At Last, Football Returns

WHEELING – Oh, that sound. That beautiful sound.

The pads are popping, skirmishes between teammates are occurring, and all across the Ohio Valley dreams of a state championship are dancing through heads.

Football, prep football to be exact, has at long last returned. The purest form of the sport is but three weeks and one day from kicking off the 2010-2011 season.

As always, the staffs at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register are busy putting together what is inarguably the most comprehensive football preview in the area. We’re detailing all 49 Ohio Valley Athletic Conference football-playing schools, as well numerous colleges including West Virginia, Ohio State, West Liberty and Bethany.

It will hit newstands Opening Night, which is slated for Thursday, Aug. 26.

There figures to be numerous stories as the season unfolds. Let’s take a look at a couple that stand out.

  • Tom Bruney took Brooke to the West Virginia Class AAA state title game last season, then guided the Mountaineers to a victory against Ohio in the OVAC All-Star Game, proving to us all that he may in fact be smarter than the average Bruin.

The question now is, what will he do for an encore with a squad that lost Jake Lilly, Cotey Wallace, Kyle Sims and Mike Kosevic, but few others. In a matter of a single season – half of one, really – Brooke has gone from the hunter, to the hunted.

  • There’s a saying around these parts that tells us Big Red is Big Red. As in, what you see is what you get.

Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia has never been knocked for wanting to play whomever, whenever, and wherever. But this season’s schedule is a strong as any in recent memory, including the likes of Inkster, Michigan, the team that ended ”The Streak,” as well as Massillon, Morgantown, McKeesport, Brooke, St. John’s College, and Youngstown Ursuline.

Quarterback Dwight Macon has taken his considerable talents to college, but the return of monsters such Shaq Petteway, who has a number of Division-I offers on the table, and Jesse Birden reminds us there’s no such thing as a down year at Steubenville.

  • Justin Fox returns to quarterback Magnolia for what seems like the 3,000th season. In reality this will be the fourth and final, and you have to figure he wants to go out with a bang after barely missing a title the last two seasons.

There are a lot of holes to fill, though, as graduation took quite the heavy toll in New Martinsville. Back, however, and also starting for a fourth consecutive season, is linebacker Traeh Keller. He’s joined by fellow returning first team all-stater Matt Riggs along the offensive line.

  • To the chagrin of many, the demise of Wheeling Central seems to be greatly exaggerated. From the looks of things, the Maroon Knights appear to be primed for a return to the Super Six for the first time in three years.

Lee Peluchette takes over under center for Mike Young and company, meaning we could see more balls in the air this season. However, doing so would take the ball out of the hands of talented running back Marcus Clifford, who finds himself on just about everyone’s watch list this preseason.

Among the boys up front opening the holes is powerful Aaron Schneid, who could wind up as an all-state selection.

  • Rudy Vavrock and Bridgeport returned to the postseason in 2009 and have their sights set on a deep run this time around. Perhaps the only stumbling block could be a Rally in the Valley date with Wheeling Central on Sept. 25 at Steubenville’s Harding Stadium.

The Bulldogs will no doubt miss the experience a guy like Nate Maleski provided along the front wall and in the locker room, but when you have the Smelleys on your squad the scoreboard light bulbs could need replaced.

  • Things didn’t get off to such a great start last season for first-year Wheeling Park coach Chris Daugherty. But a victory against Morgantown in the opener showed what the Patriots were capable of before injuries took a monumental toll.

What does Wheeling Park have in store in 2010? That may be one of the biggest question marks entering the season. But with such a large enrollment and athletes to burn, fortunes should be turning up on the hill.

  • Linsly coach B.J. Depew’s team also had a number of injuries last season, but the outlook appears bright with talent overflowing at the skill positions.

Kyle Pytlak will be the quarterback, with Phil Acrie and Mark Dodd seeing carries out of the backfield. The main receiving threat figures to be tight end Akil Blount.

  • Other teams that could make runs: Oak Glen, Bishop Donahue, defending W.Va. Class A state champ Weirton Madonna, Shadyside, Monroe Central, Union Local, St. Clairsville, Morgantown and University.

Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at