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I’m Matt Popchock, and I’m just getting started.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review featured columnist Kevin Gorman says: With regard to the decision by Ambridge receiver and basketball star Stephon McGinnis to transfer to Aliquippa,
“Typically, I’m an advocate for kids being allowed to play as long as they move to and live in their district. But how can you condone a player leaving his team mid-season to play for another? Even if the WPIAL gets it right, it just feels wrong.”
POPCHOCK SAYS: You’d be hard-pressed to find a more divisive issue in high school sports than that of players hopping from one school district to another under a cloud of athletic suspicion. Nevertheless, as the WPIAL Board of Directors prepares to hear McGinnis’ case Monday, we can all agree upon a couple things:
Number one, the WPIAL and PIAA hardly ever seem to be on the same page in such cases. Number two, while it may be unwise for me to opine on such cases without weighing all the evidence, not every piece of evidence that is formally weighed, damning or not, will ever become public knowledge.
So here’s my revolutionary idea: Let’s stop the ongoing game of political football that prevents young men like McGinnis from playing high school football, and let them play where they want.
The operative phrase in that sentence is “high school.” Let this be your friendly reminder that I am discussing WPIAL football, not NFL football–though I can certainly attest that, sadly, in the minds of some parents, one is tantamount to the other.
Not everyone who shows up to practice, puts on the pads and does the yeoman’s work is destined to play on Sundays and buy their parents a Porsche. It’s a fact of life. But through no fault of entities like ROOT Sports, ESPN and what-have-you, not to mention schmucks like me who enjoy hyping these student-athletes just as much as mainstream media does nowadays, there are more parents out there convinced their sons are destined to do just that.
I’m not saying that applies to McGinnis. What I am saying is, I wonder if people would care as much about cases like his were it not for the increased exposure of high school sports in my lifetime. More importantly, I’d wager McGinnis doesn’t care in the same way they do.
When I ran on the cross-country and track teams at North Hills a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I remember being in awe of arch-rival North Allegheny’s teams, and how they always resembled the Roman Centurion army in terms of sheer volume. But I wasn’t thinking about where any of those kids actually came from. I just wanted to line up and run the race, and I’d like to think I wasn’t on an island with that mentality.
Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you any final scores or orders of finish from way back then. I can only tell you that I took pride in being part of those teams, and that I got to participate, because that was always top-of-mind with me.
Negative experiences go hand in receiver’s glove with high school sports; Aliquippa has suffered some tough postseason football losses in recent years, and Ambridge has struggled to even reach the postseason. But high school sports can also give us some of the most positive experiences of our lives. Those four years go by in a heartbeat, and it’s silly to want to deprive Stephon McGinnis of a fraction of that heartbeat just to prove a point.
As I touched on when I fired back at critics of Jordan Whitehead’s commitment to Pitt, why waste energy on a player who makes it abundantly clear he doesn’t want to play for your team? Just ask Rochester head football coach Gene Matsook.
Matsook is going through a rare downturn with his program, and the ongoing youth movement at Rochester isn’t the only problem. The longtime WPIAL Class A powerhouse has lost players to nearby Central Valley, including talented tailback Preston Johnson, just for one high-profile example.
Still, I don’t hear a peep out of him. He won AP coach of the year honors a decade ago, and he’s won a lot of games at Rochester by getting the most out of the players who want to play for him, and not getting caught feeling sorry for himself. The Rams have won back-to-back games since a winless start, and I’ve no doubt Matsook will continue to get them back on track slowly, if not swiftly.
Kids, by and large, just want to play. They want to play where they feel comfortable playing, and where they believe they will play often.
Let’s do this one kid a favor, and just let him play.
On a lighter note, I had the chance to speak with a player who did successfuly transfer to Aliquippa (from neighboring Hopewell), tailback DiMantae Bronaugh, after a big win over New Brighton:
Whether he intends to or not, Bronaugh continues to steal some of the spotlight from fellow junior tailback Kaezon Pugh, who holds offers from Pitt and West Virginia after having been scouted as an outside linebacker/safety.
Bronaugh’s two touchdown runs alone, on which he was virtually untouched, put him over 100 yards against New Brighton. He finished that night with 156 on 12 carries, and he leads Aliquippa with 750 rushing yards and 13 TDs through Week 6. He also ranks among the district scoring leaders.
Pugh also played well against the Lions, showing a nice second burst when he got out in the open, and an ability to break tackles left and right. He also registered a quarterback sack that halted an early New Brighton drive into Aliquippa territory. He started slowly but punctuated that game with TD runs of 51 and 54 yards, finishing with 181 yards on 11 carries. Pugh has 469 rushing yards and nine scores thus far.
Rumors that his Pitt offer was pulled for academic reasons have been brought to my attention, but when I caught up with him, he spoke as though that offer is still on the table. To be fair, he didn’t have much to say at all about his own recruitment, but in the meantime, he does feel like he’s growing as a player this season:
Having said that, I’m on my way to NexTier Stadium for my Week 7 Popchock on Preps High School Football Game of the Week, in which another Pitt prospect will be on display.
Pittsburgh Central Catholic (4-0, 6-0) visits downtrodden Class AAAA Northern Eight Conference rival Seneca Valley (1-4, 1-5) for a 7:30 contest. Senior Johnny Petrishen leads the Vikings with 201 yards receiving on nine catches to go with seven TDs, and he attended the Pitt-Virginia game in Charlottesville last weekend. He is seriously pondering both schools as he gets closer to picking one, while another ACC program, Wake Forest, is said to be in the mix as well. Apropos of Central Catholic owning the No. 1 scoring defense in the WPIAL (4.0 points allowed per game) is the fact that Petrishen has been recruited as a safety.
The Raiders entered 2014 with high hopes, but they took a nosedive after starting quarterback T.J. Holl went down with a knee injury in the season opener against North Allegheny. Despite his return, they haven’t been able to fully recover. Still, Holl needs just 25 more yards to reach 1,000 from scrimmage on the season, and he has two premier receivers in Mason Dehart and Eric Mrkonja (553 total receiving yards and four TDs apiece).
Furthermore, Holl has a D-I prospect of his own to protect him. Senior Tyler Hudanick, a 6’5″, 290-pound tackle, is the No. 27 player at his position in the Commonwealth, according to Panther-Lair.com. Duquesne is the only local school to have offered Hudanick at this point, but he also has a bunch of offers from such ACC and MAC schools as Boston College, Virginia, Toledo and Bowling Green, and more.
I’m Matt Popchock, and that’s all she wrote. Enjoy your game, and I’ll have more on mine later!