Pine-Richland head football coach Eric Kasperowicz feels pretty good these days and for good reasons.
His football team is considered the one of the best in the state, if not the favorite to win the Pennsylvania Class 6A state championship.
The Rams return 18 players that either started or played a significant amount in last year’s season opener against Lakewood St. Edward (Ohio), which was televised nationally on ESPN.
Pine-Richland checked in at No. 48 in the country on MaxPreps’ Preseason Top 100 high school football teams in late July and opens the season on national television once again. The Rams host Ohio power Wayne Aug. 27 as part of the GEICO ESPN High School Football Kickoff weekend.
Sprinkle in a few key transfers, and the hype train around the Pine-Richland football team is rocketing to new levels each passing day.
“We’ve always had high expectations here at Pine-Richland since I’ve been here,” Kasperowicz said. “We’ve got a very senior laden group, and I think they handled everything like they should so far, and that’s just taking it day by day.”
It all starts with the big-arm quarterback, senior Phil Jurkovec, who is committed to playing for Notre Dame next year. Rivals ranks Jurkovec as the fifth-best dual-threat quarterback in the 2018 class, and he is widely considered the next great arm from Western Pennsylvania, invoking memories of Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, and Dan Marino to name a few.
The 6-foot-6 signal caller was limited to six games last year due to a thumb injury suffered against Central Catholic, but still passed for 1,673 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a sophomore, he threw for more than 2,500 yards and rushed for another 1,200.
Physically, Jurkovec said he feels great, and he spent the summer working on his release point. Entering his final season at Pine-Richland, the quarterback only has one goal.
“I just want to win,” Jurkovec stressed. “I don’t care much about the stats. I just want to get things done on the field and win.”
Kenny White, who transferred in from West Allegheny in March, is an elite two-way athlete garnering Division I interest. He rushed for more than 1,300 yards and scored 20 touchdowns last year while leading the Indians to the WPIAL Class 5A championship.
“We were going to be good with or without Kenny,” Kasperowicz said. “By Kenny being here, it just adds some awesome depth and awesome versatility. Now it’s an extra weapon we have.”
White will pair with senior running back Jordan Crawford to give the Rams a formidable 1-2 punch in the backfield. Crawford totaled more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage in 2016.
“Two versatile and electric guys with footballs in their hands,” Kasperowicz said. “It’s just figuring out a good, efficient, and fundamentally sound way to get them the football.”
Senior Raymond Falcone returns as one of the top wideouts in the WPIAL. Falcone led all area teams with 65 receptions and 1,391 yards last year. He figures to be Jurkovec’s favorite target and has offers from several Ivy League schools.
The offensive line will be led by the trio of rising juniors Michael Dorundo, Andrew Kristofic and Michael Katic. All three started as sophomores last year and tip the scales at 250 pounds or more.
Kasperowicz made the tough decision in the offseason to abandon his play calling duties and take over the role of defensive coordinator. Under Kasperowicz, the Rams have been an offensive juggernaut but struggled to slow down opponents last year, allowing 29 points per game. In team’s playoff loss to Central Catholic, Pine-Richland surrendered a season-worst 63 points.
“Subconsciously I tried to take care of all three phases of the game,” Kasperowicz admitted. “But I think [the players] naturally expected, ‘Hey the head coach coaches offense so that’s more important,’ where that’s not case.”
Junior linebacker Tyler King, who is drawing interest from Pitt, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and North Carolina, will anchor the defense, and White will solidify a strong secondary.
The defense was bolstered by the recent addition of Thomas Burns, who transferred from Northwestern High School (Fla.) and is the brother of Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Artie Burns. The younger Burns is a three-star defensive back according to 247Sports and was once committed to the University of Miami.
He is the defending Florida 300 meter hurdles state champion and clocked the nation’s fastest time (35.25) in June at the Great Southwest Classic in New Mexico. As they say, the rich get richer.
Pine-Richland will face a stiff opening test in Wayne. The Warriors are no strangers to the spotlight either. The Springfield, Ohio, power is appearing on an ESPN network for the sixth time in school history and claims Houston Texans wide receiver Braxton Miller among its notable alums.
The Warriors feature one of the top wide receivers in the country in L’Christian Smith, who has offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Tennessee, Alabama and Notre Dame among others. Smith is expected to announce his college destination prior to the start of the Wayne and Pine-Richland contest.
“They’ve got two other Division I players so we’ll have our work cut out for us for sure, but we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Kasperowicz said.
Defensive end Alex Reigelsperger is a University of Kentucky commit, and quarterback Rashad McKee threw for 2,660 yards and 27 touchdowns as a sophomore.
“We’re excited to represent the state of Pennsylvania and show them what we got,” Kasperowicz proclaimed.
The rest of the Keystone State is anxious to see what the Rams have, too.