Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Big and Beefy Way to Go in Big Nine Conference

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Big and Beefy Way to Go in Big Nine Conference

Article excerpt

If you're interested in seeing some future linemen for the Pitt Panthers, you might want to check out a game that involves two of the top teams in the Big Nine Conference.

Thomas Jefferson and Belle Vernon both play in the Big Nine, and there are three Pitt linemen recruits on the two teams.

* Thomas Jefferson's Devin Danielson is one of the best defensive linemen in the state. Danielson (6 feet 3, 290 pounds) made the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Fabulous 22 as a junior and was heavily recruited, turning down scholarship offers from West Virginia, Wisconsin, UCLA and Michigan State, among others.

* Thomas Jefferson's Noah Palmer (6-4, 225) wasn't as highly recruited as Danielson, but is a player with potential who could be more impactful this season. Palmer, who also had offers from Mid-American Conference colleges, plays tight end and defensive end.

* Belle Vernon's Blake Zubovic is 6-5, 310, was recruited by Pitt to play offensive line and also had offers from Penn State, West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Michigan State, among others.

The three future Pitt recruits will meet Oct. 13 when Thomas Jefferson plays at Belle Vernon. That game could be a key matchup in the Big Nine because both teams are ranked in the top five in WPIAL 4A.

Thomas Jefferson has only three returning starters on offense and five on defense. But it's hard not to put the Jaguars somewhere near the top when you consider they are a two-time defending WPIAL champion and have made it to a WPIAL title game eight times since 2003. Coach Bill Cherpak has been coaching only 22 seasons, but already is tied for 12th on the WPIAL wins list with 234.

Danielson and Palmer will attract attention, but keys to the Jaguars are developing a quarterback and is Justin Vigna ready to become the next talented Thomas Jefferson running back? Quinton Hill, who had more than 4,000 career rushing yards, graduated, but Vigna rushed for 449 yards on 51 attempts last season. The new quarterback most likely will be sophomore Shane Stump (6-1, 180). Garrett Fairman (6-3, 195) is one of the other top returnees.

Belle Vernon tied for second place in the Big Nine last year. Although some key players graduated, the Leopards figure to be near the top of the conference again. The two leading rushers graduated as well as quarterback Mike Fine. But Derek Cesovski showed some promise last year with 246 yards rushing in three games before a knee injury ended his season.

One of the other top players in the conference also is trying to come back from a leg injury. West Mifflin's Howie Reid had rushed for 876 yards and was averaging 12 yards a carry before a fractured fibula and tibia ended his season in early October. Reid is back for his senior season. If he returns to his old form, West Mifflin could make a lot of noise.

Ringgold is the other upper-echelon team in the Big Nine. …

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