ALL-TIME TEAM: offensive x-factors

There are those players who over time have defied position, players who may not have had one set spot, but whose shear athleticism alone demanded they be on the field.

In recent years even media publications have begun recognizing their contributions with spots on all-state teams for “athletes,” but the term is a bit of a misnomer.  There are plenty of players who athletically speaking stand head-and-shoulders above others on the field, but it takes more than raw talent to make a difference in a football game.

That’s why on the rebooted All-Time Team a spot has been dedicated not merely to athletes but players who could most precisely be dubbed “X-factors,” those who in their time had to be accounted for, although they may have excelled at many different positions.

In the Franco Era, these players were priceless, and yet they seemed to surface quite frequently.  By the time Franco vacated his coaching position in 2011, it had become an old story: a kid who was outstanding at one spot changed his position out of necessity and, boom, a star was born.

The value of these players on an All-Time team is enormous because they could fill a variety of roles, from special teams to pass catcher, from situational back to pass thrower.  Several stand out, and all would earn a spot on the All-Time team because the nature of their job would not require a set slot in a starter’s role.

At the top of the list is Matt Sharer, who could very well be the finest athlete to put on a uniform at Tyrone.  While he may be best known as a defensive back, intercepting 20 passes over three seasons and being named to the AP All-State first team twice, it’s difficult to overlook what he did as an offensive player.

A quarterback by trade, Sharer had one small roadblock his junior season, and that was Jarrod Anderson, a three-year starter at quarterback who led Tyrone to two District championships and passed for 1,000 yards twice.  Hard to beat out that kid.

But the bottom line was Sharer had to be on the field when the Golden Eagles had the football, so his junior season in 1996 Sharer was a wide receiver, along with being the team’s backup quarterback.  It was a role in which he was exceptionally good, leading the team with 18 receptions and 475 yards while hauling in seven touchdown catches.

In 1997, after Anderson had graduated, Sharer made the move to starting quarterback and became the top dual-threat quarterback Tyrone has ever seen.  On an underrated team that won a District 6 championship, Sharer was the perhaps the biggest man-child on a squad filled with them, one that included the likes of Mark Wyland, Kenny Parks, Jeremy LaRosa, Brian Bonsell, Scott Gummo and Jesse Jones.

What Sharer did as a passer was record-setting, completing 75 of 136 passes for 1,327 yards and 10 touchdowns.  At the time, his passing yardage numbers were the best for a single season at Tyrone by 300 yards.

But it was what Sharer could do with his legs that made him so special.  On a team that loved to run the football, producing just under 3,000 yards on the ground in 13 games, Sharer finished third on the team with 650 yards and nine touchdowns on 103 carries.  So for the season Sharer finished with 1,977 total yards.

The 1997 team finished 12-1 with a loss to Wilmington in the PIAA quarterfinals, but thanks in no small part to Sharer it was the highest-scoring team Tyrone had seen.  Its 444 points still rank in the top 5 at Tyrone.

Like Sharer, Levi Reihart was a quarterback who could run a little, but his story works in the opposite direction of the 1990’s signal-caller.

Reihart became a running back in junior high out of necessity because in eighth grade he broke his arm.  He got his call to the varsity team in ninth grade to serve as a punter, a position at which he excelled for four seasons.

Levi Reihart is the only Tyrone player to run for 1,000 yards and pass for 1,000 yards in individual seasons.

But by tenth grade it was time for Reihart to take the reins, and in 2007 he threw for 774 yards and five touchdowns, completing 53.5 percent of his passes.  On a team that allowed just 7.6 points per game, he really didn’t have to do much more.  But he could, and he showed that the following season in 2008.

That year, Reihart had what was at the time the second-best passing season ever for a Golden Eagle quarterback. He completed 96 of 153 passes (62.7 percent) for 1,481 yards, and threw for 10 touchdowns with only two interceptions.  The team finished 10-2 and all signs were that Reihart would shatter some all-time passing records as a senior.

But it didn’t work out that way because in 2009 Tyrone was in need of a running game.  Christian Getz, who later became one of the eight players at Tyrone to gain 4,000 yards in his career, was just a sophomore, and following a loss to Bellwood-Antis in the season opener it became apparent Tyrone was going to need something more from its running attack.

The Eagles had two things working in their favor.  One, Stevie Franco was a sophomore quarterback chomping at the bit, so throwing him into the fire was a pretty good option; and two, Reihart could run, and he was about as selfless as any player to wear the uniform at Tyrone, so in Week 2 he switched tailback.

In that win over Huntingdon, Reihart ran for over 80 yards, Franco passed for more than 200 yards, and the wheels of history were set in motion.  Reihart ended the season with 1,199 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and scoring 14 touchdowns.

In 97 years of high school football in the borough, Reihart remains the only player ever to run and pass for 1,000 yards. And truth be told he was a pretty good receiver as well, catching 13 passes for 158 yards his senior season.  In that way, he is about as true an offensive x-factor as you could find.

The third x-factor may not have been a quarterback, but he was a triple threat who moved around throughout his career and got it done in a lot of ways.  Shayne Tate came onto the scene in 2006 as a wide receiver, when he caught 11 passes for 255 yards and was a genuine compliment to Justin Schopp, who had almost 1,000 receiving yards that season.

He was set to be the feature guy in Tyrone’s passing attack his senior season before starting tailback Johnny Franco broke his leg in the preseason.  Before you could blink, Tate had switched from receiver to running back just in time for the premier high school football rivalry in Central Pennsylvania, the Backyard Brawl.  With only one full day of practice at the spot, Tate ran for 122 yards, had 43 receiving yards, and basically carried the offensive load as Tyrone topped its rival 19-0.

He finished his senior season with 1,546 yards on 208 carries, an average of 7.4 yards per carry, as the Golden Eagles went unbeaten in the regular season for the third straight year.

When he wasn’t running for touchdowns or catching long passes, Tate could throw the rock around a little bit, too. You saw that his senior season when he completed not one but two passes on a final, do-or-die drive at home against Philipsburg-Osceola in a game that allowed Tyrone to tie the school’s record for consecutive regular-season victories.  The first was a halfback pass to Johnny Shaffer that got the game-winning drive moving, and the second was on a halfback throwback pass to Reihart, who scored the game-tying touchdown with just seconds remaining, setting up Shaffer’s winning PAT kick.

Another thing you saw Tate’s senior year was his competitive nature, like when he carried the ball 36 times for 215 yards in a win over Indian Valley, a game where he scored the game-winning touchdown with 2:18 to play on a 38-yard run.

One final x-factor player that would have to find a spot on the field is Ben Gummo, a player who did so many things so well that’s it’s somewhat remarkable he’s not more frequently mentioned among the top offensive players at Tyrone.

Ben Gummo
Ben Gummo was a Mountain League all-star at three different positions his senior season in 2004.

He actually has two things working against him there, and both stem not from inadequacies but from his great abilities.  First, Gummo is probably best remembered first as a linebacker, where he was an All-State performer for two seasons in 2003 and 2004, or as a kicker, where he ranks among the school’s best in both PAT kicks and field goals.

Beyond that, Gummo was good enough that he produced solid numbers in several areas, and so his talents were spread around, meaning he never had a single-season where he produced huge numbers in any one offensive category.

But taken collectively, his career numbers are among the best.  He produced 2,052 yards in four seasons from 2001-2004, scoring 26 touchdowns.  Gummo began his career as a running back, and generated two seasons with more than 500 yards rushing (544 in 2002 and 671 in 2003).

But in his sophomore and junior seasons Gummo was splitting carries with Brice Mertiff, a 2,000-yard rusher his senior season whose abilities in their own right demanded the bulk of the rushing workload.

So in 2004, Gummo moved to wide receiver and led the team with 28 receptions for 446 yards.  But even then, he was splitting receptions with Mertiff, who was a pretty fine pass-catcher in his own right, as well as Tad Chamberlain and Josh Crabtree.

Gummo finished his career with 1,331 rushing yards on 254 carries (5.2 yards per carry) and 721 receiving yards on 49 receptions (14.7 yards per catch).

Add in what he did as a kicker and a linebacker, and you’re looking at perhaps the one player who could rival Sharer in terms of pure athletic talent.

Put those four on this All-Time roster, and it’s a lock that you would never have to worry about replacing injured players, the return game, third-and-longs, or developing multiple looks.  Any one could rival the starters at their positions, but their talents are special enough to deserve a spot all their own as x-factors.

Other notables include Tom Miller, who was a quarterback through and through, but was perhaps the best run-pass threat at Tyrone until Sharer came along in the 1990s. Miller played from 1959 through 1961, and in an era of smash-mouth, run-it-down-your-throat football, he was a crisp passer. He threw for 832 yards as a junior and 664 as a senior, but he was just as dangerous as a runner. His junior season he ran for just shy of 200 yards, and followed that up with 353 as a senior. Miller went on to play quarterback at Colorado State University before returning to Tyrone to coach for parts of the 1980s and 90s.

On Miller’s senior team in 1961 there was another player who was a true offensive X-factor in Gary Greene. He was a player who didn’t produce the kinds of numbers the other players at this position posted, but the range of his abilities was remarkable. Greene played both guard and end, and in 1961 he was second in scoring only to legendary running back Chet Wolford with nine touchdowns and 55 points.

One final do-it-all player comes from the 1970s in Mike Larosa, who produced in a variety of ways in 1970 and 1971. As a junior he was the perfect complement to leading rusher Bobby Irwin, carrying the ball 92 times for 431 yards and a pair of touchdowns. When LaRosa became the man in 1971, he didn’t disappoint, compiling 939 yards on 192 carries, but he was also an impact player as a receiver, where he had five receptions for 109 yards, finishing as the team’s third-leading receiver.

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