PITTSBURGH’S PREMIER SPORTS PUBLICATION
Pittsburgh Sports Report
Golden Quill Award
Pittsburgh Sports Report MATTER OF TIME
GREGORY POLANCO Olli Maatta
U. S. Steel has been a part of Pennsylvania history for more than 100 years. We began making steel here in 1901 and remain committed to building our future in Pennsylvania, while striving to meet and set world-class standards in everything we do.
Don’t Mean a Thing TONY DEFAZIO PSR EDITOR
There are nine players on the 201314 Penguins team that have their names on the Stanley Cup. All nine won the Cup with the Penguins in 2009; Craig Adams, Chris Kunitz and Rob Scuderi also won Cups in Carolina, Anaheim and Los Angeles. The Stanley Cup is the oldest trophy in North American pro sports and one of the hardest to win. It is steeped in tradition. It is not only the names of everyone who has won the trophy that appear on the chalice; so too does the blood, sweat and tears of each man. The names of Craig Adams, Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis, Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi are not only scrawled on the Stanley Cup, but they are etched in hockey history forever.
And that means absolutely nothing. The Stanley Cup that the Penguins won in 2009 is meaningless right now. It didn’t matter to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012, it didn’t matter to the Boston Bruins in 2013, it didn’t matter to the Columbus Blue Jackets last month and it doesn’t matter to any other team in the Eastern Conference. Five years ago doesn’t matter any more. When discussing his past playoff failures, Fleury said recently that he often reminds himself, “I have one more Cup than most people.” That’s certainly true. But it just doesn’t matter. There was a time when what the Penguins achieved in the very recent past meant they had earned the benefit of every doubt along the way. But that very recent past has turned into nothing but a distant memory. Fleury’s recent past—as well as that of the entire Penguins’ team—is filled with too much postseason failure, too much underachievement, too little grit, and too few wins.
And that’s all that matters now. When Marc-Andre Fleury struggled in the playoffs four years ago, we could excuse it by reminding his critics that “he has a resume,” and that resume includes a Stanley Cup. When Marc-Andre Fleury struggles now, we look at that very same resume and all we see are four consecutive postseasons with a sub-.900 save percentage. We see a goalie not among the top 10 in save percentage or goals against average in this postseason either. When Sidney Crosby struggled in the playoffs four years ago, it made sense to point to that Stanley Cup resume and assume that he’d eventually get it together. Now Crosby’s resume consists of two consecutive playoff series without a goal. That 2009 Stanley Cup will mean something again for those nine Penguins, of course. It will mean everything again, in time. But right now it don’t mean nuthin.
May 2014 Vol. 18, No.4
PSR FOCUS Gregory Polanco waits for the call In The Dugout: Tyler Glasnow Prospect Watch: Altoona Curve
12 PURE STEEL Steelers free agent additions Darrius Heyward-Bey’s last chance
17 BLUE LINE Pens’ pending free agents Prospects ready to make NHL impact Olli Maatta’s sensational season
20 ON CAMPUS
Tom Savage’s NFL future The James Franklin Machine Blackhawk’s Brendan McKay Pitt’s 2015 class starts locally
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PUBLISHER Ellis G. Cannon
BUSINESS MANAGER Larry Appolonia
PRODUCTION DIRECTOR Michael Betters
EDITOR Tony DeFazio firstname.lastname@example.org
SENIOR MEDICAL ADVISER DJ Phillips, MD Sam Akhavan, MD Allegheny General Hospital
WEBMASTER Tom Ballas BNS Web Creations
BEAT WRITERS Nate Barnes, Scott Kromko, Anthony Jaskulski, John Krysinsky, Alex Nseir, Joel Peretic, Connor Whooley
Contents 6 NORTH SHORE NOTES
40 Lincoln Way Suite 301 North Huntingdon PA 15642-1887
EDITOR’S DESK Pens Stanley Cup is meaningless
UP CLOSE WITH PSR Former Steeler Alan Faneca
11 LOCAL SCENE Monty Meza-Clay returns
PHOTO CREDITS Justin Berl 17abc, 18, 19ab Charles LeClaire 3, 20 Mark Alberti 23 Pittsburgh Pirates 1, 6; Courtesy of Alan Faneca 4; Len Redkoles/Getty Images 5; Bill Gentry 7a; West Virginia Power 7b, 8ab; Altoona Curve 9abc; TNT Promotions 11ab; Derick E Hingle/USA Today Sports 12; Streeter Lecka/Getty Images 13; The McDonogh School 14a; Matt Slocum/AP Photo 14b; Vikki Vellios Briner 21; McKay Family 22;
Ryan Bertonaschi, Andrew Choynowski, Sam Fatula, Steve Flinn, Chris Galiszewski, Kurt Hackimer, Matthew Jacobs, Julia Kramer, Nate Marsh, Geoff Pfiel, Erika Schneider, Dan Sostek, Jeremy Tepper, Carley Thieret, Ken Torgent
SOCIAL MEDIA COORDINATORS Taylor Sinclair, Emmiley Stern
CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHERS Charles LeClaire, Justin Berl
CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS Mark Alberti, Aaron Doster, William McBride, Michael Migliore, Kris Mellinger, Vincent Pugliese, Nick Susnjer, Ronald Vezzani Jr.
Pittsburgh Sports Report is published 12 times annually by Pittsburgh Sports Report, Inc. a Pennsylvania business corporation, Norwin Professional Building, 40 Lincoln Way, Suite 301, Irwin PA 15642-1887. Distribution at selected outlets. This and every issue of Pittsburgh Sports Report, and all contents therein, are subject to copyright protection held by Pittsburgh Sports Report, Inc. (“Corp. 2014 Pittsburgh Sports Report, Inc.”).
PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014 3
UP CLOSE ALAN FANECA Roll Marathon in under four hours. Faneca and his family—wife Julie, 8-year-old daughter Anabelle and 3-year-old son Burton—recently moved from New Orleans to the Washington, DC area. PSR’s Tony DeFazio caught up with Faneca shortly before the move.
Former offensive lineman Alan Faneca played 10 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and 13 in the NFL, earning All-Pro status nine times and winning Super Bowl XL in 2005. The New Orleans native retired from the NFL after the 2010 season and made headlines this past February when he ran the New Orleans Rock ‘n’
“I really wasn’t looking to do something easy. So they were kind of calling me out without knowing it... I just said, ‘Screw it, I’m going to run a full marathon.’” -Alan Faneca Tony: How did marathon process
start? Alan: I lost almost 50 pounds within
the first three months after I decided to retire, and then I lost, I don't know, 30, 35, 40 more after that over time. So I had already lost a little over a hundred pounds and I decided I was done, just done, with working out and lifting weights. I didn't wanna touch it, I didn't really want to see it in my life anymore. My wife had trained and run a half marathon the year before and I was still doing some cardio in the gym and stuff, and then one day I was just like let's get outside. It's a beautiful day outside. So we started jogging. I started jogging with her outside and then I just kind of kept doing it more and more, and was doing it on my own. And then one day I was like, “Hey let's go the long way,” and for some reason I thought that was kinda cool. It felt fun, and I started thinking about running a half marathon. So I was in Pittsburgh at a Steelers game, I'm not sure we were playing, but I was on the sidelines and I was talking into the athletic training staff. A lot of them do races and run and compete and stuff. I told them what I was up to run-
ning-wise, and I told them how far I was running, and they were like, “Ah man you got that; that's easy.” And in my mind I was like “Aw man, easy?” I really wasn't looking to do something easy. So they were kind of calling me out without knowing it. I came home and all of a sudden just started running a little bit further and I started training and just said, “Screw it, I'm going to run a full marathon.” TD: So that competitor is still very
much in there somewhere. AF: It was, it really was. It really got
my competitive juices flowing again and that was fun. It was a different thing to try to run farther, and running for pace and stuff. So I got a little bit of that competitive buzz back. When I said I was going to do the half I was thinking that it was going to be challenging, and then those guys told me I had it in the bag. That's not really what I was looking for so the next thing I know, I just came home and the next run I just started training for a full marathon.
about a month before that. So maybe sometime in September or so I started getting outside and jogging. So it was like a full NFL season but without training camp. I held out (laughs). TD: Was the marathon a one-time
goal or are you a runner now? AF: I think of myself as a runner. I
don't know when I would do another race, I don't have anything on the horizon. I did buy a race bike and I've been training for what's called a Duathlon. It's a triathlon without the swimming. It's run-bike-run. I don't think my shoulder would hold up to the swimming portion of a triathlon. TD: How about your knees? How are
they holding up? AF: Losing a hundred pounds cer-
tainly helps out and I generally feel really good. Everything has been going good. The marathon did take a lot out of me as it would on anybody who runs one, so it took a little while to recover after that, but I feel great now.
TD: How long was the whole process? AF: The game was mid-to-early Octo-
TD: How did you know when it was
ber, the race was Super Bowl Sunday, and I was probably running maybe for
AF: I didn't, really. Man, it kinda took
4 PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014
really do this? I could have played another one or two seasons, but for me it was like, “Man I've been playing football since 4th grade. Can I literally just say stop?” Maybe it's a little different when you're walking away of your own free will as opposed to the game passing you by or nobody wanting your services anymore, because that's really a mind check. You've been doing it since you were nine years old, and now its, “Wait a minute. Am I really not going to put a helmet on this year?” It took me awhile to wrap my brain around the fact that I could say that, and I could walk away from it. I could actually make that choice.
time to retire from the NFL? a lot of searching in my mind. Can I
TD: Once you did make that choice,
was it easy to adjust to life without football, or Was there a hole there? AF: You know what, man? (Former Steelers teammate) Jeff Hartings told me this when he retired and I didn't believe it at the time. He came to practice and I came up to him and started talking to him about something that was happening in the league at the time, I don't even remember what it was.
But he was like “Whoa, whoa, I don't even know anything that you're talking about.” And I was like “What?” And he goes, “Man, you'll see when you get out. You don't really pay as much attention to it, it's just kind of like that's it. You're out.” And I was like “Whatever man” and totally dismissed him. So of course the same thing happened to me. I got out of it and I can be barbecuing in the backyard on Sunday, 5 PM, and and I'll be like, “S*** there's football on TV,” and I won't even realize it. Its like another world. I simply don't think about it as much, so now, I definitely have no hole. That was a little weird, though, that I felt that way. That there wasn't a hole and I didn't wish I could get
out there. I felt like when I said I was done, I was done. And I have been blessed and had a great ride and it was fun. And you know what, you can walk away from it and not do it and still move on with life and do other things. TD: You are eligible for the Pro Foot-
ball Hall of Fame in 2015. Do you allow yourself to think about that? AF: The only thought I give it is when everybody brings it up to me. That's a huge, fantastic honor. If it ever happens for me, then it'll happen. It doesn't happen, then it doesn't. There's not much you can really do about it so why worry about it or let it affect your life? TD: And if you do get inducted...
AF: Oh I think of myself as a Pitts-
burgh Steeler. That's a for sure. Whenever I grab something for my little boy to throw on, I pick the Steelers shirt over the Jets or Cardinals stuff. It was a great time, great fun, a great organization and a great group of guys. The guys that they put in that locker room make the organization, and that's what makes it go, and those are the guys that you keep up with. TD: What about a highlight from your
career? AF: the obvious choice is the Super
Bowl win. You know, I've got a picture of me on the field holding the trophy, screaming my lungs out and raising the trophy, and I've got all that confetti falling around me. I tell you
what, I pull that thing out now and I look at it, and my hair still stands on end. That's a great moment. Another one that I think about a lot might not be as huge or whatnot, but my first AFC Championship Game. We played at Heinz Field, and I still remember standing in the tunnel and the crowd was so loud and I felt like every single person, it looked like they were each waving two Terrible Towels. It was really a chilling moment, first playoff run since I have been there and it was really one of those, “Man, this is what it's all about” moments. Standing there that day in the tunnel is something I think about a lot.
PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014 5
Promoting Polanco BY KURT HACKIMER
Baseball pundits are usually a rather stubborn bunch. Generational debates constantly wage as young writers try to explain baseball’s deficiencies through mathematics while grizzled newshounds continually implore them to find real jobs. But occasionally these divergent classes unify in appreciation of a truly special talent whose stellar baseball acumen melds seamlessly with his raw physical skill. This is the case with outfielder Gregory Polanco, the Pittsburgh Pirates top prospect. Polanco was a skinny 17-year old kid in the Dominican Republic when the Pirates signed him to a $175,000 contract in 2009. Today, at 22, he has blossomed into a monstrous 6’4” 220-pound baseball marvel that is universally lauded by stat geeks and baseball purists alike. “Polanco is like a more polished Yasiel Puig,” Sports Illustrated columnist Joe Sheehan said. “Polanco applies his skills more effectively than Puig. That’s the shape of player we’re talking about.” While that does not guarantee that Polanco will debut and terrorize Major League pitching like Puig did last season, it is an indication of the level of player Pirates fans can expect when Polanco arrives in Pittsburgh.
Top Pirates prospect Gregory Polanco was hitting .400 through the first month of the season.
David Todd, who hosts a talk show on ESPN Radio 970, said that Polanco is a legitimate five-tool guy. “When Polanco was in Double A, people were comparing him to Marte. His ceiling is really McCutchen,” Todd said. “Everybody knows about his speed and athleticism, but he is developing power, he can hit for average, and has a great arm. Once Polanco comes up to the majors, you could make an argument that McCutchen will be the weakest defender
6 PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014
in the outfield.” “Defensively, he’s a center fielder who is going to play right field next to [Starling] Marte and [Andrew] McCutchen. Nothing is ever going to fall between them,” MLB.com prospect expert Jonathan Mayo added. “Even if he isn’t going to hit a ton, his speed and defense will make a difference.” While Polanco first prominently appeared on the baseball radar at the beginning of last season with the Altoona Curve, he burst onto the na-
tional scene in the offseason when he blew through the Dominican Winter League—a level somewhere between Triple A and the majors—and won the league’s MVP award. “He had his ups and downs [in Altoona],” said Corey Giger, who covers the Curve for the Altoona Mirror. “You could see the potential, but it’s not like he tore the cover off of the ball. When he went to the Winter see POLANCO PAGE 7
THE POLANCO FILE
Gregory Polanco, OF Bats: Left, Throws: Left Height: 6' 4" Weight: 220 lb. Born: September 14, 1991 in Santo
Domingo, Dominican Republic Dominican Summer League, 2009: 63
POLANCO, from PAGE 6 League, he just gained a world of confidence.” The maturity that Polanco has displayed is what impresses Sheehan and so many others. “Polanco has been able to apply his tools and turn them into skills,” Sheehan said. “So much of evaluating a prospect is plate discipline. He had an even strikeout to walk ratio [in Double A]. That kind of polish is something to be really excited about.” Since then, he’s had an impressive spring training with the Pirates and is off to a magnificent start in his first full season at Triple A Indianapolis,
demonstrating poise uncharacteristic of a player his age. According to Baseball America, Polanco only swung and missed eight times in the first 192 pitches he’s seen this season. Throughout that span, his batting average was above .400. With the underwhelming platoon of Jose Tabata and Travis Snider occupying the Pirates right field, Polanco’s arrival in 2014 appears to be imminent. But his promotion might not come as quickly as some would like. Normally, a player must accrue at least three years of MLB service time before he is considered eligible for salary arbitration. However, if a player ranks within the top 22
percent of all 2-year players in terms of service time, that player is eligible for Super Two status and can receive arbitration a year early. By delaying his arrival, the chances of Polanco receiving Super Two status substantially decrease. Of course, if the Pirates continue to struggle, there will likely be a significant push from Pirates fans to promote Polanco soon. “Sometimes I look at Starling Marte and he’s so raw. Polanco is already more of a baseball player than he is,” Sheehan said. “By 2016, [Polanco] is going to be the second best player in the lineup next to McCutchen.”
games, 221 AB, .267/.370/.357 with 6 triples & 24 RBI Rookie League, 2010: 53 games, 188 AB, .202/.245/.287 with 19 SB & 23 RBI Rookie League, 2011: 48 games, 169 AB, .237/.333/.361 with 18 SB & 34 RBI Low-A, 2012: 116 games, 437 AB, .325/.388/.522 with 16 HR, 85 RBI, 40 SB High-A, 2013: 57 games, 218 AB, .312/.364/.472 with 30 RBI & 24 SB Double-A, 2013: 68 games, 243 AB, .263/.354/.407 with 1-1 BB/SO ratio Triple A, 2014 (thru April): 23 games, 90 AB, .400/.460/.644 with a 1.104 OPS
PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014 7
In the Dugout TYLER GLASNOW Tyler Glasnow, 20, has been ranked as the third-best prospect in the Pirates’ organization. The 6’7” righty was drafted by in the fifth round in 2011 out of Hart HS in Santa Clarita, California, and was one of the top pitchers in the minors last season, posting a
2.18 ERA, .142 opponents' batting average and 164/61 strikeout-to-walk ratio for LowA West Virginia, where he earned Pirates Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors. Glasnow talked about his past success and the upcoming season.
“It's really exciting just to show up for work every day and see that everybody's motivated. The team is doing so well and that drives other people to do better. I'm really blessed to be a part of - Tyler Glasnow it every day.” Q: You were named the 2013 Pirates
A: I mean you can come here every
Minor League Pitcher of the Year. What did that mean to you? A: It was definitely an honor. They called me when I was at home and the first thing I did is, I ran downstairs and told my parents and they were just as excited as I was. So it was a good experience to share with them
day and you can see the chemistry in the clubhouse. It's really exciting just to show up for work every day and see that everybody's motivated. The team is doing so well and that drives other people to do better. I'm really blessed to be a part of it every day.
Q: What do you think your keys to suc-
Q: What's the key for you when
cess will be in 2014? A: Sticking with my approach. I think I learned a lot last year, working with JJ (Jeff Johnson, pitching coach for singleA West Virginia), and now we have a really good coaching staff here. Everything they tell me, I just try to take in and use to my advantage. Just coming out here and working hard every day will put me in a good position for 2014.
everything is working on the mound? A: When everything's clicking? Well, I'm kind of a tall and goofy guy, I guess you can say, so timing is a factor for me. I know when something is going wrong it has to do with my timing, or I'm probably thinking too much. But on a good day I'm just free and easy, not really thinking too much and just kind of out there having fun.
Q: Is it exciting to be part of what has
been rated as the top farm system in baseball?
8 PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014
Pirates Prospect Watch BY CARLEY THIERET
Altoona has a trio of future stars in pitcher Nick Kingham and infielders Stetson Allie and Alen Hanson
The Pirates’ No. 5 prospect entering the season, Hanson sits at 65th on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list. Hanson, a shortstop, needs to improve defensively if he is to remain at the position after committing 32 errors in 2013. The 21-yearold Dominican signed as a free agent with the Pirates in 2009 at the age of 16 and has made a steady climb through the minors. He led the Gulf Coast League in triples with 7 in 2012 and hit 13 at Low-A West Virginia the next season, complimented by 16 homers and a .309 average. Hanson hit .291 with a .783 OPS for the Bradenton Mauraders in High-A last year and had been solid with the bat in his brief time at Altoona.
When signed by the Pirates out of Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas in 2010, Kingham was throwing a 92 MPH fastball that is now reaching 97-98 on a regular basis. His fastball features velocity and movement as well as command. Kingham’s pitching repertoire also includes a curveball and a change up. The former fourthround draft pick started 12 games for Altoona last season, going 3-3 with a 2.70 ERA and 69 strikeouts and 30 walks in 74 innings. He made a strong season debut and was carrying a 1-1 record with a 1.61 ERA through his first four games of the season. Kingham is projected to see time in Triple A Indianapolis later this year.
Pitcher turned first baseman Stetson Allie recovered from an early season oblique injury and joined the Altoona Curve in mid April. Allie hails from Cleveland, and was originally drafted by the Pirates in 2010 as a pitcher. Despite a fastball that reached 100 MPH, Allie had trouble controlling his pitches and was converted to a corner infielder—a position where he saw a great deal of success as a high school star in Ohio—after only 30 innings in professional baseball. During his time at Low-A West Virginia, Allie batted .324 with 17 homeruns in 66 games. He was promoted to Altoona despite a .229 average and just 4 homeruns at High-A Bradenton. He is off to a strong start with six homers in April, including four in a four-game stretch late in the month.
PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014 9
BOXING LOCAL SCENE
Back in the Ring Monty Meza-Clay Returns From Injury to Headline May 17 Card
Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort, in association with eight-time World Champion Roy Jones Jr. and TNT Promotions, presents "Back With a Vengeance" live at The Harv on Saturday, May 17, 2014. A full bill of professional boxing is on tap, featuring the highly anticipated return of the ultimate toe-to-toe action warrior Monty Meza-Clay (34-3, 21KO) in the main event. The crowd pleasing Meza-Clay, formally IBA World Champion and top ranked contender by the WBO, IBF and WBA, is coming back from injury that kept him out of the ring for the past year. Fan favorite Bill "Hutch" Hutchinson will seek his ninth victory and continue
his rise in the rankings. Hutchinson has not lost a bout since his professional debut. The intriguing story of lurking undefeated heavyweight prospect Ed Latimore (4-0, 4KO) steps up to his next challenge. In his last bout, Latimore knocked out former IBF world title challenger Rubin Williams. Northeast Ohio's newest favorite son, Antonio "Carita" Nieves, earns his second opportunity on the big stage after capturing "Performance of the Night" honors at Mountaineer in his last bout in scoring an impressive stoppage victory. Also planned for this big night of entertainment is a TBA "Special Attraction Bout" that will surely please boxing fans, as well as the pro debut of Donnie "Too Quick" Marshall. Tickets are on sale now: VIP Ringside $100, Section A $50, Section B $35 and Bleachers $25. All tickets are plus tax & $2.50 Etix service fee and can be purchased at Mountaineer Casinoâ€™s Players Club in person or by calling 1-800-8040468 Ext. 8297 or online at www.MOREatMountaineer.com or www.Etix.com. Free parking and free shuttle service between the casino and The Harv on fight night. First bell 7:00 P.M. Bouts subject to change.
PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT â€˘ MAY 2014 11
New Steelers BY NATE MARSH
The Steelers were active in free agency this offseason, adding several veterans to bolster their depth, complement existing strengths and replace departed starters.
OFFENSE LaGarrette Blount, RB: Going into his
fifth year in the NFL, Blount has found a team that should be able to utilize his skills to the fullest. His rookie year at Tampa Bay was by far his most productive, as he rushed for 1,007 yards and averaged 5 yard per carry in 13 games. His numbers have dwindled since then, but the former Oregon product continues to be an excellent situational back who can carry the load on occasion. At 245 pounds, he may not have the quickest feet, but he has excellent acceleration and knows how to throw his weight around. His ability to block is an upside, but his receiving ability has been a weakness. Blount averaged 29.1 yards per return on kickoffs last year in New England, the first time he has received kickoffs in the NFL, with a long of 83 yards. Blount also rushed for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns in the Patriots playoff win over the Colts last winter. The duo of Blount and Le’Veon Bell should be the best combination at running back the Steelers have had since Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis shared carries in 2005. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR: Drafted first round by the Oakland Raiders in the 2009 NFL Draft out of the Univer-
sity of Maryland, Heyward-Bey has not lived up to expectations. However, the quarterback situation in Oakland certainly didn’t give him the best opportunities. After four years in Oakland, the Indianapolis Colts signed him to a one year deal for the 2013 season but his planned rebirth never quite happened, as he caught just 29 passes. In 72 career games, Heyward-Bey has totaled 169 receptions for 2,380 yards with 12 touchdowns. At 6’2” 219 lbs, he will add quality size to the wide receiving corps. Recording a 4.23 40yard dash time in 2009, speed is his
biggest asset, especially with the departure of Emmanuel Sanders. If he can rid himself of the dropped passes that plagued him last year, Heyward-Bey may finally be able to make a major impact in the NFL. If he doesn’t, however, he’s a low-risk gamble at $795,000 for one year. Lance Moore, WR: To make up for the
loss of Jericho Cotchery, the eight-year veteran of the New Orleans Saints brings experience and sure hands to the wide receiving corps. Starting in five of the 13 games he played with the
Saints in an injury-plagued 2013 season, Moore recorded 457 yards and two touchdowns on 37 receptions. At 5’9” 190 lbs, he is smaller than Cotchery and will most likely be used in the slot. The downside is that his lack of size could impact his offensive production in the redzone, especially when compared with Cotchery, who caught 8 touchdown passes inside the 20yard line last season. His Super Bowl experience, however, is always welcome on a team where anything less than a division title is considered a disappointment.
www.eqt.com 12 12 PITTSBURGH PITTSBURGH SPORTS SPORTS REPORT REPORT •• MAY MAY 2014 2014
Free Agent Additions
DEFENSE Brice McCain, CB: In five years with the Houston Texans, McCain made 72 regular-season appearances, starting 10 and recording 111 career tackles. The 2013 season was his most productive, with four starts to go along with 30 tackles, both career highs. He also has five career interceptions, with one returned for a touchdown. He isn’t the biggest corner at 5’9” 190 lbs, primarily limited to the slot and special teams. The plus side with McCain is that he has the experience to jump on the field when needed. He is an insurance pol-
icy that costs the team very little and will provide quality depth. Mike Mitchell, FS: After four mediocre seasons with the Oakland Raiders, the second round draft pick from the 2009 Draft had a breakout year with the Carolina Panthers last season. He set career highs in 2013 with 66 tackles, four interceptions, three and a half sacks, and two forced fumbles. The surprise year led to a 5-year $25 million contract. With high hopes for Mitchell to build on his upward momentum, the Steelers organization plan on the 27-
year-old bring a little bit of youth to replace Ryan Clark in the secondary. He is predominantly a coverage corner and his tackling could use a bit of polishing, but his above average speed will be utilized by Dick LeBeau. If Mitchell carries the chip on his shoulder to Pittsburgh that he did to Carolina, he will be a formidable combination with Troy Polamalu in the backfield. Arthur Moates, LB: Buffalo’s sixth round draft choice in 2010 played 59 games with the Bills, starting in 20 games and registering 109 tackled, five
sacks, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. He was also a contributor on special teams with 32 tackles. Moats had a bit of a break-out season in 2013, playing in all 16 games with 12 starts and 48 tackles. Listed at 6’2” 250 lbs, Moates is unique in that he can play all four linebacker position in a 3-4 scheme and is known for his run defense. With Dick LeBeau’s creative defensive packages, this could be an under-the-radar signing that winds up making a major impact. If Moates take advantage of the situation he is in, the one-year $795,000 contract would be a steal. If nothing else, he is a great addition to the special teams and a safe linebacker. Cam Thomas, DT: The 6’4” 330 lbs North Carolina product was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 draft by the San Diego Chargers. Coming from a 34 scheme in San Diego, Thomas is versatile enough to be able to play nose tackle and defensive end, which will be valuable with the departure of Al Woods and Ziggy Hood, and the likely loss of Brett Keisel. This gives Steve McLendon, also able to play both nose and end, the ability to move from position to position based on need. Thomas is more of a true nose guard, and McLendon has performed better at end, so the move may benefit both players. Nicknamed “Baby Zilla,” Thomas has played in 54 career games he has tallied 70 tackles, six sacks, three passes defended, and an interception. He is a young and able body on a defensive line that needs people to fill in holes.
PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014 13
LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD
Running Out of Time BY DAN SOSTEK
While Darrius Heyward-Bey is intent on looking forward and forgetting about his past frustrations in the NFL, that doesn't mean he's forgotten about his past. Heyward-Bey certainly has not forgotten where he comes from, as the former NFL first-round draft pick has donated money to pay for stadium lights at The McDonogh School his alma mater in in Owings Mills, Maryland. Heyward-Bey, who graduated from McDonogh in 2005, once asked athletic director Mickey Deegan why the Eagles stadium didn't have lights. “When I told him lights were expensive and it would take a very generous gift to make that happen," recalled Deegan, "he put his arm around my shoulders and said, ‘Ms. Deegan, when I go pro I’m going to buy you some lights." Heyward-Bey kept his promise. “On every level, night games are exciting,” Heyward-Bey said. “Young players dream of playing under the lights, but the reality is that 95 percent of athletes don’t play after high school. I’m glad McDonogh football players will now have that opportunity.”
Talent has never been a question for Darrius Heyward-Bey. The 6’ 2”, 220pound wideout displayed a tantalizing combination of size and speed at the University of Maryland. Heyward-Bey ran a 4.30 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and was drafted seventh overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2009, leapfrogging Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree and Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin as the first receiver selected. Yet Heyward-Bey has failed to make an impact in the NFL. Aside from his 2011 season, when he tallied 64 receptions for 975 yards, Heyward-Bey has struggled to realize his potential. The reason for his lack of success is pretty simple, according to many experts: His one glaring weakness is his hands. According to Pro Football Focus, Heyward-Bey has dropped nearly one of every ten passes thrown to him over his career. He had nine drops in just 58 targets in 2013. “Drops have followed Heyward-Bey his entire career and it’s hard to imagine they will magically go away,” said Dave Bryan of SteelersDepot. The veteran wide receiver, currently 27-years old and entering his sixth season, may find it hard to get playing time even with the Steelers current lack of depth at the position. “He is fast and can stretch the field,” says Bryan, “but seeing as the Steelers rarely use four receiver packages, unless an injury happens, he’s not likely to see much playing time.”
Receiver Heyward-Bey Hopes it Finally Clicks This is because Heyward-Bey isn’t the only new face in town at the wide receiver position. The Steelers also signed former New Orleans Saints wideout Lance Moore, a player who might not sport the talent that Heyward-Bey does but has boasted much more impressive production. Markus Wheaton, a third round pick out of Oregon State in 2013, will be entering his second year as a pro. Despite a disappointing rookie season in which Wheaton caught just six passes in 12 games, “If Heyward-Bey ends up ahead of Wheaton on the depth chart, something has gone horribly wrong with the young Oregon State product,” according to Bryan. Finally, the Steelers are expected to select at least one wide receiver in the early rounds of the draft this year. With all of these factors, Heyward-Bey will need an extremely impressive camp to
earn significant playing time. He could be fighting for a roster spot. Some, though, believe the Steel City is the perfect place for the Maryland product to thrive. “I like Pittsburgh as a situation for Darrius,” says Matt Zenitz, who covered the former Terrapin for The Carroll County Times during his collegiate career. “I’m not sure what happened in 2012 or with Indianapolis last season, but he’s still one of the faster receivers in the NFL, and I could see him making an impact for the Steelers in a reserve role.” Heyward-Bey’s ability to produce, particularly in a Todd Haley offense largely predicated on quick passes to sure-handed receivers, remains to be seen. But his unharnessed potential was too tantalizing for the Steelers to pass up. It’s up to him to realize it.
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Pending Free Agents
Expanding Salary Cap Could Change Pens Outlook BY TONY DEFAZIO
The NHL salary cap is rumored to be as high as $71 million in 2014-15, which could be a major factor in how the Penguins approach the offseason. The biggest potential free agent losses for the Penguins this upcoming offseason are do-it-all forward Jussi Jokinen and top-four defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. Niskanen's pending departure was assumed last offseason, but the Pens never did move the 27-year-old – and that ending up being a very good thing. Niskanen had a career year, posting career highs in goals, assists and points, leading NHL defensemen in plusminus, and garnering some Norris Trophy attention. Niskanen’s performance was so good, in fact, he may have priced himself out of Pittsburgh. Fellow defensemen Brook Orpik could also be moving on, given his age (33), a bruising style of play that has taken a toll on the Pens alternate captain, and the organization's glut of young blue liners. Prospects like Brian Dumoulin, Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington and Philip Samuelsson are all close to being NHL-ready, and the emergence of Olli Maatta as a top-four performer could mean the end of the line for Niskanen and Orpik in Pittsburgh. And despite adding valuable depth and toughness, veteran Deryk Engel-
land may no longer be in the team’s long-term plans. Up front, the biggest potential departure is Jokinen, whose position and line versatility, coupled with his strong postseason play this spring, could put him in high demand in what is a relatively weak year for free agent forwards. Don't assume Jokinen's departure is imminent, however. He has expressed his desire to stay in Pittsburgh and the Penguins clearly appreciate the same tools that will make him coveted on the open market. It's doubtful that rental players Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak will return, and veteran Tanner Glass will likely carry a higher price tag than the Penguins are comfortable with. But without much in the way of forward depth in the organi-
zation, unrestricted free agent Joe Vitale could be brought back into the fold. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who missed the entire season with a blood clot issue, won't be back and may have played his final NHL game. The two restricted free agents who will get the most attention are center Brendan Sutter and blue liner Simon Despres. Sutter, who was a trade candidate at the deadline this year, finished the year strong and was one of the team’s better forwards in the postseason. Finally, though the Pens went all-in and failed to land Vancouver's Ryan Kesler at the trade deadline, they are expected to re-visit the idea this offseason, which could obviously impact their free agency plans.
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Chris Conner Deryk Engelland Tanner Glass Marcel Goc Jussi Jokinen Chuck Kobasew Matt Niskanen Brooks Orpik Taylor Pyatt Lee Stempniak Joe Vitale Tomas Vokoun
Simon Despres Brian Gibbons Jayson Megna Phlip Samuelsson Zach Sill Brandon Sutter Harry Zolnierczyk
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PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014 17
Future Pens A new crop of young blue liners is on the way BY NATE MARSH
The salary cap era in the NHL means that every team has to change personnel every season. With several unrestricted free agents on the docket this summer—and the possibility of even greater turnover than the team has seen in some time—many eyes are turned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to produce next years’ Penguins. If there’s one position where the Penguins continue to have quality organizational depth, it’s defense. Olli Maatta had a stellar year, being mentioned in some Calder Memorial Trophy conversations for rookie of the year. Simon Despres hasn’t made the impact many expected, but he’s been reliable when called upon, and Robert Bortuzzo has played more and more since being called up in 2011. Baby Pens defensemen Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson have each played a handful of games in the NHL, and Scott Harrington was one of the most reliable defensemen at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. How close is the trio to moving up to the big club in the near future? Jonathan Bombulie, beat writer for the Baby Pens, weighed in on the matter. “They’ve both been hurt at times since they were in the NHL,” Bombulie said. “When healthy, their development curves have been different. “Samuelsson’s has been slow and steady. He was rough as a rookie, de-
cent last year, then very good this season. He’s been consistent and subtly physical in his own zone and actually pretty handy with the puck, surprisingly. Samuelsson looks to me like a sixth or seventh NHL defenseman at this point.” The son of former Penguins blueliner Ulf Samuelsson, 22-year-old Philip played in five games for the Pens last season. Dumoulin, also 22, played in six. “Dumoulin has been more up and down,” said Bombulie. “He’s more
prone to make a bad read in the defensive zone than Samuelsson, for example, but his upside is higher. An interesting statistical note that says something about Dumoulin’s style of play: He has two penalty minutes – a delay of game minor – in his last 24 games. That’s because he uses his long reach to defend. It’s a stick-on-puck approach that the Penguins like.” Neither player, however, is at the top of Bombulie’s list. “I actually think Scott Harrington is the most NHL ready,” Bombulie said.
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18 PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014
“He’s only 21, but he’s a rock solid, steady stay-at-home defenseman who can come in on the third pair and work his way up the lineup. I can count the number of bad shifts he’s had this season on one hand.” Wilkes-Barre is thinner in the forward department, but the one name that stands out is Adam Payerl. “He’s the young forward with the best chance to stick in the NHL next year,” Bombule said. “He has the physical strength and style of play to protect the puck well down low and fit into a bottom-six role.” Payerl has played in two NHL games this past season. Goalie Eric Hartzell was looking making waves in January, winning AHL Goalie of the Month honors, but has since stalled out and actually played a brief stint at Wheeling in the East Coast Hockey League. “ “His problems seem to be on pucks in his skates, tracking plays around the net, not actually stopping shots,’ Bombulie said. “It seems like the kind of thing that can be fixed, but until it is, his progress is at a standstill. He can’t mess around either, because there are some really good goalies in the pipeline. Matt Murray, a 19-year-old, was one of the best goalies in the OHL this season and Tristan Jarry, 18, was one of the best in the WHL.”
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Defenseman Olli Maatta Soars as a Rookie BY TONY DEFAZIO
With the score tied 3-3, and his team in danger of falling behind the Columbus Blue Jackets in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series, 19year-old Olli Maatta stood at the left point and accepted a feed from Evgeni Malkin. The rookie defenseman rifled a shot toward the net. The puck pinged off teammate Jussi Jokinen’s stick, then Blue Jackets defender James Wisniewski, before finding its way past Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and into the net, putting the Penguins in front 4-3. It was just his third career NHL playoff game, but Maatta’s play resembled that of a grizzled veteran more than a teenager with a playoff “beard” as smooth as a sheet of ice. Maatta, drafted by the Penguins 22nd overall in 2012, was not supposed to be wearing an NHL jersey this year. But he stood out in a deep pool of blue line prospects in the team’s development camp last summer, and his performance during training camp made it clear that he was ready. Maatta settled in as a member of the Penguins’ third defensive pairing, but when fellow defensemen Rob Scuderi and Paul Martin suffered broken legs a month apart in October and November, things changed. Maatta went from playing 16 minutes a game early in the season, to logging more than 21 per game in December.
“Nobody knew that he was going to be capable of shouldering the minutes,” said Brian Metzer of SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and Penguins Live. “It's so few and far between that a 19 year old is capable of shouldering that load against top lines.” In February, Maatta seamlessly stepped out of NHL rinks and onto the international ice for the Finnish Olympic team. He played seven games in 11 days for Team Finland, scoring three goals while winning a Bronze Medal with his countrymen. Just four days after having the medal draped around his neck in Russia, Maatta was back in Pittsburgh. Maatta’s responsibilities increased yet again after Martin broke his hand in the Olympics and Kris Letang suffered a stroke shortly thereafter. His level of
play increased again as well. “To be able to have him play there with injuries to two top-four guys in Martin and Letang, it’s pretty amazing,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “It doesn't seem as if anything overwhelmed him,” Metzer said.” He doesn't get wide eye or anything like that. He has just been able to look at it all in the face and just step right up to any challenge that he's faced so far. And now he's doing it in the playoffs.” Maatta has embraced every challenge along the way "I've been just enjoying being part of the NHL and being a pro hockey player,” he said. “I don't think I've ever looked at it like, 'Oh God I wish this would be done.' Every day I come to the rink I just want to be here and I’m enjoying it.”
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Brian Metzer, co-host of Penguins Live and SiriusXM NHL Network Radio, shared his thoughts on Olli Maatta’s rookie season “When you look at the fact that this is a 19-year-old kid who had no NHL experience—yes, he played for a pretty successful program, the London Knights, where they do a great job of preparing their players for the next step— it’s still unheard of for a 19-yearold defenseman to step into the National Hockey League and do what this kid has done.” “Early in the year the Penguins shielded him a little bit. He and Niskanen were used more against third lines, but as the year went on and those injuries rolled up to Letang and Scuderi and Orpik and company, he stepped right up and did whatever he needed to do to be a valuable contributor on the blue line. If they didn't have this kid here, I don't think that they would have been able to maintain or offset the loss of as many guys as they did.” Brian Metzer also covers the Penguins for the Beaver County Times and is a contributing writer for NHL.com. Follow Metz on Twitter @Brian_Metzer
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PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014 19
A LONG STRANGE TRIP Tom Savage was a three-year starter for Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, PA, from 2006-08. He blossomed into one of the top quarterback recruits in the country and turned down offers from Penn State, Florida State, Georgia and dozens of others, to play for Greg Schiano’s rising Rutgers program. He made an immediate impact, earning the starting job as a true freshman. Savage led the Scarlett Knights to a 9-4 record . Savage threw for 2,211 yards and 14 touchdowns, while throwing only 7 interceptions, and earned a spot on the Football Writers Association of America AllAmerican Freshman Team. He opened the 2010 season as the starter again, but suffered a hand injury and was replaced by Chas Dodd, who held onto the job the rest of the year. Savage decided to transfer after the season, landing at Arizona. He sat out the 2011 season under NCAA rules, but head coach Mike Stoops was replaced by Rich Rodriguez and Savage—who was not a fit for Rodriguez’s spread offense—transferred yet again, this time to Pitt. After sitting out his second consecutive season in 2012, Savage finally returned to the field as the Panthers starter. A solid senior year led to an invite to the NFL Combine, and the rest… well, we’re waiting to find out the rest.
Former Pitt quaterback Tom Savage has seen his draft stock rise
BY RYAN BERTONASCHI
Only a couple dozen potential NFL draftees are invited to New York’s Radio City Music Hall for the league’s annual draft. These players are among football’s best young talents: Teddy Bridgewater, Jadeveon Clowney, Aaron Donald, Tom Savage… Tom Savage? Yes. The former Rutgers-turned-Arizona-turned-Pitt quarterback’s NFL Draft stock has skyrocketed in recent weeks, earning him a spot near NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for the nationally-televised extravaganza. In the end, Savage declined the offer, but the honor was well-deserved. He, after all, has miraculously blossomed into this year’s Cinderella prospect. “With Tom, it was funny,” Dan Algeo, who coached Savage at Cardinal O’Hara High School, said. “Before the combine, it was looking like he was going to be [an undrafted] free agent. Then he went through the combine, and it sounded like he was going to be a fifth or sixth rounder. Then he did his
20 PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014
pro day and workouts.” After his pro day at Pitt’s Southside facility, Savage spoke to a line of coaches, including Bill O’Brien of the Houston Texans. “You can tell there’s buzz and some excitement building on with the number of teams talking to him and working out,” Daniel Jeremiah, a former NFL scout and now a writer for NFL.com, said. Some of that buzz has come from fans. Other buzz has come from Cardinal O’Hara, where Algeo’s current players have become obsessed with the hype surrounding Savage, who was the Lions’ first-ever two-time captain. Last month, his players came into the locker room with breaking news to share. Tommy is going in the second round. That’s what they’re projecting. This mock selection was made by ESPN’s Todd McShay, one of the most aired NFL Draft Analysts out there. And Jeremiah agrees. “He’s got a very real shot at landing in the top of the second round,” Jeremiah said. “Those teams picking up high in the first round, if they elect to
pass on quarterbacks and take some of these premiere position players, which I think a lot of them will have rated higher, then I think there will be a quarterback market in the top of the second round.” “You look at Houston,” Jeremiah added, noting the Texans have the first pick in the second round. “I think he fits in with what Bill O’Brien wants to do.” But Algeo advised Savage to be patient, implying that success is attained by way of a growth curve in the NFL. Not all good quarterbacks get the starting role as a rookie. “We talked and I said, ‘Tom, you want to go where you go. But I’d love to see you go to New England, Denver or New Orleans to groom like Aaron Rodgers did under Brett Favre. I think that would be [ideal],” Algeo said. Savage was known at Pitt as a bigarmed, yet relatively immobile quarterback who didn’t have much room for error. After all, Savage played behind a poor offensive line. He was sacked 43 times – the most of any Division I quarterback – and was constantly on the move. “He’s not a Johnny Manziel,” Algeo said. “But he’s got pretty good pocket awareness. His pocket awareness has improved. I think his feet are good enough that he can escape trouble.” If he’s drafted, Savage would become only the second Pitt quarterback in 31 years to be selected. The other guy? Dan Marino. “I’ve known Tom since he was a little kid,” Algeo added. “He’s special. I’m not surprised.”
Believe The Hype Franklin’s hype machine delivering so far for Nittany Lions BY RYAN BERTONASCHI
If it were ever revealed that Penn State head coach James Franklin didn’t participate in the daily activity that most humans call “sleep,” Nittany Lions fans shouldn’t be surprised. That’s because he’s always somewhere recruiting, and he makes sure he’s doing it with undivided attention. “First all,” Franklin told reporters last month, “I was supposed to give you guys eight to ten minutes last week. I gave you six minutes. I apologize. We had some recruits here. I got excited. I wanted to get to them. So today, I’m supposed to give you eight to ten minutes, and you’ll get 11 minutes as a make-up.” Since Franklin replaced former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien, who left in January to coach the NFL’s Houston Texans, Franklin has made headlines for his plan to “dominate the state” of Pennsylvania in recruiting, but he has so far exceeded his own recruiting expectations. His commitments have come from high school seniors nationwide, and he’s on his way to dominating the country. Brian Tripp is a radio host for State College’s ESPN Radio 1450. He said he’s seen the bond that Franklin is capable of forming with young high school athletes. “One of the biggest things James Franklin does is build a relationship with players and build a trust,” Tripp said. “So along with the energy and passion he has for the job is finding a relationship and a trust with the play-
ers and their families, trying to build a family-like atmosphere to fit his core values for the program.” Only Alabama has a better 2015 commitment list than Penn State according to Rivals.com and Scout.com. The class, so far, has been highlighted by running back running backs Andre Robinson and Saquan Barkley, who chose Penn State over Pitt and others; wide receiver Juwan Johnson, who gave Franklin his commitment over Ohio State, Alabama and others; and a pair of offensive linemen – Steven Gonzalez and Ryan Bates – who had long lists of offers. Five of the commits are natives of Pennsylvania.
“He’s really trying to do what has been the foundation of Penn State’s success for so many years, and that is recruiting the mid-atlantic region,” Tripp said. No matter how highly-rated his 12 current commits are, though, Franklin’s most daunting tasks lay ahead of him. He is far from finished, and he is still in the mix for a lot of young talent, both at the national and regional levels. George Campbell, a wide receiver from Florida who is rated a five-star by Rivals.com, is one such player, but Florida and Florida State appear to be the early favorites for Campbell. In addition to Johnson and Bran-
don Polk, Franklin’s second wide receiver commit, the Lions are in the mix for four-star wide receivers Irvin Charles, Trent Irwin, Van Jefferson, Christian Kirk and Alex Ofodile. Franklin hasn’t yet landed a quarterback in the 2014 class, but he may get a commitment from one of two four-star talents. Brady White from California and Brandon Wimbush from New Jersey are both pro-style quarterbacks with scholarship offers from Franklin. Two WPIAL products, Sterling Jenkins, an offensive lineman from Baldwin, and Jordan Whitehead, a defensive back from Central Valley, are both being actively pursued by Franklin and his staff. “Jenkins is gigantic,” Tripp said of the 6-foot-8, 296-pound tackle while noting the mutual interest between program and player. Jenkins narrowed his list to Penn State and Ohio State, while Whitehead is still collecting offers. Whitehead has offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Pitt and others. Most of the mentioned recruits were on-hand for Penn State’s spring Blue-White Game. Beaver Stadium accommodated 60,000 for the game, and the atmosphere was of interest to many recruits. “It looked like good old Penn State football,” Tripp added. “Just like what a lot of people would call the ‘good ole’ days.’”
PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014 21
“They’re some of the best in the field — and they help keep us on it.” — Neil Walker
Can’t Go Wrong Blackhawk pitcher Brendan McKay has two enticing options awaiting him this summer BY CARLEY THIERET
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As the month of June approaches, high school seniors prepare to say goodbye to their friends, families and high school memories and begin a new chapter in their lives. Whether it is college, trade school or entering the work force, graduation brings anxiety and uncertainty to many high school seniors. Blackhawk senior Brendan McKay, however, figures to have a very different set of choices to make come graduation time. The senior southpaw is one of the most dominant pitchers in recent WPIAL history, and although he is committed to play baseball for the University of Louisville next year, there is a good chance he will be drafted in the top 10 rounds of the MLB First Year Player’s draft this June. What a graduation present that would be. McKay grabbed the attention of scouts during a stellar junior campaign, when the Pittsburgh PostGazette Player of the Year went 9-1 while compiling 98 strikeouts and a 0.52 ERA. Along with being Blackhawk’s ace in 2013 and the best pitcher in the WPIAL, the 6’1”, 220-pound McKay finished his junior season with a .537 batting average. When not on the mound, McKay sees time at first base and in the outfield for Blackhawk. McKay is not disappointing in his senior campaign as he was 4-0 entering May with a streak of 51 scoreless innings pitched dating back to last season. He threw a no-hitter against West Allegheny, just days after opening the season with a complete game
shutout of Shenango, while registering 20 strikeouts and no walks. There are 21 outs in a high school baseball game and McKay recorded 20 strikeouts. There’s the dominance. McKay has the tools to make his mark on the WPIAL, not only leading Blackhawk to a WPIAL championship, but individually becoming the first pitcher from the WPIAL to be drafted in the first three rounds of the draft since Butler’s Matt Clement was taken in the third round by San Diego in 1993. While McKay is unsure whether he’ll be on the mound for the Louisville Cardinals next spring or playing pro ball somewhere, his options are pretty good ones for an 18year-old.
Local Foundation BY DAN SOSTEK
So far, Paul Chryst’s first full batch of recruits as the head coach of the University of Pittsburgh has been an impressive one. Sporting immediate impact players like wide receiver Tyler Boyd, running backs James Conner and Rachid Ibrahim, tight end Scott Orndoff, offensive lineman Dorian Johnson, and defensive backs Titus Howard and Terrish Webb, Chryst’s 2013 recruiting class was extremely productive in their freshman year. His 2014 class looks to be equally impressive, with top recruits like offensive linemen Alex Bookser and Mike Grimm, wide receiver Adonis Jennings, and running backs Chris James and Qadree Ollison all signing with Pitt. Despite lacking elite-level defensive prospects, Chryst and company have done a good job of landing quality recruits early in the staff’s tenure – before seeing any real on-field success. So it should come as no surprise that Pitt’s class of 2015 is already off to a solid start, featuring three local products: tight end Nick Bowers, offensive lineman Alex Paulina, and linebacker Kevin Givens. NICK BOWERS, Kittanning HS: Bowers, a 6’ 4”, 235-pound athlete looks to be a prototypical well-rounded tight end that projects well in any offense. He’s extremely versatile, having lined up at wide out many times in his junior year, exhibiting just how dangerous of a threat he is as a receiver. He often appeared to physically overmatch defenders, though, and likely won’t be able to do that at the college level. Early in the process,
Paul Chryst is keeping it local with the class of 2015 Bowers chose Pitt—a school he grew up rooting for—over a litany of other programs including Purdue, Boston College and Cincinnati. Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell reported that Bowers, the 12th-ranked prospect in the state of Pennsylvania, visited Penn State in April. If the Panthers were to lose Bowers to their in-state rivals, it would be a detrimental takeaway. ALEX PAULINA, Canon-McMillan HS:
Paulina was the first 2015 recruit to commit to Pitt. He’s the rare high school recruit that seems to project immediately at guard or center, due to his combination of blocking skills
and limited frame (6’ 3”, 280 lbs). Paulina seems to be the type of offensive lineman that Chryst molded into stars during his tenure at Wisconsin, so Paulina should make an impact eventually at Pitt, although scouts would like him to improve his speed and quickness a bit. He received an offer from Virginia Tech, while sparking some interest from schools like Penn State and West Virginia. According to Rivals.com, he is rated the 11th best prospect in the class from the state of PA. KEVIN GIVENS, Altoona HS: The most recent 2015 commit, Givens, an athletic linebacker, is the only
defensive player of the trio. Not overly heralded but drawing increasing interest from Big 10 schools despite his early commitment to Pitt, Givens announced his choice via Twitter, tweeting, “Proud to be a Pitt Panther… #H2P”. He has prototypical size for a linebacker, with a starting point at 6’ 3”, 230 pounds and will only get bigger, while sporting good athleticism. Although scouts have harped on a need to improve his tackling, it seems that Givens, who received offers from Temple and Western Michigan, is a nice, under-the-radar get for the Panthers.
PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • MAY 2014 23
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