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Sun-Gazette preseason all-star football team

Williamsport's Nassier Jones.

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Chase Cavanaugh, Loyalsock

A three-year starter, Cavanaugh is second among returning area quarterbacks in passing yards and tops in rushing. After superbly replacing an injured Connor Watkins in 2018, Cavanaugh really broke out in his first full season starting a year ago. The mobile left-hander threw for 1,780 yards, ran for 689 and totaled 23 touchdowns. Cavanaugh was one of the most valuable players on a team which reached the District 4 Class AAA championship and was at his best during a late-season six-game winning streak. Cavanaugh runs the read-option like a pro, is 13-6 as a starter, and provides Loyalsock a sturdy foundation to build its offense.

Running backs

Ethan Gush, Muncy

He did not become the team’s feature ball-carrier until Week 7, but Gush ran wild over the next seven weeks and earned Class A all-state honors, helping fuel a second consecutive District 4 Class A championship run. A battering ram of a running back, Gush ran for 1,260 yards and 19 touchdowns, both highs among returning running backs. Over Muncy’s final eight games, Gush topped 100 yards five times and scored 16 touchdowns as the Indians went 6-2 and reached the state quarterfinals. Also an outstanding linebacker who made 141 tackles, Gush averaged 5.6 yards per carry and headlines a deep and dangerous Muncy backfield.

Max Moyers, Lewisburg

A 2018 Class AAA all-state selection, Moyers is hoping for the opportunity to show District 4 he remains as dangerous as ever after tearing his ACL in Week 6 last season. The dynamic senior is one of the district’s strongest players and also has outstanding burst and vision. He topped 2,000 yards as a sophomore and was on his way to a third 1,000-yard season in a row before the injury. Moyers ran for 586 yards and eight touchdowns before tearing his ACL on the third play of the game against Bloomsburg. He is one of the best running backs in school history, producing 3,795 yards and 46 touchdowns despite losing the second half of his junior campaign.

Rocco Pulizzi, Montoursville

By themselves, the numbers Pulizzi produced during his breakout sophomore campaign are impressive. Pulizzi ran for 1,187 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. They take on an even better look, though, when one considers Pulizzi rarely played deep into games since Montoursville frequently mercy-ruled opponents. The first-time starter averaged 7.6 yards per carry, gained at least 120 yards four times, and ravaged Class AAAA state semifinalist Jersey Shore for 208 yards and three touchdowns. Pulizzi has good speed, power and agility and can turn short runs into big plays. He also scored twice against Class AAA state champion Wyoming Area.

Wide Receivers

Owen Anderson,

Jersey Shore

Also an excellent safety, punter and return man, Anderson could be picked at various all-star positions, but he finds his home at wide receiver. A key part of an explosive passing game last fall, Anderson caught 52 passes for 546 yards and four touchdowns. Anderson has good hands and is adept at moving the chains. He was one of four Bulldogs who topped 40 catches last season and was outstanding throughout the postseason. A player who also made 77 tackles and led the area in punting, Anderson caught multiple passes 11 times and scored a critical touchdown in a dramatic state quarterfinal comeback win against Pottsville.

Cayden Hess, Jersey Shore

All Hess did in his first year starting was earn AAAA all-state honors, break the Jersey Shore single-season receptions record, and help Jersey Shore reach the state semifinals as just a sophomore. Hess led District 4 with his 75 catches for 926 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hess has some of the best hands in District 4, has solid speed and often makes difficult catches look routine. He was a force in the state tournament and torched Pottsville and state finalist Dallas for 18 catches, 403 yards and four touchdowns. The junior caught multiple passes in all 14 games and gives Jersey Shore’s new starting quarterback another great weapon at his disposal.

Peyton Johnson,

Central Mountain

Playing wide receiver for the first time, Johnson looked like a natural and helped the Wildcats passing game surge. The senior receiver caught 43 passes for 694 yards and five touchdowns in nine games. Johnson went over 100 yards three times and had a 95-yard effort against Mifflinburg in a 35-28 victory. Between Weeks 2-9, Johnson averaged five catches per game and scored touchdowns in five of those games. He also is one of the team’s top defensive playmakers and averaged four tackles per game.

Tight end

Ben Knapp, Canton

A week ago, Penn State offered Knapp preferred walk-on status and he also has received interest from Pittsburgh, among many other colleges. Knapp has earned all-state honors two consecutive seasons and can split out and play wide receiver as well. The 6-foot-5 senior has a super catch radius and is outstanding at high-pointing the football in traffic. Also a good defensive end, Knapp caught 45 passes for 801 yards and eight touchdowns, helping Canton reach a second District 4 Class A final in a row. Knapp averaged 17.8 yards per catch and enters his senior season with 89 career catches, 1,496 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Offensive line

Michael Buck, Warrior Run

He might have toiled in anonymity along with his other reliable linemen, but Buck played a major role in Warrior Run’s turnaround season a year ago. The 6-foot, 270-pound senior provided strong blocking which paved the way for a potent offense as well as the program’s first winning season since 2006 and its first-ever District 4 playoff victory. Buck is strong and athletic and helped the Defenders have a 1,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard receiver and 900-yard running back.

Jeffrey Hamilton, Loyalsock

A program which seemingly rolls out dynamic playmakers like they are coming off an assembly line also quietly does a good job producing strong linemen. Hamilton is another example of those players who help make this offense go every year. The 6-0, 285-pounder moves well, is strong and helped Loyalsock top 300 yards and 30 points a game last year. A HAC-II all-star center, Hamilton was key to Loyalsock’s second-half resurgence and helped both Cavanaugh go over 1,000 passing yards and freshman Davion Hill 1,000 rushing yards.

Gavin Hillman, Muncy

At the heart of Muncy’s excellent four-year run is its rugged offensive line. The Indians have frequently imposed their will on opponents up front and Hillman was one of those linemen doing so again last fall. Hillman came up big, becoming a starter in Week 8, and helping Muncy take off down the stretch. A junior with significant experience the last two years, Hillman was a particularly strong run-blocker and was part of a unit which shined bright both on a game-winning 15-play touchdown drive in the district final and in a dominant opening-round state playoff win.

Karter Peacock, Jersey Shore

This junior lineman really could start on either side of the ball, but we will go with offense here. Peacock was one of the team’s most reliable blockers as Jersey Shore featured one of the district’s most high-powered offenses a year ago. Tanner Lorson topped 3,500 yards passing and 1,100 yards rushing, and Josh Malicky also went over 1,000 yards. Peacock was one of five returning starters up front who made all the video-game numbers possible. He also is a defensive anchor who made 70 tackles, had 35 quarterback hurries and forced two fumbles.

Caiden Williams, Canton

When Canton was at its most explosive last fall, it was when when Williams was anchoring the line. Williams was off to a super start and helped Canton top 40 points in each of its first four games before suffering a season-ending injury. Williams is a hard-nosed, physical player who helps set the tone up front and who has been an essential part of a football resurgence at Canton. The Warriors are loaded with exciting playmakers and having Williams back up front could really help the offense go as they try to capture their first district championship since 1990.

Athlete

Timmy Ward, Canton

It sure is great seeing Ward back. The senior missed last season while recovering from cancer and earned a state wrestling medal in March. Ward is a two-time all-state selection at wide receiver and athlete. The question is not what Ward can do, but what can’t he do? He seemingly does everything well. Ward has 94 career receptions and has made some brilliant one-handed catches among his highlights. He also went over 300 yards rushing after moving into the backfield late in 2018. He intercepted a 2000s area-high 11 passes that year and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. He is a weapon in all facets and creates an explosive combo with Knapp.

Kicker

Gabe McNear, Montgomery

The sophomore kicker immediately became a weapon last season and provides Montgomery a scoring threat any time it approaches the red zone. McNear was perfect on extra points last year and also drilled four field goals. McNear has worked hard throughout the offseason, has excellent range and could be quite a difference-maker, especially in close games.

DEFENSE

Defensive line

Logyn Choplosky,

North Penn-Mansfield

An outstanding two-way starter, Choplosky came on strong last season and is one of several standout starters returning for a team which has reached consecutive District 4 Class AA semifinals. The senior defensive tackle averaged six tackles per game and added six tackles for loss. The 6-1, 285-pounder is a good run-plugger and also gets after the quarterback, recording three sacks. Choplosky played one of his best games in a 17-14 district quarterfinal win at Wellsboro and forced three fumbles last season, recovering five.

Dalton Dugan, Jersey Shore

The latest in a pipeline of excellent Jersey Shore defensive linemen, Dugan burst onto the area scene last year, making 112 tackles. No area lineman made more tackles than Dugan who also had seven for loss, as well as three sacks. Dugan consistently pressured the quarterback and played a big part in Jersey Shore being among the area leaders in forced turnovers. He also played well in big games and was a catalyst during the comeback win against Pottsville. Dugan, who topped 10 tackles three times, had three tackles for loss in that Pottsville victory.

Nassir Jones, Williamsport

The Sun-Gazette Preseason Player of the Year is outstanding at both defensive end and tight end. He especially stands out defensively and earned the Wyoming Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year last fall. Jones consistency gets into the backfield and blows plays up. He is one of the district’s best at forcing quarterbacks into hurried throws and flies off the edge. Jones finished last season with five sacks, 13 tackles for loss and consistently demanded attention. A three-year starter, Jones is an explosive playmaker who also caught a team-high 27 passes and twice went over 100 yards.

Zack Schmalhofer, Montoursville

Running against Montoursville was an exercise in futility last season. So was passing. And Schmalhofer was a big reason why. The senior was a matchup problem all season and finished among the area’s sack leaders with 8 1/2. He also made 56 tackles, including nine for loss. Schmalhofer has made big strides in each of the last two seasons and was a force against Selinsgrove last season, collecting three sacks in a 17-0 win.

Linebackers

Dylan Bennett, Montoursville

A state finalist in wrestling, Bennett shines just as bright on the football field. The senior may be the area’s best linebacker and his return after missing half of the 2018 season with an injury, helped make Montoursville’s defense one of the area’s strongest over the last 10 years. Bennett led the team in tackles and was a force against both the run and pass. His range is off the charts and Bennett goes sideline to sideline in a flash. Bennett covers well and had an interception, fumble return for touchdown and 13 tackles for loss. He also made 11 tackles against state champion Wyoming Area.

Bailey Hadzinikolov, Muncy

As good as Hadzinikolov was on the field, it might have been when he was off the field which really showcased his value. The junior missed the state quarterfinal against Lackwanna Trail with an injury and the Indians sorely missed him with the Lions running right at where he normally was. Hadzinikolov developed into one of Muncy’s most valuable players and made 123 tackles, averaging nearly 10 per game. The junior helps set a physical tone and made 10 or more tackles in 10 consecutive games at one point. He forced two fumbles and helped slow the running game in consecutive road playoff wins at Sayre and Canton.

Brett Harvey,

North Penn-Mansfield

The senior may have been North Penn-Mansfield’s defensive MVP last season, helping a young defense jell throughout the season. Harvey made a team-high 111 tackles and averaged 9.3 per game. As the season went on, Harvey became more dangerous and he topped 10 tackles in five straight weeks during the second half. A player who built on what Garrett David did in 2018, Harvey made 10 solo tackles in consecutive weeks against nine-win Canton and Wellsboro, while adding two sacks.

Joeb

Schurer, Loyalsock

A quality team leader, Schurer flourished last season and was part of a defense which grew stingier throughout the season. Like Bennett, Schurer moves well and is strong whether attacking the run or defending the pass. He made 110 tackles, including 71 solos, and made a career-high 18 tackles against perennial District 11 power North Schuylkill. Schurer intercepted three passes, finished second on the team in tackles and helped Loyalsock surrender just 13 points in consecutive playoff wins.

Defensive backs

Grant Bachman,

South Williamsport

Opposing quarterbacks grew leary of Bachman last season with the first-time starter intercepting six passes. Bachman finished the regular season tied for the area lead in interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. He also had a key end zone interception in a Week 4 win against District 4 Class A champion Muncy. Bachman intercepted passes in five different games and also made 27 tackles.

Darryn Callahan, Wellsboro

An emerging shutdown cornerback, Callahan often blanketed receivers last season and made passing against Wellsboro a dicey proposition. A junior who also could become the team’s featured ball-carrier, Callahan intercepted three passes and returned two for touchdowns. He added four pass breakups, recovered a fumble and played a major role in Wellsboro holding seven teams to 14 or fewer points.

Isaac Keane, Wellsboro

A three-year starting quarterback, Keane also helps quarterback the secondary and is a three-year starting safety. Keane has outstanding instincts, intercepting eight passes the last two seasons and returning three for scores. Keane provides Wellsboro a good security blanket defensively and also threw for 1,027 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago.

Dylan Moll, Montoursville

Like Anderson, Moll is Montoursville’s Swiss Army knife player who makes an impact wherever he is used. A four-year starter, Moll has been a fixture among one of the district’s top secondaries the past two seasons. The senior cornerback intercepted three passes last season and also forced a fumble. He is electric with the ball in his hands and Moll has done damage throughout his scholastic career defensively, as a ball-carrier, as a receiver and on special teams.

Punter

Owen Anderson,

Jersey Shore

In addition to everything else he does, Anderson also provides Jersey Shore with a special teams weapon. A defense’s best friend, Anderson averaged 40.1 yards per punt last season. He also consistently forced offenses to navigate long fields, placing 12 punts inside the 20-yard line.

Second team

QB-Colton Litzelman, NP-Mansfield; RB-Kaide Drick, Montgomery; RB-Davion Hill, Loyalsock; RB-Gage Sutliff, Bucktail; OL-Charles Crews, Williamsport; OL-Hunter Hanna, Montoursville; Isaac Harris, Muncy; OL-Aspen Stahl-Emig, Loyalsock; OL-Eddie Woodring, Jersey Shore; Ath-Dylan Moll, Montoursville; DL-Avery Campbell, Williamsport; DL-Aeden Holler, Loyalsock; DL-Korie Mayer, Loyalsock; DL-Owen Ordonez, Lewisburg; LB-Devon Deem, Montgomery; LB-Lane Lusk, South Williamsport; LB-Gabe Packer, Jersey Shore; LB-Zach Pick, Bucktail; LB-CJ Signor, Montoursville; DB-Bryan Bogaczyk, NP-Mansfield; DB-Cooper Kitchen, Canton; DB-Nathan Michael, Warrior Run; DB-Dillon Young, Montoursville

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