HOOVER, Ala. - The last two Class AAA teams from Pennsylvania to be ranked in the RivalsHigh 100 are in action at the National Select 7-on-7 and both enter the event with the same goal: Get ready for an ultra competitive path to a state final.
Jefferson Hills (Pa.) Thomas Jefferson ended the 2008 season ranked No. 36; Allentown (Pa.) Central Catholic ended the 2010 season No. 91 and figures to start the 2010 season inside the rankings when they are released beginning July 25.
The pair could eventually meet in the state finals.
"I didn't even know until about a week ago that they were coming," Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said. "This event has been a great experience for us and I figure it will be for them too."
Allentown Central Catholic hopes so.
"We are looking to compete and get ready for our season," head coach Harold Fairclough said. "We have had a target on our back the last two seasons and we know we have to be ready if we want to repeat our success."
The path to the state title for both teams could go through the other.
That is if either gets there.
"[Warminster (Pa.)] Archbishop Wood is awfully good," Cherpak said of the path that Allentown Central Catholic has to take. "For us, [McKees Rocks (Pa.)] Montour has to be the favorite."
For Allentown Central Catholic, the defending state champion, the team is adjusting to possibly playing the role of hunter rather than the hunted.
"We lost a little bit on the offensive line," quarterback Brendan Nosovitch said. "But we have some really good skill players and we know what is expected of us."
Cherpak thinks his team, once the power in the class, can flourish now that it is flying slightly under the radar.
"Montour has the pressure now," he said. "Even [Monaca (Pa.)] Central Valley is getting talked about more and more after last year."
Where both teams feel they can separate themselves is with the regular season schedule.
"We open with [Pittsburgh (Pa.)] Woodland Hills," Cherpak said. "We have a schedule that gets us ready for the playoffs and I think that will help us this year."
Allentown Central Catholic players know that their road is rough.
"We play in a Quad A conference in the regular season," wide receiver Kevin Gulyas said. "We like the challenge and we like to be challenged. We have a new team from last year but we work every day to be better."
With four-star quarterback Brendan Nosovitch at the helm, the Vikings seem to be in prime position.
"I sleep well at night knowing he is back there throwing the ball," Fairclough said.
Learning from a loss
Thomas Jefferson ended its season with an 11-2 record and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
It bookended its season with losses, but the season-opening 43-7 loss to Cocoa (Fla.) High was just what the doctor ordered.
"They kicked our (butt)," head coach Bill Cherpak said. "But I will tell you it gave us a taste of what it took to be successful. We learned a lot about ourselves."
The biggest thing Cherpak took from the event was finding which players were going to stay and fight and which were going to tuck their tails.
"We saw kids give up and it made us mad," he said. "But we also saw some kids who fought and played until the last play. Both of those groups were kids we needed to see."
It has been a rarity when a Cherpak coached team has been on that lopsided of a scoreboard.
"We didn't like it," he said. "But you learn about yourself in those situations and we hope that the loss sticks with us."
The support of the community was also raised with the defeat.
"We had so many people come out and support us after, it was great to see," Cherpak said. "But I don't want them to have to pick us up like that again."
Nosovitch leading the way
Nosovitch is not just the on-field leader for Allentown Central Catholic. He is also helping his teammates through the recruiting process.
"I just tell them don't rush it and take your time," he said.
Nosovitch has already committed to play college ball for South Carolina, a decision he is glad is passed.
"I wanted to commit before the season," he said. "Being able to have that taken care of is great and now I can focus on what I need to get done during the season."