BROWNSVILLE – Washington High School senior Daron Whitaker scanned a white sheet of paper, his eyes searching for one name in particular: Shai McKenzie.
To Whitaker’s delight, even though they’re friends, McKenzie’s name was nowhere to be found.
The first installment of rosters for the BeeGraphix Football Classic were unveiled at Hugo’s Restaurant in Brownsville Wednesday night. And for once, Whitaker, who will play for the North Squad, won’t be competing for carries with the WPIAL’s best back.
“Definitely getting a lot of carries in this game,” said Whitaker, who rushed for 484 yards and eight yards as McKenzie’s backup last season. “Hopefully, I can do something. I’m hoping I can get MVP.”
Whitaker, who actually was Wash High’s starter before McKenzie stole the show, remembers going to the Big 33 Football Classic to watch Bryan Thomas and promising Prexies coach Mike Bosnic that he, too, would play in an all-star game.
Now, he just has to figure out how to make it until June.
“I’m hitting the weight room tomorrow,” Whitaker said. “I have to go hard. I can’t wait.”
The all-star game, now in its 17th season – the area’s second-longest behind the Big 33 – will be played June 15 at Southmoreland High School. South Park’s Tom Loughran will coach the North, while Carmichaels’ John Menhart will coach the South.
Menhart has been a part of this game, sponsored by the Tri-County Football Coaches Association, since its inception in 1996.
The game features a few unique rules: Only man-to-man defense is allowed in the secondary; teams must run a 5-2 front on defense, without any twists or stunts; and teams must pass on 40 percent of downs, to name a few.
To address a few sportsmanship issues that cropped up last year, taunting penalties will be met with a 15-yard penalty the first time, an ejection and the loss of ring/sponsorship money for the second offense.
“I think it’s a good experience, and for some kids it’s the last one,” Menhart said. “It gives them one last chance to suit up. As a former athlete, there’s a pride involved with playing. It’s good to say you were an all-star and got to represent your school and your community.
“It’s something I believe these kids will remember for the rest of their lives.”
Whitaker will be joined on the North Team by five Wash High teammates: Rhamir Thomas, Rikwon Moore, Darius Spinks and Mijerean Witcher. Other big names include Canon-McMillan’s Alex Campbell and Angelo Broglia; Garrett Vulcano from Chartiers-Houston; and McGuffey’s Brant Blacharczyk.
Beth-Center’s Cody Durant will play for the South Squad, but don’t look for him at his customary running back position.
Instead, Durant plans on taking more than a few snaps at receiver.
“I’ve always liked playing wide receiver,” said Durant, who rushed for 763 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. “You play running back all these years, you kind of want to play other positions.”
Durant will be joined by Beth-Center teammates Zach Miller and C.J. Novak. Other notables on the South Squad include Carmichaels’ Josh Mundell, an Observer-Reporter Elite 11 selection this past fall; Ringgold’s Austin Young and Jeremy Saternos; and Trinity’s Evan McWreath.
Monessen’s Keith Davis and R.J. Small, a pair of South Team members, were two of the last players to leave Hugo’s before the coaches launched into their regular meeting.
Small talked about how this was an honor not only for him but for his family, while Davis beamed at the idea of getting to pull the pads on one last time.
“After you finish your senior year, you’re done; you only have one senior year,” Davis said. “But this gives you an opportunity to get back into it, at least for a game.”