It’s the youngest collection of standouts in recent memory.
A year ago, 26 seniors were named to the Big 30 All-Star Football Team, a standard number given that it’s typically the oldest and most experienced players who are good enough to crack this esteemed roster.
This year, that number is 20.
Yes, one-third of the 2019 unit is comprised of underclassmen, all juniors. That means that not only did younger players have a big role in a bounce-bounce year for the Big 30, but 10 of them will be back to anchor their teams in 2020, already making for a promising outlook for area football.
That doesn’t mean the 52nd addition of the Big 30’s All-Star Team is any less talented, however. Quite the contrary.
This year’s group includes seven selections who earned league Player of the Year or Most Valuable Player honors: Jayden Lassiter (Portville, Section 6 Class C South, Offensive POY), Logan Frank (Franklinville/Ellicottville, Section 6 Class D, Co-Offensive POY), Niklas Logel (F/E, Class D, Co-Defensive POY), Jake Alcorn (District 9 Large School, Co-Offensive MVP), Travis Gleason (Coudersport, D-9 Small School North, Co-Offensive MVP), Hayden Keck (D-9 Small School North, Co-Offensive MVP) and Tra’e Hill (Pioneer, Section 6 Class B-1, Offensive MVP).
It also consists of a pair of league linemen of the year -- Ridgway’s Gabe Watts (D-9 Large School Defensive LOY) and Coudersport’s Cale Ayers (Small School North Offensive LOY) -- and a Section 6 Trench Trophy finalist: F/E’s Zach Wolfer.
Of course, in most years, the area’s top talent hails from the best teams … and this fall was no different.
Ridgway, Pioneer, F/E and Olean accounted for 17 of the 30 choices, one of the highest percentages among only four schools of late. Those programs went a combined 31-9 and all reached at least the playoff semifinals of their respective section or district, with Ridgway capturing a fourth-straight D-9 title.
As such the Elkers, who finished 11-2 and advanced to the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals, were the only Big 30 team to have all five of their nominations named to the team, while the Panthers, Titans and Huskies each had four.
Aside from Watts, Ridgway had Paul Gresco (quarterback), Greg Simon (offensive line), Robert Briggs (linebacker) and Jake Wickett (defensive back) chosen. Wickett is one of only two repeat All-Big 30 selections, alongside Portville’s Lassiter. It’s the fourth-straight year that the Elkers had at least four players earn all-star honors.
In addition to Frank, Wolfer and Logel, Jordan Peplinski (offensive line) was cited from the Titans, who went unscathed before falling to Clymer/Sherman/Panama in the Class D championship contest. It was the fifth time in six years since its merger that F/E, one of the area’s most successful programs in that time, had at least four players named to the All-Star team.
Chosen from Olean, which reached the Class B semifinals, were Gavin Kulp (wide receiver), Nick Pantuso (running back), AJ Adotta (defensive line) and Nick Fratercangelo (linebacker). It marked only the second time since 2002 that the Huskies had more than three players earn all-star status (2016 being the other).
Pioneer, which has advanced to the ‘B’ semis in each of the last two campaigns, made it four selections for a second-straight year with the choices of Hill, Denton Tilley (defensive end), Aaron Doyle (offensive line) and Trevor Harrington (offensive line).
After dominating its league awards — it claimed six of the seven top Small School North honors — Coudersport had three players cited by the Big 30: Keck, Gleason and Ayers. St. Marys (Christian Coudriet, Bryce Walker and Sean Lathrop) also had three selections in a bounce-back year under coach Chris Dworek.
Portville (Lassiter, Roland Thompson) and Kane (Alcorn, Teddy Race) each had two choices while Smethport (Braedon Johnson), Elk County Catholic (Sam Kaul) and even 1-8 Bradford (Derek Sunafrank) all had one player make the roster.
In total, 11 of the Big 30’s 22 football-playing schools were represented, two fewer than last year despite a more successful fall from top to bottom, while 16 players were chosen from Pennsylvania and 14 from New York.
Bolivar-Richburg, despite reaching the Section 5 Class D semifinals and finishing with a winning record (5-4) and Randolph, which went 4-4 and advanced to the Section 6 Class D semis, did not have an all-star.