Patriots, Big Red Eye Championship

WHEELING – Wheeling Park is trying to stay at its current high level. Steubenville is trying to return to its usual elite status.

Both have the horses in the stable to do just that this season.

Not surprisingly, the two squads led the way in the Intelligencer/News-Register’s first All-Valley Big Schools Football Preseason Team.

Park came within one game of returning home to play for the West Virginia Class AAA state title, finishing with an 11-2 record after losing at Huntington in the semifinals. The team returns a plethora of playoff-tested players, but was hurt by a preseason injury to running back Savion Johnson, a candidate for the Kennedy Award, given to the top player in West Virginia. He will miss at least half the schedule and may be out for the entire season.

While Park had a dynamic offense in 2013, they potentially had an even better defense. Three of this season’s All-Valley defense is made up by Park players, including captain Chalmer Moffett, a defensive end; linebacker Theo Blackston, who will also replace Johnson in the offensive backfield; and rangy defensive back Elijah Bell.

Meanwhile, Steubenville, hurt by injuries early in the season in 2013, got healthy late and caught fire in the playoffs, advancing to the Division IV semifinals and finishing 9-5.

This year, they’re led by three players on offense, including junior running back Johnnie Blue, who finished with 798 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. He rushed for 431 yards in the Big Red’s four postseason games.

William Poploski was tabbed as an offensive linemen, while quarterback Madela Lawrence-Burke is a utility choice, after throwing for 999 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushing for 475.

Martins Ferry is eyeing a big season behind big-play running back Arjay Burress, the captain of the offensive team.

Burress, a junior, led Ferry with 1,078 yards and 10 touchdowns and averaged a whopping 11 yards per carry for the Purple Riders.

John Marshall is an up-and-coming team with postseason hopes, and Chase Gump was tabbed as a running back, replacing the injured Johnson. Last season he was a fullback in the backfield with Trevor Hardesty. This season, the Monarchs’ senior will be the go-to guy, after amassing over 400 yards, including a pair of 100-yard games, last season.

John Marshall also had another pair of players on the All-Valley offense, including do-it all quarterback Noah Martin (utility) and big Chase Padlow, a transfer from Bishop Donahue.

Like John Marshall, Brooke is looking for a return to winning ways, and the big-play combination of quarterback Aaron Walker (utility) and receiver Thomas Cole were both tapped as first-team players.

Last season Walker threw for over 1,000 yards and half of that total was to Cole. Both are expecting bigger numbers.

St. Clairsville’s Michael Monteroso won the quarterback job out of camp last season, and is engaged in another quarterback battle this fall. But he showed his mettle last season, throwing for 1,064 yards and 10 touchdowns and completed nearly 56 percent of his 127 throws.

Other members of the offense include linemen Elliott O’Brien (Wheeling Park) and Justin Gibson (Indian Creek), receivers Spencer Ware (Union Local) and Carter Andreozzi (Edison), quarterback Ethan Goldcamp (Morgantown) and kicker Bobby Stewart (Union Local).

Union Local’s big Colton McKivitz is a name that is becoming more popular on the West Virginia side, after the 6-foot-7, 275-pound giant announced he would be attending West Virginia University.

The two-way linemen joins Moffett on the defensive line, along with Morgantown’s (and fellow WVU commit) Stone Wolfley and Martins Ferry’s Jake Stewart.

Joining Blackston at linebacker are Brandon Ferns and Jake Stewart of St. Clairsville and Ethan Shannon of Edison.

Bell is joined in the defensive backfield by a pair of four-year starters in Dylan Wood of Meadowbrook and Kade Reynolds of East Liverpool along with Austin Skrynecki of John Marshall.

The utility defensive players include Alec Swiger of Oak Glen, Will Larch of Weir and Zach Connor of Indian Creek.

The punter is Jake Fitch of Martins Ferry.