A number of former Pittsburgh-area high school athletes are set to begin the 2011 football season in Happy Valley, including a starting free safety and very promising linebacker.
Western Pennsylvania, once a hotbed for college football talent, has dropped off in its talent production over the past few years. Sure, there are still highly-rated players that come out of our great area (see Terrelle Pryor), but the recruiting services' top lists consist mostly of southern- and western-state high school athletes. That makes it tougher for the area's most talented prospects to break through.
Penn State is set to open camp on August 4, and as you'd expect, PSU continues to mine Western Pennsylvania for talent. So even if you don't root for the Nittany Lions this year, keep an eye on these guys. You never know who might turn into the next Dan Marino or Tony Dorsett.
Nick Sukay (Sr.), S, Greensburg Central Catholic. Sukay has battled injuries during his career at Penn State, but is entering his final season at Penn State with high hopes. The defensive backfield should be one of the strengths for Penn State, and Sukay figures to play a prominent role at the free safety position.
Michael Yancich (Jr.), TE/LB, Trinity. Yancich has struggled to see the field in his three years at Penn State. He was recruited as a linebacker out of Trinity, but has since moved around and has landed at the tight end spot heading into 2011. And with a string of injuries at the tight end position, Yancich has a chance to see some quality playing time this year.
Mike Farrell (Jr.), OL, Shady Side Academy. With a crowded offensive line corps around him, Farrell has seen action in 10 games so far, including a start at right tackle against Indiana in 2010. He will enter 2011 camp as the probable backup at right tackle, and given recent inconsistent play from the line, could see increased action in 2011.
Adam Gress (So.), OL, West Mifflin. On the other side of the line from Farrell, Adam Gress appears to be the backup for left tackle Quinn Barham, though there are other talented tackles pushing them both. Gress should get some quality reps this year, and rightfully so - Barham graduates this year and the Nittany Lions will be looking for a new left tackle in 2012.
P.J. Byers (So.), FB, Penn Trafford. Byers is the only player on this list not on scholarship, but deserves special mention. He graduated Penn Trafford in 2003, is currently on active military duty, and once had dreams of being a Navy SEAL (unfortunately, his vision isn't up to SEAL standards). He is behind some quality fullbacks on the depth chart, but look for him to see playing time on special teams this year.
The remaining scholarship players from the Pittsburgh area all used their redshirts in 2010. Among them, the player with the best chance to see the field is linebacker Mike Hull. The Canon-McMillan alum came to Penn State in the Class of 2010 as a highly-recruited middle linebacker, and he looks to continue the Linebacker U. tradition at Penn State. The linebacking crew should be great this year in Happy Valley, but Hull appears to be too good of a player to keep off the field for long.
Penn State has 17 former Pittsburgh-area players, including these 10 scholarship players, entering camp in 2011. With expectations high once again, some of these players will have to be productive cogs in the machine that hopes to bring a conference championship home.