Now that Benjamin Jackson is no longer butchering defenses in the Class A Tri-County South Conference, you can hear the exhales of relief from the other coaches in the conference.
That’s exactly what Brian Hanson was hoping they would do.
The West Greene football coach is ready to unleash Corey Wise on conference opponents and that won’t be much fun for those defenses. Wise, at 6-0 and 200 pounds, is a little smaller than the 6-2 and 220-pound Jackson, who will attend the United States Military Academy at West Point and play for Army. But Wise is every bit a snarling dog when it comes to football.
“He’s going to be our bellcow,” said Hanson. “Corey was our tight end last year but when we went to a three-back set for the wishbone, he joined Ben and KolinWalker in the backfield.”
Jackson had the type of season players only dream of in the WPIAL. He gained 3,076 yards and scored 47 touchdowns as a senior, both WPIAL records. His four-year total of 7,102 yards is good enough for third place in WPIAL history, behind only Russell Shell of Hopewell and Mike Vernillo of Fort Cherry.
There were games when Jackson had as many carries as touchdowns and it was not unusual to see West Greene with a one-play, 67-yard drive, thanks to Jackson. Wise made the most of his carries, gaining 194 yards on just 14 carries for an average of 13.7 yards a carry. That was second-best on the team next to you know who, who averaged 15.3 per carry.
“If we’re talking Ben or Kolin Walker, our kids took reps behind them or lined up on defense against them every day, trying to play against the best kid in the league, So they know what greatness looks like,” Hanson said. “That’s the big benefit for those guys.”
Hanson is aware that players such as Jackson come along rarely but he does have certain expectations.
“If you are a straight-A student, then you have to be a straight-A student,” he said. “You have to live up to your potential. I told Corey that he has more than enough ability to be one of the best backs in the WPIAL. He has good size, good balance, good power and good vision. Focus on being a dominant football player and the numbers will follow.”
Wes Whipkey (6-1, 195) will settle in at quarterback. Whipkey played there last year. The 6-1, 195-pounder was switched to tight end, an area of need. Along the line, three starters return in junior guards Owen Hughes (6-4, 270), and Tristan White (6-2, 290). Casey Miller (6-3, 255) is back at tackle.
“When I took the West Greene job last year, I saw the underclassmen, a group of kids who are going to be really big kids,” Hanson said. “We’re never going to be confused with Clairton in the sense that they can run and move. We have to control the line of scrimmage. We threw them into the fire last year and they responded.”
The final Jackson, Brian or B.J., (5-9, 240) will start at center.
‘’He’s like his brother, very coachable,” said Hanson. “He’ll take some lumps here and there but he loves to be coached and he loves to make improvements.”
On defense, it begins with Wise, who moves from outside to middle linebacker.
“He’s our calling card, just like on offense,” said Hanson.
The defensive line will tout Miller, Hughes and White but the strength of this group might just be the secondary. The Pioneers return three starters: Nathan Orndorf, a cornerback, Whipkey at safety and Brayden Mooney at cornerback. Freshman Colin Brady is being looked at as something special and could start at cornerback.
Hanson believes the conference will be tough again this year, especially with the drop of Carmichaels to Class A.
“We scrimmaged them last year and we had five studs,” said Hanson. “So it was hard to tell. It’s a good rivalry for us.”
Damani Stafford will step in at quarterback for California this year and Jonathan Wolfe gives the Jefferson-Morgan running attack some punch,
“The league is going to be pretty balanced,” said Hanson. “There are a lot of unknowns.”