Tom Elling – Pennsylvania Football News
Tom Elling – Pennsylvania Football News (April 23, 2011):
First., can you tell readers how you got started covering PA high school football and what they should expect from your coverage in the upcoming weeks?
I’ve always had a keen interest in sport, especially at the high school level. In the early 90’s at the PIAA wrestling, I brought
up the idea of a state high school football newspaper to my college buddy Rich Vetock.
He loved the idea and we published the first ever state high school newspaper we called Pennsylvania Football News.
In 1999, we decided it would be more expedient to drop the hardcopy version and go entirely on the web. I had earlier developed the nation’s first ever high school wrestling website. We have been going strong. Right now we are gathering the complete schedules for this fall. Our PFN site (www.pafootballnews.com) site attracts millions of viewers from many states. We are eager to get better each year. We have so many contributors that I can’t name them all. But I do appreciate each and every one of them.
What are some of the services you offer readers and coaches and who’s a typical reader of the publication/site?
We provide a weekly scoreboard that includes EVERY high school football game played each weekend. It includes their classification, W-L record, and District.
We also highlight players across the state each week in our Stat Stars pages. Every player who rushes for 200 yards or more, passes for same, received 100 yards or more, etc., we highlight.
We also provide a PFN/Coaches All-State Team for all four classifications (4-teams deep).
What have been some of the most interesting stories you have covered and/or remember on PA high school football?
There are so many but one of the tops was the great Manheim Central vs Pine Richland when Neil Walker (now of the Pirates) played. The game was played in a virtual blizzard and it went into overtime. A blocked extra point won the game for Manheim.
Also an exciting time was when Robbie Gould (now a kicker for the Chicago Bears) kicked the winning FG for the Big 33 to beat Ohio. The snap was high but Ed Hinkel (Erie Prep then Iowa) put it down and Robbie got it through.
Who are some of the elite PA high school football players we should be paying attention to this season?
Probably the top two would be Brendan Nosovitch, QB at PIAA Champion Allentown Central Catholic and Hopewell’s RB Rushel Shell.
Also we expect great things from Upper St Clair’s Dakota Conwell, Luke Hagy (Mt. Lebanon), Josh Stepoli , OL from Greensburg Central Catholic. Woody High’s Mike Caprara (LB), PCC’s Anthony Nixon (RB), and Robert Foster (DB/WR) for Central Valley should have great years.
Do Pitt, PSU and WVU have chances at any of these elite players?
I think the vast majority of these players will be outstanding prospects for all three. We noticed Steve Slaton from Conwell Egan a few years back. He proved to be a great back for WVU and now in the pros. All three could use a QB with the skills Nosovitch has. He may be the most difficult to land.
How does the college recruiting process work – any interesting stories/recruiting techniques you’ve learned of over the years?
The recruiting process has become more of a science with the advancement of technology.
Coaches/parents routinely make highlight DVDs and can ship them off to colleges and universities. But it still boils down to high recommendations from former players and the coaches actually going to watch the player on every down. They look a lot at what the player does when he isn’t directly involved in a play or if he is consistent.
Should college football players get paid – what are your thoughts/opinions on this?
I vacillate on this more than a wishy-washy politician. But I tend to side with not paying the athletes. They do get scholarships, books, etc. So that is something.
I guess my reason for allowing some leeway is for those players who have a family emergency and the school cannot assist him in getting home.
Who have been the most impressive PA high school football players you remember over the past 10 years and what made them so?
Terrell Pryor was electric. No on could get a clean shot on him.
Stevie Breaston wans’t big but he could sure scoot. LaSean McCoy was a dangerous back but the GREAT Pittsburgh Central Catholic defense controlled him in a playoff game at Altoona’s Mansion Park during their run in 2004.
Eugene Jarvis was a jitterbug. Loved to see him carry the ball. In high school. Austin Scott looked like the next Gale Sayers, but he fizzled out in college. Chad Henne was also fun to watch. He was rock solid.. and of course Billy Stull, Tyler Palko and Bruce Gradkowski – all provided thrills with their passing abilities.
Which area players have made it to the NFL over the past 5-10 years that you remember covering – did any surprise you, if so, how?
Robby Gould, Jon Condo, Steve Breaston, Steve Slaton, Sean Lee, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Chad Henne, Darrell Revis, Ryan Mundy, Paul Poluszny, and Kevin Jones.
None were really surprises.. You could say LaRod Stephens-Howling size was against him and Jon Condo made it as a long-snapper.
Do college and NFL teams ever consult with you and/or use your information when evaluating players?
We’ve been contacted by both college and pro coaches as well as several media outlets. Basically, we provide a service for the under-the-radar players.
Everyone is aware of the ‘blur-chippers.’ Many of the smaller programs have told us they found out about players through our publications.
Many of these kids are going go offseason camps to improve their physical abilities. What are your thoughts on them doing so at the high school level and do you see them losing the appreciation for technique as they look to impress colleges with their physical measurables?
I think kids need to be kids.
We sometimes try to push them way too much. I am not a big fan of kids going to college the last half of their senior year in high school. I am also against the NCAA wanting to rush their seasons. All-Star games such as the Big 33 suffer.
A week at a camp would be fine but some spend much more time and money.
If you had one piece of advice for a high school football player – what would it be?
Prepare yourself academically. It is great to have the college football experience, but that won’t last forever and at any time an injury could cause the time you are planning on to be curtailed. No one can take away your education.
Who are some of the best high school coaches in Pennsylvania – and have any area high school coaches made it to the NFL ranks recently?
There are so many. Naturally, winning guys like Mike Pettine (CB West), George Curry (Berwick), and George Chaump have to be in anyone’s TOP listing. Guys like George Novak, who produces top players year-after-year would be in the list. Art Walker had done well at his stops. Mike Williams of Manheim Central has been in PIAA playoffs year-after-year.
And guy like Bob Palko, Joe Hamilton, and Jim Render out your way have been more than competitive year in and out. There are so many more I could mention, but I truly feel the real success of a coach is what kind of citizens his players become.
Mike Pettine, Jr. is the defensive coordinator for the NY Jets. We knew Mike way back when he was at North Penn trying to beat his dad’s CB west teams.
Any other thoughts for readers?
I think we in Pennsylvania are fortunate to have the quality of football for so many years.
The outstanding thing about any sport is the many friends you make. This is especially true in football. I’ve come to know such guys as Mike Ditka, Joe Namath, Bill Contz, Mike Reid, Foge Fazio, and many others because of my involvement in football.