Gavin Berkley will make his 34th career start when undefeated Meyersdale hosts once-beaten Portage on Friday night.
The Red Raiders senior two-way standout has experienced plenty of highs and lows during the past three-plus seasons.
The 6-foot, 206-pound tailback/inside linebacker and his teammates learned a lot through the tough times in a
1-9 season last year.
“The kid has been in more than his fair share of losses. Last season was a tough season,” Meyersdale coach Chris Schrock said. “That motivates the entire team. Being out there last year as a junior and getting knocked around out there, Gavin really was able to keep focused in the offseason but also on the practice field now and on the game field on Friday nights. He’s pretty much seen it all.”
Berkley is one reason Meyersdale is 3-0, with a Week 2 win over visiting Windber as an early highlight.
The Raiders will need him to have another productive outing against a 2-1 Portage team labeled the WestPAC favorite at the season’s outset.
“Berkley just runs hard,” Portage coach Gary Gouse said. “He’s way back in that pistol look and he’s coming downhill as a force.
“We have to get around him before he gets started. He’s a hard-nosed tough runner. We’re facing a powerful team. This is a right-at-you team.”
Berkley’s 359 rushing yards rank second in the area to Berlin’s Braden Fochtman’s 578.
He and Fochtman are tied for the area scoring lead with seven touchdowns and 42 points each.
Defensively, Berkley ranks in the top six with 35 tackles, including 23 solo stops.
“In general he’s a very good athlete,” Schrock said. “I don’t know that I have coached a player that has prepared both in the offseason and during the course of a season as much as what Gavin does. The kid’s work ethic is unbelievable in the weight room, the track and field, in the classroom, watching film.
“He prepares in every facet of the game. When we go out on the field on Friday night he’s as well prepared as any player we’ve had.”
If Meyersdale continues to progress, Berkley and the other Red Raiders seniors would be part of a winning team for the first time in their varsity careers.
In addition to last year’s one-win season, Meyersdale went 5-5 in 2011 and 4-6 in 2010.
“Gavin has some speed and he has great strength, and the other advantage he has on both sides of the ball is he’s a three-year starter,” Schrock said. “He’s experienced the good, the bad and the ugly. He’s a great leader. He’s the type of kid every coach wishes they had.”
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Production: Berlin’s Fochtman averages 11.6 yards per carry with 50 attempts for 578 yards with the undefeated Mountaineers.
That translates to 192.7 yards a game.
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The Favorite: Unbeaten Richland has lived up to preseason expectations heading into a key LHAC game at Trojan Stadium on Friday.
The Rams have outscored three opponents by a combined 144-24 and have three of the area’s most productive players on offense in quarterback Matt Shaffer, running back Tanner Solarczyk and receiver Kyle Flick.
Richland’s stifling defense has made life difficult for opponents.
The Rams will face a 2-1 Johnstown team that once had a stranglehold on the LHAC series, but now will be a decided underdog in its own stadium.
Johnstown won the first eight games in the conference series from 2001 through 2008, including consecutive shutouts from 2002 through 2004 in which the Trojans tallied 89 points.
Richland won its first game against Johnstown in 2009, a 21-20 OT thriller at Trojan Stadium.
The Trojans won the next two games before the Rams shut out Johnstown 42-0 last season.
Johnstown is 10-2 in the series with a 343-177 scoring advantage.
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Familiar name: Once again, a Behe is among the area tackle leaders.
This time, it’s Penn Cambria senior Payton Behe with an area-best 47 stops, including 31 solo tackles.
Payton is the brother of Penn Cambria graduate Mac Behe, who was a Tribune-Democrat All-Area first team pick last year and 2011.
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.