday and Saturday, only Latrobe (84) scored more than 61 points.

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