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Dr. Masse’s preseason football rankings for high school football

The moment has finally arrived. After months of uncertainty and a two-week delay, high school football is back.

Unfortunately, uncertainty remains and nothing is guaranteed. That is why now, more than ever, players must savor these moments, these opportunities. High school goes by in a flash and with all the chaos COVID-19 has brought, players must play every game like it is their last and collect as many lasting memories as they can.

Remember, too, we all play a role in trying to help these athletes live their scholastic dreams. Be safe and responsible wherever you go. Let’s all follow the safety protocols at home, school, on the road and wherever our journeys take us. Doing so could help these athletes enjoy their seasons to the fullest.

Here is hoping we can re-establish a sense of normalcy and that all high school teams can have safe, success and complete seasons this fall.

Dr. Masse’s Preseason Top Five

(last year’s record in parentheses)

1. Montoursville (12-2): Yes, Montoursville graduated some great players, but the two-time defending District 4 Class AAA champions are loaded again and are eager to try and become the first District 4 team not named Southern Columbia to three-peat as district champions since 2009. The big question is how Montoursville replaces four excellent starters up front, but there are several promising candidates and if that unit jells, look out. Running back Rocco Pulizzi is one of the district’s best, Dylan Moll and Dillon Young both are dynamic receivers, C.J. Signor is a standout fullback and first-time starting quarterback Maddix Dalena has a rocket for a right arm. Keep an eye on young players like James Batkowski and Marco Pulizzi as well as tight end Dylan Bennett. Speaking of Bennet, the state finalist wrestler is an all-state caliber linebacker who anchors what could be another stingy defense. The secondary is outstanding and defensive end Zach Schmalhofer was among the district’s sack leaders a year ago.

2. Jersey Shore (11-4): Like Montoursville, the Bulldogs are coming off a tremendous season and must replace multiple all-staters. Like Montoursville, Jersey Shore remains strong and has the same lofty expectations of a year ago when it made history by repeating as District 4 Class AAAA champions and reaching the state semifinals. Four starters are back along the offensive line and five players received extended playing time up front. Cayden Hess led District 4 with 75 catches last year and is only a junior. The big loss is at quarterback after 4A Player of the Year Tanner Lorson graduated, but Jersey Shore has some enticing options in Branden Wheary, Owen Anderson and Brady Jordan. If Jersey Shore goes with Wheary, Anderson will return at wide receiver after catching 52 passes last year. The Bulldogs are tough up front defensively with players like Karter Peacock, Dalton Dugan, Colin Samar and Lee Springman leading the way. Cam Allison is an outstanding safety and also could fuel the running game while Gabe Packer is among the area’s premier linebackers.

3. Williamsport (3-8): While the Millionaires experienced growing pains and endured a rash of costly injuries, they likely learned a lot and have a lot of talent and experience returning this season. Williamsport is headed in the right direction and its loaded junior class could help spark a resurgence after last year ended with a seven-game losing streak. The defense has the potential to be one of the area’s best with the line especially strong. Defensive end Nassir Jones has all-state potential and Avery Campbell will be tough on the other end with Charles Crews and Connor Adkins providing muscle inside. Lajear Whaley could be a star in the making at linebacker and the secondary has a good blend of athletic ability and veteran leadership. Jones and Keith Freeman are three-year offensive starters and Four starters are back along the offensive line. Williamsport started 3-1 last year before injuries ravaged it. They have already lost quarterback Dallas Griess to a broken collar bone, but if the Millionaires can stay healthy from here and overcome that loss, they may emerge as a district title contender.

4. Loyalsock (9-4): Some may have written off Loyalsock a year ago when it was replacing four Division I starters, but it continued its winning ways and reached the District 4 Class AAA final. The Lancers have the ingredients to build off that surge, which included a six-game winning streak entering the championship, and are deeper at nearly every position than in any of coach Justin Van Fleet’s nine seasons. Quarterback Chase Cavanaugh is one of the area’s best and is pursuing a third straight 1,000-yard season while also being outstanding on the run. While 1,000-yard running back Davion Hill will start the season on the sidelines with an injury, Korie Mayer is a strong runner who could flourish behind an offensive line that fuses experience, strength, depth and young talent. Look for Mayer and linebacker Joeb Schurer to spark a physical defense which was playing its best football at the most important time last season. Freshman Tyler Gee is a potential game-changer on both sides of the ball and Loyalsock again looks like it could be among the district’s heavyweights.

5. Muncy (9-5): When last year started, it appeared Muncy’s strength was in its future with it starting a lot of first-time underclassmen. Instead, the Indians soared throughout the second half, captured a second straight District 4 Class A championship and reached the state quarterfinals for the first time. Many of those players are back and Muncy is eager to try keep elevating its program as it pursues a fourth district title in five seasons. The offensive line will be fairly young, but if that unit comes together, Muncy could be especially potent. Nearly all the skill players are back, including all-state running back Ethan Gush and 1,000-yard quarterback Branson Eyer. Four returnees ran for more than 400 yards last year and Muncy receives an added boost with running back Ty Nixon returning from an injury that sidelined him for all of 2019. Gush and fellow linebacker Bailey Hadzinikolov form an outstanding duo and several starters are back from a defense which

The Best of the Rest

6. Lewisburg (5-6): Lewisburg welcomes back dynamic all-state running back Max Moyers after he tore his ACL in Week 6 last season. He is one of three potentially game-changing weapons in the Lewisburg backfield. Moyers topped 2,000 yards in 2018, Ethan Dominick led the team in rushing last year and sophomore Cam Michaels appears ready to burst onto the scene. Dominick is moving to quarterback to operate the team’s new Triple Option offense. Players like Harry Murphy and Owen Ordonez give the defense a strong foundation to build upon as well.

7. North Penn-Mansfield (5-7): Although it had no voluntary workouts this summer and did not start practicing until nearly September, North Penn-Mansfield has experience on its side. The Panthers return most of their starters from a team that reached the District 4 Class AA semifinals for a second straight season. Quarterback Colton Litzelman topped 1,800 yards last season and has a strong set of receivers at his disposal as well as a strong offensive line in front of him. Linebacker Brett Harvey ignites the defense and two-way starting linemen Logyn Choplosky blossomed into one of the NTL’s premier players last fall.

8. Canton (9-3): The Warriors are hoping the knee injury two-time all-state selection Timmy Ward suffered last Saturday is not too serious. Ward courageously beat cancer and is back for his senior year. Ben Knapp is another two-time all-stater at tight end and Hayden Ward and Riley Parker are sophomores who could burst onto the scholastic scene. The Warriors are young in a lot of areas, but there are a lot of exciting underclassmen eager to shine as they seek the program’s first district championship since 1990.

9. South Williamsport (5-6): The Mounties have a nice mix of veteran leaders and promising youth. Traditionally strong up front, the line has some strong running backs to pave the way for in Zack Miller, Lane Lusk and Clayton Swarthout. Quarterback Landon Lorson played well as a first-time starter last season and junior Grant Bachman, as well as Cam Greenaway, could be exciting wide receivers. The Mounties feature a strong linebacking unit and both Jake Casella and Sam Hostrander played well up front on both sides of the ball last year. Ryan Rischoff and Lucas Long also will be factors up front as South tries reaching districts for a ninth straight season.

10. Montgomery (4-7): A team that could significantly climb these rankings throughout the season, Montgomery returns an excellent core from a young team which made big strides a year ago. The Red Raiders return the majority of their starters on both sides of the ball and have the potential to feature one of the area’s most entertaining offenses. Quarterback Logan Almeida topped 1,000 yards in his first year of high school football and has a bevy of throwing options. Kaide Drick was 34 yards from reaching 1,000 last fall and could form a potentially explosive backfield along with Colby Springman. Montgomery returns most of its linemen on both sides of the ball, Devon Deem and Evan Strausbaugh made 204 tackles last season and cornerback Logan Pick anchors a strong secondary.

11. Wellsboro (9-2): This is the lowest Wellsboro has been ranked in a season since 2012, but that does not mean its fantastic seven-year run is over. It simply means the Green Hornets are a lot younger than in recent years and have more question marks than usual. Still, it would be foolish to dismiss a program which has won at least eight games in each of the past seven seasons. Three-year starting quarterback Isaac Keane went over 1,000 yards last season and fellow junior Darryn Callahan could be poised for a breakout season at running back.

12. Warrior Run (7-5): Speaking of young teams, Warrior Run might be the area’s youngest in terms of experience. The Defenders return few starters from last year’s squad which reached the District 4 Class AAA semifinals and won the program’s first-ever playoff game. Still, this program has come a long way during Chris Long’s tenure and the culture has started changing. Players like Logan Smedley and Nathan Michael will help spark Warrior Run on both sides of the ball and several first-time starters will be eager to prove that last year was not just a one-year wonder.

13. Central Mountain (1-9): The Wildcats are trying to change their culture as well and are excited about the opportunity this season. Peyton Johnson is one of the area’s top wide receivers and first-year starting quarterback Brett Gerlach has shown a lot of potential. Ryan Pentz led the team in rushing and is back as is fullback/linebacker Micah Walizer following a successful 2019 campaign. Most importantly, Central Mountain returns its entire starting offensive line.

14. Hughesville (1-9): Hughesville also returns most of its starting offensive line which provides it a huge asset entering the season. Colton Yocum, Mikey Dylina and Dylon Pequignot are among the exciting playmakers Hughesville features. The Spartans also will be bolstered by a quality group of incoming freshmen. The offense made strides last season, but the defense struggled and former head coach Dan Tucker has returned as defensive coordinator to help turn that unit around. Coach Adam Gehr said he has been impressed by his team’s work ethic and unity so the Spartans could be poised to take a nice step forward.

15. Cowanesque Valley (3-7): The Indians took such a step last year and matched the program’s highest win total since football was reinstated in 2004. The good news for CV is that a good group of starters is back from that team. Running back Elliott Good finished among the area’s top 10 leading rushers a year ago and Tanyan Brown caught 22 passes.

16. Bucktail (2-7): The state’s smallest school which does not co-op for football also has a quality nucleus back from last fall. Running back/linebacker Gage Sutliff topped 1,300 yards and 100 tackles and linebacker Zach Pick earned all-state honors after leading the team in tackles. Linemen like Paul Risley and Ashton Intallura are coming off quality seasons and the Bucks could be dangerous.

17. Milton (0-10): Featuring one of the area’s youngest teams, Milton is hoping to lay the foundation for a bright future and build some momentum by recording a few wins. Quarterback Ethan Rowe, running back Ashton Canelo and wide receiver Xavier Minium all played well last year and those three provide Milton some strong building blocks.

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