It's never too early to look to ahead to next season, when a number of local football teams are expected to compete far into the state playoffs. The following is a look at some of the contenders:
District 6 Class AA
Brandon Bailey's squad may be in for another big run in the 2013 season. Richland's 14-1 team was a very junior oriented group, and plenty of familiar faces will be back next season.
Richland will only graduate eight seniors from the 2012 team.
Tanner Solarczyk will be back to lead a very formidable rushing attack. Solarczyk rushed for over 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2012. Matt Shaffer returns for his third season as the starting quarterback. Shaffer is a dual threat quarterback who accounted for over 30 touchdowns last season.
Kyle Flick will lead a strong unit of receivers as well.
The core of the Richland defense is back with Ben Verhovsek and Jacob Urban leading the way. They must find replacements for the offensive and defensive lines, but the skill positions should be able to carry the weight until those units gel. Richland made it to the state playoffs for the first time, and took a pretty good shot at an excellent Aliquippa team in the state semifinals. Aliquippa is also a junior laden team, so a potential rematch could be in order.
The Dragons of Central could be poised for a big run next season.
They have a solid defense, and two outstanding offensive playmakers. Austin Cunningham is one of the more unique talents in the area. He is a more than formidable passing quarterback, but a dynamic running threat as well.
Bradi Moore is his running mate, and he is a very good one. Moore is a threat out of the backfield as a receiver on top of being a good runner. Austin Conrath is an unsung hero from his fullback position.
The defense will be led by Jared Ponder, who is coming off of an 8.5 sack season. Central finished 8-3 in 2012, with an upset loss in the playoffs. The core of that team will be back, and ready to take the next step. Aliquippa appears to be the big hurdle, but they can obviously be beaten as Wyomissing proved this weekend.
Tyrone and Forest Hills are always threats to contend for a AA championship, but they would be long shots to do much more in the state playoffs. Tyrone's James Oliver is as good as a running back as you will find in the state, and Forest Hills' Joe Donoughe is a master of keeping plays alive. They are both fantastic athletes, and they should not be counted out ever.
District 6 Class A
Portage returns plenty, but they need to prove they can play with the big boys of the district. They are still relatively young and could still be a year away.
Bishop McCort has a lot of linebackers and linemen coming back, but need to develop some athletes to make plays.
District 5 Class A
Could a District 5 team do it?
Obviously, the odds are stacked against them, but Clairton is losing quite a bit. They still have some great athletes, but it is no guarantee they will be the same juggernaut they have been.
Windber has a real nice core coming back, and they should be the odds on favorite to win District 5.
Dustin Blough will be the team's workhorse at running back. Dan and Devon Tomlinson are two dynamic athletes who can be placed anywhere on the field. Matt Barkley is a solid receiver as well.
They have the offensive firepower to make a nice run. It will not be easy task against any WPIAL team, but the opponent will not be nearly as good as the 2012 Clairton Bears, and that is a bonus.