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by Don Vandergrift

Coach Art Walkerís Tigers will open the season at home tonight against the Altoona Mountain Lions.  NA finished in second place in the Northern Six Conference last year with a 3-2 conference mark and a 6-5 overall record.  The Tigers lost in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Quad A tournament to eventual champion Bethel Park.  After winning their first two games last year, Altoona lost seven of the final eight contests to finish with a 3-7 record.  In the final game, Harrisburg crushed the Lions, 55-7.  In last yearís opener at Mansion Park in Altoona, the Mountain Lions used a late interception and score to edge NA, 28-21.

Altoona features a new coach this year in Tom Palfey who replaced eleven-year mentor Phil Riccio who took over as Athletic Director at AAHS.  The Mountain Lions lost a number of starters from last year but return two top linemen.  Senior center and linebacker Jake Baranik (5-9, 190) and two-way tackle Jared Shope (6-2, 202) return as the nucleus of this yearís squad.  Junior Ethan Wilt (6-2, 183) gets the nod at quarterback with the running back position shared by junior DeRon Lee (5-10, 161), senior Jordan Novosel (6-0, 177) and junior Brett Schmidt (5-9, 178).  Wilt saw limited action last year, but Novosel gained 147 yards in 47 carries (3.06 ypc).  Novosel led the team in receiving in 2008 with 15 catches for 268 yards.  Senior Chris Carper (6-1, 173) will start at wide receiver for the Lions with junior Jordan Sneed (6-2, 226) at tight end.  On the offensive line, Baranik starts at center, Shope at tackle, along with linemates senior Braedon Luciano (5-10, 231), senior Julian Howsare (6-3, 254) and sophomore Gabe Skelley (6-6, 221).

Defensively, a number of Lions will go both ways.  In addition to Baranik at middle linebacker and Shope at tackle, Howsare will start on the defensive line, Schmitt at linebacker, with Carper, Lee and Novosel at defensive back.  Also on the defensive line will be sophomore Tom Stiver (5-10, 205) with junior Logan Tornatore (5-11, 183) and junior Dom Hazlett (5-9, 158) at linebacker.  In the secondary, look for junior Nate Clancy (5-10, 145) to get a start.  On special teams, Carper will do the punting with senior Jeremy Young (5-9, 150) handling the place kicking duties.

The Tigers will start a mixture of returning letterman along with several first-year starters.  On offense, senior Justin Brozick (6-0, 180) gets the nod at quarterback.  Last year, Brozick threw just three passes and completed two, but rushed for 39 yards and a TD on 26 carries.  Senior Greg Adams (6-1, 170) and junior Michael Buchert (5-8, 155) will back up Brozick in the QB position.  At running back, the Tigers return first team All-Conference tailback junior Alex Papson (5-7, 175) who gained 1088 yards in 170 carries (6.4 ypc) good for 13 touchdowns in the 2008 season.  Also returning to start at the fullback position is senior Grant Huckestein (5-10, 205) who gained 120 yards in 14 carries (8.6 ypc) and a pair of touchdowns in limited action before being sidelined by injury.  Also seeing action at tailback in the pre-season scrimmages were junior Matt Steinbeck (6-0, 185) and sophomore Jared Lux (5-9, 155)  At fullback, senior T.J. Idowu (5-10, 190) and junior Kevin Cope (5-8, 200) also saw playing time in the scrimmages.  At wide receiver, senior David Humphrey (5-10, 175) moves over from running back to start along with senior Matt Locke (5-10, 170).  Look for junior Steven Ferringer (6-1, 165) and junior Dan Slivka (6-2, 185) to see action at the wide out position.  At tight end, seniors Jon Lowery (6-0, 195), Kevin Clark (6-2, 190) and Gary Allen (5-10, 210) all played at times during the scrimmages.  On the offensive line, NA returns second team All-State and first team All-Conference selection senior Tom Ricketts (6-6, 250) who has moved from guard to tackle for the 2009 campaign.  Joining Ricketts on the offensive line will be second team All-Conference tackle Ben Balzer (6-2, 275) along with junior Vince Czerniewski (5-11, 255) and senior Dom Borgese (5-8, 205) at the guards.  Junior Jack Wall (6-1, 250) will be the starting center.

Defensively, Ricketts will anchor the defensive line with Borgese lining up at the other tackle.  Senior Ian Brower (5-10, 195) and junior Justin Haser (6-5, 205) will get the nod at defensive end for the Tigers.  At linebacker, second team All-Conference selection Jon Lowery (6-0, 195) will start on the inside along with senior Gary Allen (5-10, 210).  On the outside, Huckestein will be joined by senior Kyle Higgins (5-10, 185) and Idowu.  In the secondary, senior Blair Plivelic (5-9, 155) and senior Zach Runzo (5-9, 150) play the corners with Steinbeck as the free safety.  On special teams, senior Jackson Cox (5-11, 175) will do the place kicking while the punting situation is not clear.  Steinbeck did much of the punting late in the season and may be the answer here.

Last yearís 28-21 Altoona win was the first game played between these teams so the Tigers will be looking to even the series at Newman Stadium.  The weather forecast is favorable so come on out and support the Tigers in the opener.  If you are not attending the game or want to listen to the replay, be sure to join Don Vandergrift and Rick Meister who return again as the broadcast team on the North Allegheny Sports Network.  Broadcast time will begin at 6:40 with the pre-game show featuring an interview with Coach Art Walker.  Game time is set at 7:00 pm for the opener with the remainder of the Tiger home games to start at 7:30 pm.


Any questions or comments should be directed to Athletic Director Bob Bozzuto at:  bbozzuto@northallegheny.org


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