RICHLAND TOWNSHIP — Two-time All-Gazette offensive player of the year and former Penns Manor standout Danny Ferens embraces the notion that he could line up at quarterback for the last time in the 43rd installment of the Ken Lantzy Finest 40 All-Star Game.
Arguably the most dominant offensive player in area history, Ferens, the North squad’s starting quarterback, announced in late March that he will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, where he’ll likely try his hand at receiver for the Quakers in the Ivy League.
Fellow former Penns Manor four-year starter and offensive lineman Kasey Jewart also welcomes the idea of change. While he experienced an extraordinarily successful high school career, Jewart feels comfortable with the idea that Friday night’s game at Johnstown High School’s Trojan Stadium will represent his last hurrah on a gridiron.
Unlike Ferens — but akin to several of his North squad teammates — Jewart won’t give collegiate football a shot. Instead, the four-time All-Gazette selection, who was named the offensive lineman of the year in 2011, will attend Triangle Tech in the fall.
“It’s going to be cool being behind the center for one last time,” Ferens said after his team’s last practice Wednesday at Richland High School. “I might (play quarterback) in the wildcat (formation) or something like that (at Penn). They talked about that on my visit, so it might not be the last time, but I’m definitely preparing like it is.”
“It is bittersweet,” Jewart added. “It’s going to be great to block for him (Ferens) one last time. We’ve gone from being freshmen to the last game of my career, and his last high school game, and that’s kind of cool. … But obviously, you have to move on at some point. There’s a lot more to life than just football.”
Ferens, who terrorized Heritage Conference defenders for four years — piling up area career records of 5,563 rushing yards and 7,813 total yards — set a new standard at Penns Manor in 2011 when he steered the Comets to a District 6 Class A title and a berth in the state semifinals.
Ferens admitted that he’s eager to play one last time in front of a crowd of family and friends.
“It’s not my last game. I’m going off to Penn, but a lot of people aren’t ever going to make a trip to see me. They just can’t,” Ferens said. “This is going to be the last time a lot of people I know get to see me play, so I’m just going to go out there like it’s a Penns Manor game and try my hardest on every play to win.”
Like Jewart, former Northern Cambria three-sport standout Adam Polites made the decision to give up football after high school. Although he received several offers to play basketball and football at Division II and III schools, Polites chose to attend Mount Aloysius, where he’ll play baseball next year.
“I got recruited for all three sports at a couple schools, so that was really tough,” Polites, the 2013 All-Gazette boys’ basketball player of the year, said. “But I decided I wanted to go play baseball and study as much as I can. I’m just really excited to be here for one last game. It’s just awesome being out here, having Danny Ferens throw me the ball around. It’s just been so much fun.”
Another player bound for the Ivy League, Northern Cambria’s Alex Atkins, who will play football for Brown in the fall, admitted he expects the spike in competition to serve as a preface to life in the collegiate ranks.
“It’s like a good first step to the introduction of college football,” Atkins, the 2012 All-Gazette defensive player of the year, said. “There’s a lot of good athletes here, and everyone’s trying to compete with each other. We’re all just trying to get better to get ready for the game.”
Blairsville offensive coordinator Rick Artley played in the Lantzy game in 1992 before moving on to play at Slippery Rock University. Artley offered his sentiments on the importance of the game and the lure of playing with fellow graduated all-stars from Districts 5 and 6.
“It’s definitely more enjoyable when you win,” Artley said. “This is my fourth year coaching. We won two of those years, and it was a big difference the year we won, there’s no doubt. But I think it’s enjoyable every year for these guys. Honestly, all through high school, and at Slippery Rock, I never had a more enjoyable week than the week I played in this game..”
Other Heritage Conference players on the North squad are Blairsville’s Alex Tripodis; Homer-Center’s Levi McCracken and Jared Nealey; Marion Center’s Brodey Thompson; Northern Cambria’s Nate Zachesky; and Purchase Line’s Josh Huey.
The South squad includes Ligonier Valley’s Ryan Torrance, Hayes Salancy and Michah Tennant; Saltsburg’s Mason Kuntz and Bryce Zimmerman; and United’s Ben Mountan.