The University Prep football team enters City League play this season boasting a roster brimming with talent and a good deal of experience, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
That talent and experience extends to the quarterback position for coach Lou Berry’s team, which returns two signal-callers who each has an entire season of experience as a starter.
Last year’s starter, Messiah Wilkerson, returns for his senior season after throwing for 1,489 yards and 19 TDs last year. Kenneth Pipkins, the 2017 starting quarterback, is back in the fold after sitting out last season because ineligibility. Berry said the team’s embarrassment of riches at QB should provide an extra degree of versatility as USO orchestrates the offense to suit either player’s capabilities.
“It’s always great when you have your starting quarterback returning because we all know that experience is the best teacher. We have that with Messiah Wilkerson, who had a phenomenal season as a first-year starter. But he is being pushed by Kenneth Pipkins, who actually had significant time with us as a sophomore starting at quarterback,” Berry said.
“Messiah gives us some versatility. He’s an athlete, and he has a warrior-like mentality. He can find ways to make plays. Kenneth possesses a strong arm and can get the ball down field. Having both of them makes us a better team. We can change our philosophy or approach at any time.”
While USO graduated its top two pass-catchers from last season, seniors Natel Blessitt and Brendan Walls have been waiting for their turn at wide receiver and are primed to make an impact as starters.
At running back, Akron commit Michael Snowden takes over full-time duties from the graduated Damon Macklin.
“Michael, he’s a two-way player at running back and outside linebacker. This kid is sculpted and ready to shine,” Berry said.
“He’s been starting at linebacker for us since his sophomore season. But he’s ready to take over the reigns at that running back spot, and he’s ready to lead this team to an outstanding season.”
University Prep’s talents should translate well to defense, too. Berry said he wants to unleash his pass-rushers and place extra emphasis on the coverage abilities of his secondary.
Wilkerson will play a key role on the defensive side of the ball as USO’s starting free safety, where he has a penchant for causing turnovers. Berry said he also feels confident in Rashan Murray, who is assuming a starting cornerback role as a sophomore.
“He’s only a sophomore, but he’s going to be a name to watch, because this kid, for some odd reason, the ball just seems to find him,” Berry said.
“He’s a playmaker on both sides of the ball, and we’re really going to need his speed at the corner position. He’s going to possibly be called upon to cover our opponents’ best receiver when we call plays to get after the quarterback.”
Coach: Lou Berry
2018 record: 4-6, 4-1
All-time record: 50-33
Date, Opponent, Time
8.23, at Farrell, 7
8.30, at Laurel Highlands, 7
9.5, Westinghouse*, 7
9.13, Perry*, 3:30
9.20, at Allderdice*, 7
9.27, at Steubenville, Ohio, 7
10.3, Brashear*, 7
10.11, at Sharon, 7
*City League game
Passing: Messiah Wilkerson
82-180, 1,489 yards, 19 TDs
Rushing: Damon Mackin*
126-944 yards, 12 TDs
Receiving: Devaughn Mathis*
19-412 yards, 6 TDs