In 1996, Brian Bonsell became the first linebacker at Tyrone to be named to an All-State team in 20 years. A rugged tackler who could sniff out the run like a pointer on the trail of small game, Bonsell was named to the AP third team after the Golden Eagles finished 13-1, with their only loss in the PIAA championship against Mount Carmel.
He repeated the feat a year later in his senior season when Tyrone finished 12-1, with their only loss again coming in the inter-district playoffs.
The next season in 1998, Doug Roseberry stepped into the mix at linebacker as a brash and swaggering sophomore, and it was kind of like Sammy Haggar stepping in for David Lee Roth – the Eagles defense never missed a beat, and in a lot of ways it was better. In terms of pursuit and filling a hole, Roseberry was the same wrecking ball that Bonsell was, but the difference was his athleticism. A three-sport athlete who was practically raised in a gym, Roseberry was fast, explosive, and heady.
So when he donned the number 53 in 1999 – the same number worn by Bonsell during his playing days – it seemed like a symbolic changing of the guard.
But that wasn’t quite the way it happened.
A running back throughout his career to that point, Roseberry was asked by Coach John Franco to do what many others were asked to do in the coach’s legendary 18-year career in the borough – switch positions to help the team. Only this time, the process was working in reverse. Whereas countless skill players moved from one spot to another and shined with flashy stats under Franco, Roseberry was one of the ones being asked to go from ball carrier to blocker as an offensive guard.
By Roseberry’s own admittance, it wasn’t quite the Kumbaya moment as many of the other positional transitions during the Franco era, but the results were obvious. Tyrone’s lines in 1999 and 2000 are two of the best to ever work as a unit under Franco, and Roseberry’s presence was an essential element.
Even though the emergence of a second dominant 53 wasn’t the passing of the torch it appeared, or that many fans thought it was, the pair will always be linked by their success and their jersey numbers. They will be linked in time by their appearance on Tyrone’s rebooted All-Time Team. The pair is an easy selection for two of the starting linebacker positions.
Roseberry was one of those players who was caught in the middle when the original All-Century team was created in 1999. After a sensational sophomore season he was clearly on the fast track to distancing himself from others who played the position at Tyrone, but when the squad was created his was entering his junior season, and there wasn’t a large enough body of work to make fair comparisons across generations.
By the time the ’99 season was over, Roseberry was in the discussion. He played with an intensity that epitomized the Golden Eagle football team a time when it was trying to exorcise the demons of a playoff loss to United in 1998. What you got from him was a consistently outstanding effort that never really wavered based on the opponent or the situation. Roseberry’s motor was always on high.
And when the games got bigger, it went higher. In the PIAA quarterfinals against Sharon, Roseberry had a late interception to conclude a 24-7 victory. A week later in the semifinals he was in on a stop of Waynesburg quarterback Lee Fritz on a fourth-and-goal play from the 2 with just seconds left in the first half, allowing the Golden Eagles to preserve a 14-7 lead at halftime. Tyrone went on to win 17-10.
As good as Roseberry was as a junior, when he was named to the AP and Pennsylvania Football News All-State second teams, he was even better as a senior. That season, he was the leader of one of the top defenses in school history, putting up major numbers across the board – five interceptions, three fumble recoveries, 3.5 sacks
And again he was best when the games meant the most. In three District playoff games, Roseberry had 34 tackles, including a 10-tackle, two-interception performance against Bishop McCort in the quarterfinals.
He was rewarded with a selection to the AP and PFN All-State first teams, finishing his career with 14 takeaways.
Roseberry walked on at Pitt a year later, and eventually worked his way onto the field his junior season as a special teams player. He was a special teams captain in both his junior and senior seasons.
Bonsell may not have been the playmaker Roseberry was, but he was every bit the hitter. And like Roseberry, and all of the great ones, he stood out in big games. As a junior he was a dominant force in a game against undefeated Central, picking off highly-touted quarterback Christian Bridenbaugh to set up one score in a 31-8 victory.
He had two interceptions in the playoffs, with one coming in the District 6 semifinals against Westmont-Hilltop and the other coming in the championship against Forest Hills.
Bonsell battled some injuries his senior season, but it didn’t stop him from recording two interceptions and a fumble recovery during another District 6 championship run. By the time his career was finished he had been named to the Big 8 first team twice and received two berths on the AP’s All-State second team. In two seasons as a starter, Bonsell’s teams went 25-1, never losing in the regular season.
But if Bonsell and Roseberry clearly outdistanced themselves from other Tyrone linebackers during their stellar careers, choosing a third for the All-Time team isn’t quite as transparent.
Tyrone linebackers have been awarded 21 positions on All-State teams, and the players who filled those spots offered a variety of talents. Josh Taylor played two seasons beside Roseberry, and he essentially matched him tackle-for-tackle during the post-season in 2000. But lest anyone believe his numbers came because of the attention Roseberry was bound to garner, recall that 2001 was the season Taylor made the AP and PFN All-State first teams, which is not an easy accomplishment when your team finishes 5-5 and you’ve only got one playoff game to show your stuff on a wider level.
Mark Stever was a tackling machine for the Golden Eagles during his career in the mid-1970s, with 152 tackles as a junior in 1975. He was named to the all-Big 8 first team in both his junior and senior seasons. Ben Gummo was a Pennsylvania Football News third-team All-State selection as a junior in 2003, and in his senior season, when he registered 17 tackles for loss and two takeaways, he was named to the MAC all-conference first team and was a first-team All-Stater for the PFN.
Each of those players could easily make the starting unit for the rebooted All-Time team, and it’s fun to imagine the hitting that would occur if they could be brought in to battle for playing time in a training camp for the ages.
The final starting spot, however, goes to a player from a more or less forgotten era of Tyrone football – the late 1970s. There was nothing uniquely special about those teams. In fact, if you take away the Eagles’ 8-1-1 record in 1970, the original “Year of the Eagle,” there was nothing special about the 1970s in general, a decade that when Tyrone was essentially a middling team. The Golden Eagles broke even three times and closed the decade by going 6-4 in 1978 and 5-4-1 in 1979.
But it was a period that produced some outstanding linebackers (consider that John Roseberry, an All-State honorable mention in 1974 isn’t even on this list, and you get the idea), and Jim McCahan was a special player at that position.
Over two seasons in 1977 and 1978, McCahan recorded 188 tackles, proof positive that he was always in the mix. As a senior, he registered 113 stops, 75 of which were solo, and he had four takeaways. He was at his best in traditional rivalry games, with 15 tackles against Huntingdon, 13 against Bellwood-Antis, and 17 tackles and two sacks against Bald Eagle Area.
His senior season, McCahan was named to the all-Big 8 first team, and was named to the UPI All-State first team.
Take Roseberry, Bonsell and McCahan as starters, fill in with Stever and Gummo for relief and in special packages, and you’ve got a unit that would fill holes, cover passes, and get into the backfield.