North Central Region Preview Part Two
The second part of each region preview includes a preseason ranked list of the Top Ten teams and the Elite Eight players with several accolades to look out for. The North Central Region holds a lot of the best teams in each division and some of the worst. High school football is extremely difficult to predict- it is hard to see what several seniors do for a team. As said before, if you or your team is left off you have two options: prove us right or prove us wrong.
North Central Region Top Ten
1. University Hawks
Coming off a 1st round loss from the previous year that could’ve went either way- the Hawks are back again and are our highest rated team of the North Central. A team that is composed of talent that had to grow up quick and by doing that, grew together as team. They possess some lethal weapons at the skill positions and a bolstering defense with Hayden Starcher on the line, Trevor Barnhart behind him, and Amir Richardson in the secondary. They’re older now and can make a run in AAA.
2. Wheeling Park Patriots
The 2015 State Champions came off a first round loss from the previous season. However, they are talented, very talented. Boasting arguably the best QB in the state, they also picked up a running back transfer from Texas to go along with a current all-state back. A tough schedule lies ahead but the question is if they can they make it back to Wheeling Island.
3. Bridgeport Indians
Pride and tradition lies within the Indians’ roots. A team and community that year in and year out are always in contention for a title whether it’s AA or AAA. Even with the crazy that has gone on, the Indians will continue to roll. Chapin Murphy and Jimmy Allison are the returning accolade winners and it’s fitting that they’re lineman. Regardless of the news, the players are winners and nothing is going to change.
4. Fairmont Senior Polar Bears
Fresh off a title game where they fell short to the Miners of Matewan. The Polar Bears have some of the top talent in the state. Coaching Changes and a few loss of leaders stand in their way. The Polar Bears got there last year, we believe they have to talent to get there again, however, some talented teams nearby stand in their way.
5. Morgantown Mohigans
Surprising to see a dominate power this lower in a regions rankings. Could it be more of the schedule they play or overall talent? Not too sure but you can’t expect a team that is a regular to the state semifinals to stay in this position. Though they lost their quarterback, they return a slew of honorable players such as Jestohn Moore and Jaden Wolfley. Two players who are vital to surviving their intense opening stretch.
6. Weir Red Riders
The Red Riders always have one or two players that can explode onto the scene. A dangerous team that always seems to pull an upset off somewhere in the playoffs. Getting a home playoff game will be huge for them as that drive for most teams is incredibly difficult. Last year, they beat a very good Sissonville team and went toe-to-toe with Fairmont Senior before losing in the quarterfinals.
7. Wheeling Central Maroon Knights
Central Catholic comes in at 7th and they have recently jumped St.Mary’s due to the closing of Bishop Donahue. Even though the school was in some kind of turmoil over the off-season, the new influx of talent coming in will give them a boost to make another run at a title. They bring in several all staters from the Bishops only to add to their very successful formula which has made Wheeling Central a prominent powerhouse in Single A.
8. St. Mary’s Blue Devils
St. Mary’s improved over the season and that’s a testament to coaching. The Jode Mote led squad is favorites for the Single A title once again this year and possibly have the best player in the division, Jaiden Smith. They shy away from no one and will play as tough of a schedule as anyone in the state. However, reliance upon one player can wear thin and this is a team game- can they repeat?
9. Williamstown Yellowjackets
The Yellow Jackets are many people’s favorites in Single A. Returning a ton of starters and a capable schedule has caught the eye of many around the state. Williamstown will play both St.Mary’s and Wheeling Central this season, and those will be big time games. The rest of their schedule isn’t that difficult by any means, but a becoming lax is always a problem at the top.
10. Lewis County Minutemen
After a mediocre 5-5 season in 2016 many wouldn’t expect much from the Minutemen. However, we know the capabilities of the program and Coach Cogar. Year in and year out Lewis County is a team anyone hates to play. They don’t veer away from any of the big dogs- giving the top teams in the state all they can handle. We expect them to win the games they should and possibly knock off one or two powerhouses.
South Harrison Hawks, Parkersburg South Patriots, Doddridge County Bulldogs
1. Cross Wilkinson (QB) Wheeling Park
6’3 205 Senior
Deciding between Wilkinson, Richardson, and Stills for the top spot wasn’t easy. We decided to go with the QB who won a State Championship in 2015. Wilkinson possesses all the qualities to be an elite quarterback anywhere not just West Virginia. He runs a sophisticated system which has allowed him to prosper. His junior season consisted of 1,792 yards 19 touchdowns- a drop off from his 2,249 yard 27 touchdown sophomore season. It should be noted that he had three less games due to a first round lost last season. Wilkinson, a Toledo commit, has the arm strength and accuracy to solidify his legacy for Wheeling Park and his senior season shouldn’t disappoint.
2. Amir Richardson (ATH) University
6’2 200 Junior
Richardson could be the most versatile player in the entire state. His supreme athleticism which includes a sub 4.6 forty-yard dash and an estimated 40-inch vertical allow him to dominate at receiver and safety. This caliber of attributes allows him to pick on corners at receiver and cover a large radius at safety. Richardson hasn’t gone unnoticed as he picked up an offer from WVU earlier this year- for the defensive side of the ball. Don’t specialize his talent though, he is just as capable on the other side as well. An electrifying D1 talent that is key for University’s success and a reason for their high preseason ranking.
3. Dante Stills (DE) Fairmont Senior
6’4 265 Senior
Getting flack for putting Stills at three is understandable. Ranking players isn’t as easy as it seems. This is not to discredit Dante because he is an absolute beast. He has superb size and elite speed, agility, and explosiveness. Scoring a 103.77 SPARQ Rating (nationally impressive) and producing in The Opening has garnered Stills dozens of Division One offers. His film speaks for itself- Stills bullies offensive lineman and almost no quarterback is going to escape his pressure. Stills might find new obstacles with the departure of his brother, Darius, which could allow offenses to double or probably even triple team him. Fairmont Senior’s chase for the title again begins with him.
4. Rennie Clark (RB) Wheeling Park
5’10 190 Senior
Wheeling Park has become a goldmine for skill positions. Rennie Clark took the opportunity of replacing two all-state backs last season and made himself one. Rushing for 1,405 yards 19 touchdowns also receiving 180 plus two scores. Clark is built swiftly and is not a back you can arm tackle. Saying that, if he has a shot to score, he can out run mostly all defenders. He is a great compliment to Wilkinson and the duo should increase their production this season. Experience is key and Clark knows how to be the guy- Wheeling Park looks for a very competitive season and Clark is very much a relied upon leader.
5. Tyler Komorowski (DE) Weir
6’3 230 Junior
Komorowski hasn’t gotten the recognition seen by others on the list. Judging by his film, the Red Riders’ results, and his stats- we believe he should be on everyone’s watch. Last season, in route to a close loss in the quarterfinals to Fairmont Senior, Komorowski compiled 85 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, and a stunning 17 sacks. He’s tall and built lanky though he weighs in around 230. He also plays quarterback for Weir where he shows off his running ability- something which makes him a pain in the you know what for offensive lineman. He comes across as hard-nosed with tangibles that build around his good size and speed. He’s only a junior and his performances this season could be even more impressive- definitely a must watch.
6. Bryson Gilbert (RB) Fairmont Senior
6’1 195 Senior
Gilbert, the second Polar Bear on our list, will be the offensive horse after many of his teammates have graduated. Though positioned as a running back, Gilbert mans different spots on the field and does a great job at each one. Totaling 1,350 yards last season, Gilbert was a main cog in the Fairmont machine that almost won a state title. Gilbert is a player that will run a good forty time, but his on-field speed is much more impressive. Not to mention his irregular moves to avoid defenders which includes spins and plenty of jumps.
7. Trevor Barnhart (LB) University
6’1 210 Senior
Barnhart achieves a play every coach loves to see in a linebacker and that is a constant downhill of play. Barnhart can fly under the radar due to a lack of ‘big plays’; big plays don’t win games though. He is consistent in tackling and performing his duties. University will have multiple defenders back. In 2016, Barnhart tallied 103 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, four sacks, and three forced fumbles. Most lineman are too slow to get their hands on him and leading backs can’t handle his downhill play. His coverage ability might lack slightly but an overall swarm to the ball and enduring play saves him.
8. Jaiden Smith (RB) St. Mary’s
5’9 185 Senior
Last season’s Single A Title Game was all Smith’s for the taking. He won the MVP and a slew of other honors in the off season following. Though undersized, Smith is a handful to bring down. Many of the plays he produces seem unreal. His choppy speed and agility overshadow his run-through-tackles ability. No one stopped him either as he ran for 1,726 yards and 29 touchdowns. Perhaps, a lack of competition was causation for his eighth ranking, but it also shouldn’t be viewed as a slight. The North Central region has many stars and some of the best players who are given looks at the national level. Smith’s talents do transcend his division and he is expected to have some filthy stat lines this season.
Colby Brown (QB) Cameron, Chapin Murphy (DE) Bridgeport, Heath Cottrill (QB) Braxton County, Ryan Laasmar (QB) Notre Dame
Offense of the Year: Wheeling Park Patriots
Defense of the Year: University Hawks
Hardest Schedule: Morgantown Mohigans
Underclassman of the Year: Amir Richardson (ATH) University
Biggest Rivalry Game: Bridgeport Indians vs Fairmont Senior Polar Bears