There is no word on whether or not North coach Kevin Marabito is licensed to work with pyrotechnics, but the head coach at United High School does have an abundance of explosive talent on the offensive side of the ball as the team prepares for Friday’s Ken Lantzy All-Star Classic at 7 p.m. Friday at Greater Johnstown’s Trojan Stadium.
During the week, Marabito is trusting Ligonier Valley assistant coach Scott Lewandowski with the matches as the Rams’ offensive coordinator occupies the same duty for the North.
“Coach Lewandowski with the offense, it kind of blends in because we have their quarterback (John Caldwell), plus it’s pretty much what Richland ran,” Marabito said.
“We’ve got some explosive kids,” Marabito said. “We could be very explosive. Our receivers can fly, but the biggest part is: Can our two quarterbacks get them the football? We’ve got some kids who can run. It could be very explosive, but the key comes down you better be able to block and get your right assignments. We feel we can be pretty explosive if things work right.”
The offense features athletes from Cambria Heights, Conemaugh Valley, Forest Hills, Ligonier Valley, Marion Center, Meyersdale, Northern Cambria, Purchase Line, Richland, Saltsburg, Somerset, United, Westmont Hilltop and West Shamokin.
The air attack will be fronted by Richland’s Joey Hauser and Ligonier Valley’s John Caldwell.
The quarterbacks – both Rams at their respective high schools – combined to pass for 5,702 yards and 71 touchdowns with both teams running an offense that resembles what is shown in contests like the Lantzy game.
But in the case of Caldwell, who led a high-powered attack at Ligonier Valley, there are some differences between Fridays in the fall and what’s in store this coming Friday.
“Just the explosiveness in every position,” Caldwell said.
“We’ve had playmakers at Ligonier Valley, but in an all-star game like this, even the second- and third-string guys are playmakers. Everyone has the ability to break one loose at any time.”
Learning the offense – and its terminology – may seem intimidating, but Hauser notes that steps are taken to aid in the process.
“It’s not that bad,” Hauser said. “You might think it’s pretty hard to do, but they just make it as simple as they can and really easy to adjust to.”
When it’s either Hauser or Caldwell going to the air, a bevy of talented receivers will be the targets with Forest Hills’ Jake Shope and Ligonier Valley’s Aaron Tutino leading the way. In 2018, Tutino caught 66 passes for 1,363 yards and 21 touchdowns. Shope corralled 40 passes for 771 yards and five scores.
“I think we have a really good offense,” Shope said. “Our wideouts are really good. Two really good quarterbacks. I feel like we’re going to put up some good points.”
Joining Tutino and Shope in the pass-catching ranks are Meyersdale’s Kirk Eberly, Marion Center’s Zack Hicks and Saltsburg’s Dylan Cindric.
Conemaugh Valley’s Mason Stoup and Cambria Heights’ Damon Maul will serve as the tight ends.
It’s the Tutino-Shope tandem that has one of the two very excited to line up on Friday.
“Jake Shope is a good-styled receiver,” Tutino said. “I like his style, like a short slot receiver. Quick. And that’s what we need.”
Rushing the ball will be Westmont Hilltop’s Camden Moors, West Shamokin’s Brendan Mondi and Northern Cambria’s Ben Vasil.
That triumvirate rushed for a combined 4,044 yards and 51 touchdowns this past season.
Somerset’s Benjamin Geary, Saltsburg’s Garret Carr, Purchase Line’s Quinn Scalese, Cambria Heights’ Chris Coover, United’s Marc McCullough, Richland’s Dylan Dininny and United’s Austin Rose are the linemen tasked with protecting the skill players.
With the game’s emphasis on playmaking, it’s easy for linemen to get lost in the shuffle.
That’s not to say that there’s no way for the big men to shine.
“I think all of the linemen just try to be the best player (they can be),” Dininny said.
“Just go out and try to make the big plays and the key blocks and help your team to succeed as best you can, and try to pancake as many people as you can.”