Fox Chapel looks forward to ’18 season with revamped roster
With only two starters back on defense and one on offense, one might think the Fox Chapel football team is in store for a down year.
But coach Tom Loughran doesn’t see it that way.
He knows that while a lot of talent moved on, including the 1-2 punch of quarterback Nick Gizzo and running back Micah Morris, there are a number of players who are ready to step up.
“Every year, you lose guys. That’s the nature of high school football,” Loughran said. “If it isn’t a quarterback and a tailback, it would be a lineman and a wide receiver. We go into every year understanding we have to replace some very talented seniors.
“There are a lot of opportunities and spots to be earned, and we’ve stressed to the guys to take full advantage of that. The guys did a great job with the offseason program and worked hard to get better physically, mentally and in all other aspects of what we’re trying to do.”
Gizzo was a dual threat at quarterback who accounted for 2,174 yards (896 passing and 1,278 rushing) and 24 touchdowns for the Foxes, who finished 6-5 overall and fell to WPIAL finalist Penn-Trafford, 28-21, in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
Junior Shane Susnak takes over under center for Fox Chapel.
“Nick was a special kind of athlete as a runner,” Loughran said. “Shane might not be the runner that Nick was, but he sure is capable. He’s really showing his skill as a passer.”
Morris carried the ball 196 times last year for 1,322 yards and 14 touchdowns. He had a season-best five touchdowns against Hampton.
Loughran said several candidates have competed for the featured running back spot, including seniors TJ Johnston and Caleb Holt and junior Sam Brown.
Johnston, who tied for fourth on the team in tackles (55) from his outside linebacker spot last year, is one of the two defensive starters returning. He added three sacks over eight games.
“We could also use TJ as a tight end,” Loughran said. “He could even be a wildcat quarterback for us. He’s a versatile young man in terms of his skill set.”
The other starter returning is senior defensive back Korey Simmons. He ranked third on the team with 59 tackles and produced an interception and 11 passes defensed.
“We definitely have a good chance to make it back to the playoffs,” Simmons said. “I think the guys stepping in to those starting spots will do fine. I’ve seen what they can do for a long time. They’ve been waiting for their chance.”
Senior wideout Cole Waxter is the lone returning starter on offense. He hauled in a team-best 23 passes for 406 yards (17.7 avg.) and three touchdowns.
“We are looking forward to him being the leader of our receiving corps this season,” Loughran said.
“We expect Korey to help us out at receiver, too.”
The entire offensive line graduated, and several were two- or three-year starters. Loughran said the offseason has been key to getting the starting linemen on the same page.
Senior Tyler Kelly and junior Ryan Billings played in reserve roles last year, and senior Ethan Self and junior Eddie Farrell hope to make an impact in 2018.
“We’ll have to see how everything shakes out as to who gets playing time,” Loughran said.
Loughran said senior Bryce Zacharias, who played running back last year, could move to tight end, and junior wideouts Warner Macklin, Alex Wecht and Joey D’cunha also hope to be strong contributors.
Defensively, Loughran said Waxter (defensive back), Zacharias (linebacker), Billings (defensive line), Farrell (defensive line/linebacker), Brown (linebacker), Wecht (defensive back) and sophomore Tom Golembiewski (defensive line) are among those hoping to be in the mix.
Everyone is chasing defending Class 5A champion Gateway. The class expanded in the offseason from 18 to 24 teams, from two to three conferences and from a playoff field of eight to 16.
The WPIAL Class 5A title game is set for the weekend of Nov. 24 at Norwin.
The Foxes will be in the Northern Conference with 5A holdovers Armstrong, Hampton, Kiski Area and North Hills, as well as Mars (up from 4A), Penn Hills (down from 6A) and Shaler (down from 6A).
“It will be a battle every week,” Simmons said. “We can’t afford to lose any games that we shouldn’t. We need every game we can to get back to the playoffs.”
Coach: Tom Loughran
2017 record: 6-5, 5-3
All-time record: 213-336-8
Date, Opponent, Time
8.24, at Baldwin, 7 p.m.
8.31, North Hills*, 7 p.m.
9.7, Penn Hills*, 7 p.m.
9.14, at Kiski Area*, 7 p.m.
9.21, Hampton*, 7 p.m.
9.28, Upper St. Clair, 7 p.m.
10.5, at Connellsville, 7 p.m.
10.12, Mars*, 7 p.m.
10.19, at Armstrong*, 7 p.m.
10.26, at Shaler*, 7 p.m.
*Class 5A Northern Conference game
Passing: Nick Gizzo*
63-133, 896 yards, 5 TDs
Rushing: Micah Morris*
196-1,322 yards, 14 TDs
Receiving: Cole Waxter
23-406 yards, 3 TDs