WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA ATHLETIC CONFERENCE 2017 HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW:
When sizing up the competition in the WestPAC ahead of the new season, Ferndale once again stands out as the program that will be most improved in 2017.
The Yellow Jackets won their first playoff game since 1995 in 2016, and head coach Don Robertson's group could be even better, returning 19 starters.
Berlin and Portage will battle it out for conference supremacy this fall.
Doug Paul is entering his 16th season as the head coach of the Mountaineers and will look to improve on a 9-3 campaign. Berlin's strength will be at its skill positions, while trying to develop depth on the offensive and defensive lines.
Portage could be the team to beat by November, as head coach Gary Gouse returns an experienced group that finished 9-3 a year ago. Behind senior running back Tom Randazzo, the Mustangs have realistic hopes of winning a district championship.
For Conemaugh Township, the challenge will be repeating as WestPAC champions, while only returning five starters from a year ago. The Indians enjoyed a 10-3 mark in 2016, advancing to the first round of the PIAA playoffs.
Meyersdale will start the season with hopes of building off of last season's momentum, when the Red Raiders finished 10-3 and made it to the district finals. Head coach Michael Swank will once again rely on a stout defense to lead the way.
After opening its brand new stadium a year ago, Windber rode its home-field advantage to a 4-6 overall record. The results should get better for Matthew Grohal's program, returning 16 players who received significant playing time in 2016.
The rebuild continues for Conemaugh Valley, led by new head coach Brian Bair. The key for the Blue Jays to improve on a 2-8 record is how fast they'll adjust to new offensive and defensive systems.
The Shade Panthers reached the postseason in 2016, bowing out in the first round. To return to the playoffs, head coach Don Fyfe will rely on some familiar faces to tutor his young roster. Junior quarterback Brady Fyfe and senior defensive end Austin Prosser are ones to watch this season.
Blacklick Valley and North Star are ready to turn the page after 1-9 campaigns a year ago.
After losing just two seniors to graduation, Vikings head coach William Zamboni returns plenty of experience.
Meanwhile the Cougars will be tested out of the gates, facing Shade and Conemaugh Township in the first two weeks of the season.
Catch WJAC-TV's 6 Sports "Two-A-Days" segment previewing the 2017 high school football season every night at 6 &11 leading up the opening week of the season.