He's only going to be a sophomore, but state passing records are already quaking.
He can't legally drive, but he's already being mentioned as a legitimate challenger to the title of "Best Quarterback in the State", regardless of the year.
He goes to one of the smallest schools in the state, with just 120 students roaming the halls of Pius X High School in Bangor.
Welcome to A.J. Long's world. The 6-foot, 165 pound dual-threat quarterback leads PaPreps' Class of 2014 watch list, a class of eight who could raise eyebrows this year.
Pius X plays wide open on offense, so it's natural for any quarterback in that system to have some impressive numbers. But Long's are especially interesting. He completed 202 of 307 passes for 2,852 yards, and threw 28 touchdowns to just six interceptions.
Long ranked 5th in the state - in all classes - in passing yards. In front of him were seniors Christian Brumbaugh (South Fayette), Matt Johnson (Bishop McDevitt), and Mark Kulinski (Oil City), and junior Brendan Nosovitch. That's in front of state record holder Derek Buganza. That's heady company, especially considering Long had a better completion percentage (65.8%) than all five. He also ran for 355 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns.
There was one stretch in Long's freshman season where he was pretty much, well, perfect.
On October 2, Long led Pius to a 57-14 thrashing of Bucktail by going 14-of-18 for 285 yards and 4 touchdowns. A week later, he was a perfect 13-of-13 for 187 yards and two scores in a 57-0 shutout of Lourdes Regional. A week after that, 15-of-19 for 267 yards and four more touchdowns.
Long's freshman performance has already generated some college interest, and he's been making the rounds at camps, combines, and 7-on-7 events. The key from here on out is to constantly improve while making his name known amongst college coaches. Because of Pius X's size and style, Long will have to prove he can work in any environment, especially under the lights. If at some point in his career he can help lead Pius X deep in the PIAA playoffs, perhaps even to Hershey, it'll help answer a lot of college coaches' questions. Certainly his early penchant for accuracy helps.
The other seven on the 2014 Watch List includes players from around the state who had impressive debuts during the 2010-2011 school year. The list is a mix of those with outstanding stats, those receiving early college interest, and those with elements of their game (size, speed, etc.) that project well to the next level.
Sophomores to Watch
1. QB Chandler Kincade, Blackhawk
Buzz: Blackhawk coach Joe Hamilton has been around high school football for a long time. Freshmen don't usually get much in the way of playing time at the Class AAA school, let alone at quarterback. "A wise old man once told me, 'For every sophomore you play, you lose a game,'" Hamilton said early in the 2010 season. "Well, we're playing a freshman and he's going to make mistakes like they all do, but he was able to come back." Kincade started the season splitting time with junior Josh Desmond but eventually took over the role full-time, completing 63 of 120 passes for 737 yards. What makes Kincade intriguing is his size and accuracy. He completed 52.5% of his passes as a freshman and has earned rave reviews on the camp circuit for his accuracy in drills. He's also 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, the perfect build for a pocket passer. Kincade is also athletic, playing multiple sports - but especially basketball - at Blackhawk. Life isn't easy in the Parkway Conference for any team, but the future is bright at Blackhawk with Kincade at the helm.
2. WR Chase May, West Perry
Buzz: The leading receiver as a freshman on an extraordinarily young West Perry team, May has some interesting tools. He's 5-foot-11, 175 pounds and has enough speed to stretch the field with a handful of catches of 40+ yards or more. May's also a wrestler, so he's physical enough to be more than a one-trick pony. He can also be a consistent target, as he had a couple games with 5+ catches going for over 100 yards. If he adds another inch or two and continues to develop his hands and technique, he could be a very intriguing prospect down the road.
3. WR Kyle Flick, Richland
Buzz: Another receiver capable of stretching the field, Flick caught 18 passes for 417 yards in his debut season, scoring six touchdowns. Most impressive was his average of 23 yards per catch. At 6-foot, 175 pounds, Flick definitely has next level size, impressive for such a young player. Like others, he needs to continue to develop his hands and technique. He's also surrounded by a fairly young nucleus, so he should be able to continue his development with a good group.
4. WR Tyleik Freeman, Spring-Ford
Buzz: A recent growth spurt has Freeman on this list, as he's created a bit of a buzz at a few camps he's attended. Now 6-foot-2, 162 pounds, Freeman has yet to do much during games. But camp reports suggest he has a smooth technique early in his career and just needs to get used to his newfound size. Some seniors have graduated, making way for Freeman to get more playing time, and with Hank Coyne getting another year under center, Spring-Ford fans could soon be enjoying the Coyne-Freeman connection on a regular basis.
5. OL Travis Krall, Milton
Buzz: Stuck at a school that gets very little recognition state wide, Krall has begun using the camp and combine environment to make a little bit of a name for himself. In the small rural district, Krall's gone under the radar, but at the camps, people are taking notice. The 6-foot-4, 270 pound Krall showcased a relentless motor and a good footwork for his size at a camp in Delaware. Since Milton is so off the radar, he'll need to continue to have good camp showings to augment his film selection as the college search process goes on.
6. FB/LB Mike Newhouse, Homer-Center
Buzz: A physical two-way player, Newhouse has a good frame to build off as a linebacker/fullback. Currently at 6-foot, 191 pounds, he ran for 396 yards on 77 carries and had 103 tackles as a freshman. Playing at a small Class A school, Newhouse has already shown a penchant for being around the ball. But it's his running that may set him apart. The smaller the classification and school, the more college coaches like to see players showcase more than one skillset: Wide receivers can't just be burners, they have to go over the middle AND play solid defense; and linebackers need to have the footspeed to be a major component of the offense. Newhouse showed that early and it should help as he progresses.
7. LB Cameron Ott, Montoursville
Buzz: Ott's in the same boat as Newhouse - his well-rounded ability will only serve to help him as he matures. An outside linebacker for a pretty mediocre Mountoursville squad, Ott had 76 tackles and two sacks as a freshman. He also ran the ball 14 times for 137 yards and caught 14 passes for another 129 yards. There's one issue though: At 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, Ott doesn't project as an outside backer without a growth spurt. But with his hands and physical play, he could easily slide back to safety or play as a physical corner. He has three years to figure out where he best fits.
PaPreps publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at email@example.com