ALL-TIME TEAM: defensive line

In the 1970s the Pittsburgh Steelers had the Steel Curtain, a defensive line featuring the likes of Mean Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood that was so imposing and so intimidating that the only metaphor capable of capturing its essence was that of Soviet Russia.

The defensive line for the revised All-Time Team doesn’t need a moniker quite as dark, but on a high school level it would undoubtedly be every bit as formidable and fear-inspiring.

Tyrone has had eight players earn a total of 20 All-State awards on the defensive line, and some of the more ferocious players at the position never received the honor, so choosing a starting lineup is difficult, and it’s based on a variety of factors.  Numbers, of course, play a big part, and for a position like defensive line, where tackles are tackles and sacks are sacks, that’s fair; more fair, perhaps, than it is for the skill positions.  Other factors include size and mobility.

And then there is the question of system, as in, “If you could assemble the best defensive players in the history of Tyrone football, what system would best maximize their talents?”

The best answer is that you would start with a base system – and for the purpose of this team a 5-3 – and then allow it to morph into whatever the situation called for using the talent at hand.  With five players on the line, you would have the ability to stack the box with enormous run-stoppers and quarterback-pursuers while bookending the unit with a pair of defensive ends that could be disruptive, lock down the outside, and chase down passers with tenacity.

This much is certain, no matter what the system, Scott Gummo is an essential part of any discussion of the top defensive linemen at Tyrone, and he is an overwhelming choice as a starter on the All-Time team, making him the only player to appear on the team as on offensive, defensive and special teams starter.

What makes Gummo’s selection all the more compelling is that in his day, from 1997 through 2000, he never received the respect from opposing coaches in his own league that one might expect for a player who was recognized as one of the top defensive tackles in the Commonwealth twice.

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Scott Gummo

Gummo’s top seasons came in 1999 and 2000, his junior and senior seasons, when he was as dominant as any defensive lineman ever to play for Tyrone.  It was during those seasons that Gummo established a pair of records that stand to this day – sacks in a season (13 in 1999) and sacks in a career (29).  After an abusive run through the PIAA playoffs in 1999, when he chased down marvelous quarterbacks like Waynesburg’s Lee Fritz and Mount Carmel’s Dave Shinsky, Gummo was named to the AP’s All-State first team as a defensive lineman.

That was the same season when Big 8 coaches thought enough of Gummo to make him a second team selection, apparently under the delusion that four players in the Big 8 were better than all of the defensive linemen in Pennsylvania.

It would be easy to let the snub slide as an unfortunate oversight had the same scenario not occurred again his senior season.  Once again Gummo stood out as the top lineman on a very good defensive unit in 2000, and once again he was an All-State selection after he failed to make the Big 8 first team.

Gummo’s omission from his conference all-star teams was an error to be certain, but it was one that wasn’t repeated.  His teammates on the All-Time defensive line were, like Gummo, twice named to All-State teams, and they were also recognized among the best in their league.

The first is Terry Tate, who is one of two players on the All-Time team, along with Steve Franco, to be accorded Player of the Year status after the Pennsylvania Football News named him the defensive Player of the Year in 2004. It was a no-brainer selection, actually.  That season, when the Golden Eagles finished 12-2 and won a second consecutive District 6-AA championship, Tate recorded 21 tackles for loss, which is still the third best single season ever at Tyrone, five sacks and two takeaways.

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Terry Tate (right) and Ralph VanAllman team up for a tackle against Lewistown in 2003.

Those numbers were enough to not only merit first team positions on the AP and PFN All-State teams, but the Mountain Athletic Football Conference first team, as well.

Blocking Tate was difficult enough, but simply squaring him up was the bigger issue more times than not.  A state champion wrestler in the heavyweight division, Tate had incredible quickness for a player his size.

As a junior in 2003, he was just as dominant, in a year that year marked the final go-round for the Big 8 conference. Tate was named to the league’s first team, as well as being named to the AP and PFN second team, as the Golden Eagles arrived slightly ahead of schedule, capturing a District title with a convincing win over Forest Hills.

Rounding out the interior line is a mammoth player whose size and strength alone keep him in any conversation of greatness from one generation to the next.

At 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, Tyler Hoover looked every bit the part of a can’t-miss defensive lineman as a senior in 2006.  And that’s how he was received, with suitors calling from all over for his services at the next level. In fact Mike McQueary, who then was coaching and recruiting for Penn State, was seen several times at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field, trying to get a look at perhaps the biggest defensive lineman ever to play at Tyrone.

But it wasn’t like Hoover was posing as a player in a Halloween costume.  The kid could flat out dominate, and his numbers bear it out.  He had three consecutive seasons with double-digit tackles for loss, coming to a crescendo in 2006 when he dropped 18 plays behind the line of scrimmage, including 10 sacks.

He finished his career with 42 tackles for loss, which is number two all-time at Tyrone, and 17.5 sacks, which is third. And it’s no coincidence that in his three seasons as a full-time starter the Golden Eagles lost just one regular season game.

Hoover was a first team MAC all-star his junior and senior seasons, the same years he was named to both the AP and PFN All-State first teams.

To maximize the ability of everyone on the defensive front, it would be essential to have a couple players rotating in, and that’s where the quality of the All-Time Team’s depth is apparent.  You would have to have a spot for Jared Templeton, a player who made the varsity squad as a freshman in 2007 and dominated as a defensive tackle in 2009 and 2010.

Like the others who have made the starting lineup, Templeton was a two-time All-State winner, making the AP and PFN first team in 2010 after dropping 12.5 plays behind the line of scrimmage. And that wasn’t even Templeton’s best season.

As a junior in 2009, Templeton had 21.5 tackles for loss and six sacks when he made the AP second team and was an honorable mention by the PFN.

Both of those squads played in District championship games, and each finished the season surrendering fewer than 10 points per game.

Similar to Hoover, Templeton’s sheer size, when combined with his strength and quickness to the football, make him a player that transcends generations.  As a senior he was 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, and accounting for him was at the forefront of every offensive coordinator’s mind, which is one reason for the drop in his numbers in 2010 and the subsequent rise in numbers for players like Corbin Nevling-Ray, who had 17.5 tackles for loss Templeton’s senior season.

The team would also have to reserve a spot in the starting rotation for at least one throwback, and there’s none better than Merle Stonebraker.

Stonebraker was a true animal in the days when you had to be an animal just to make it through a practice.  He was a starter on the defensive line during Tyrone’s first unbeaten season in 1924, when the Orange and Black (they weren’t yet the Golden Eagles) finished 9-0-1, with the only blemish coming in a 6-6 tie with Altoona.

And let’s be honest: in 1924, when everyone played without facemasks and some even went helmetless, if you could earn the nickname “Tarzan” you must have been some kind of player.  But that was Stonebraker.  In fact, in that memorable draw against Altoona’s Maroon and White, Stonebraker was ejected for “slugging” one an opponent.

The team allowed only 25 points that season, and Stonebraker was a big reason why.

His exploits on the field are more anecdotal legends than anything else because few teams were keeping precise statistics in many individual categories in those days.  He was described by one writer as a “ferocious tackler,” and by another a “Sampson on the defense and an unerring tackler going down under punts.”  He was fast enough that reports exist of Stonebraker, as the team’s kicker, more often than not being the first tackler to the ball following the boot.

Stonebraker never graduated from Tyrone, instead finishing his education at the New York Military Academy in preparation for his college football career at Bucknell.  There, he was an All-American honorable mention and a key player on the 1931 team that finished 6-0-3.

Later, Stonebraker returned to coach Tyrone for two seasons, compiling a 7-9-5 record.

Were the team to be opened up to competition in a fictional training camp, Tom Templeton and Doug Shoenwolf would definitely receive invitations.  Templeton, uncle to Jared, was a two-time Central Counties all-star on defense in 1964 and 1965, and during his senior season the Golden Eagles recorded seven consecutive shutouts.  His coach, John Shoenwolf, praised him for his “quick lateral movement” and pursuit of the ball.  Templeton was fast enough, in fact, that when he was recruited by Penn State there were plans to use him as a linebacker, though his college career was limited by injuries.

Shoenwolf, meanwhile, had 106 tackles, 69 of which were solos, as a senior in 1979.  That was after a junior season where he recorded 80 solo tackles.  Shoenwolf was named to the Big 8 first team as a defensive lineman twice, and in 1979 he made the UPI All-State first team.

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