Knowing the limitations facing the defenses in the Ken Lantzy All-Star Classic, North coach Kevin Marabito had a plan as he selected his squad for Friday’s game at Greater Johnstown’s Trojan Stadium.
“A lot of it comes down to the selection,” Marabito said.
“You’ve got to research these players. Really when you set a Lantzy defense up, the priority is the secondary … You try to get the best cover kids that you can, because it’s man-to-man (coverage). “
The assessment of the assembled talent on the defensive side of the ball seems to have matched that plan.
“Our defense is quick,” the United coach said. “They get to the football. I think we’ve got a great secondary that flies. They had a lot of competition all week long. The speed that our defense faced all week with our offense is going to help on Friday night.
“I like what I see out of our defense, they faced some pretty good challenges because our offense got better as the week went on.
“That’s the neat thing about this games is that there’s talent coming all the time.”
With Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel serving as the team’s defensive coordinator, the defense appears to be in capable hands.
It also means that the man-to-man concepts are familiar to at least one member of the secondary.
“We manned up all season and that’s what we’e doing on Friday,” defensive back Zach Beitel, a Ligonier Valley product, said.
“It’s the same thing I did all year, which is nice because I didn’t have to learn anything new.”
Joining the younger Beitel in the secondary will be Cambria Heights’ Seth Link, Richland’s Joe Kovachick, Blairsville’s Adam Ratkus, Northern Cambria’s Mark Marino and Forest Hills’ Forrest Wolfhope.
Getting a chance to practice against a set of high-flying receivers with a pair of prolific quarterbacks has given the secondary an all-star feel before the game kicks off on Friday.
“I think that we’ve got the best receivers in the area,” Kovachick said. “It’s like iron sharpens iron. Practicing against Aaron Tutino, Jake Shope … Our DBs should be prepared for this Friday.”
Conemaugh Valley’s Bryce McCleester fronts a linebacking crew that also features Glendale’s Shane McMurray, Greater Johnstown’s Brock Moore, Somerset’s Spencer Yutzy, Forest Hills’ Jason Wissinger and Tussey Mountain’s Cole Weist.
They’ll be tasked with stopping South talent that can air it out and pound the rock.
“We don’t get to see any film on what they do,” McCleester said. “In the WestPAC, we barely see any throwing. It’s all run … In an all-star game, you have to look for both.”
Occupying the line will be United’s Mason Muir, Westmont Hilltop’s Mike Barbato, Northern Cambria’s Nicholas Sifford, Ligonier Valley’s Blake Bridge, Westmont Hilltop’s Logan Webb, United’s Joe Turek and Tussey Mountain’s Damon Lemin, who has opened a few eyes in his own huddle while earning the nickname “Tussey” from his teammates.
“He’s amazing,” Kovachick said. “I would not want to be the South’s quarterback. I’ll tell you that, right now.”
That being said, Lemin isn’t the only one up front with a clear mission.
“Playing D-line, it’s pretty limited,” Muir said. “(The formation is) a base 4-3. Our job is pretty much rush the passer. For us it’s simple … We’ve really been scrapping with the O-line a lot. They’re putting in a lot of run plays. A lot of pull. It’s really amped up. It’s a faster level that you have to learn.”