Tag Archives: Somerset

Rest easy, old friend

I’ve always been a person who’s never been completely comfortable or confident, but I still remember the first time I actually felt cool.

I was a junior at Somerset Area High School and, at the time, a popular activity on the social calendar was keg parties at David Berman’s house. It was in Berman’s backyard where I first met Mike Hinton, and one of his younger brothers, Joe.

Now, I hadn’t met the Hintons before this party, but I sure did hear about them. The Hinton brothers were cool, or so was the word. After hanging with both in Berman’s backyard, those stories were validated. Actually, they were shattered. Mike and Joe were beyond cool.

And I left that party feeling better about myself, a rarity during my incredibly awkward teenage years. I wasn’t the only one. Brian Lizambri rode home with me. Like me, he didn’t know Mike and Joe before the party. And, like me, he left that party with a strong understanding of why we heard about the boys from Shanksville well before hanging out with them at Berman’s. I still remember B and I talking about how we hoped to hang out with them more often.

Over the next few years, I had the pleasure of spending time with Mike and Joe Hinton. From all those keg parties in the countryside of Somerset County to beach volleyball games at Seven Springs to sitting around parking lots looking for something to do, if they were there, I wanted to be there. The best part? They seemed as happy to see me as I was seeing them. Joe and I even formed a “gang” we dubbed, “The Vultures.” Membership was exclusive – a two-person crew that came about when we each noticed we were getting ready to hit on the same female at a keg party somewhere in Zehnersville. The last time I saw Joe in a social setting, he greeted me with our old Vultures signal. It made my night.

It’s never easy pinpointing characteristics or traits that make some people great, but that’s not the case here. Mike Hinton had a way of making you feel welcomed. He listened. He gave your words weight. You felt like you mattered. It doesn’t get any more genuine than that. If you’re looking for greatness, look no further.

My only contact with Mike in recent years came via Facebook and Twitter, but when word of his untimely death got to me in a text from P.J. Brown Saturday afternoon, a flood of memories came rushing back, including one I’m not sure I ever shared. The day before I moved into the University of Pittsburgh, the crew was at Seven Springs to play beach volleyball. I left early for another destination, but left my volleyball with the boys. Mike brought the ball back to my house, and when I returned home, it was sitting by the front door. As I approached, I noticed a piece of paper with the ball. It was a note from Mike. Now, when I return home from vacation in two days, I’ll dig through old photos to share, but the details of the note will remain private. Rest assured the note – worn and faded – still sits among those old memories, a wonderful reminder of an amazing time of my life.

Time made better by Mike Hinton – a husband, father, brother, son and friend to many.

Rest easy, old friend.

Somerset: a football school?!

Should the Somerset Area High School baseball team advance to the PIAA Class AAA semifinals, that wouldn’t exactly be classified as a surprise.

After all, the Golden Eagles are a frequent qualifier for the state playoffs, and they played for the Class AAA title in 2008.

Somerset also produces the occasional state track medalist. The boys basketball team pops into the state bracket from time to time.

But football? Somerset and football usually mix as well as Dylan and the Dead (Looked good on paper, but lacked in execution)  or Paul Roma rolling with the Four Horsemen (a disastrous decision that forever tainted the Horsemen’s legacy).

Go back 50-55 years. There aren’t many landmark seasons for Somerset football. When the Golden Eagles were strong in the early 1990s, they couldn’t get past Forest Hills. In the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Richland proved to be the Golden Eagles’ foil, so did teams like University Prep and Clearfield.

Those recent losses must have provided motivation and inspiration, because things changed drastically this fall. Somerset, where high school football was often an afterthought before Bob Landis became head coach, has postseason fever for the first time.

Somerset rolled through the first nine weeks of the regular season, consistently ranking among the state’s top five scoring offenses and shutting down opponents on defense. Scored were lopsided. Optimism slowly climbed.

Somerset 41, Bishop Carroll 0; Somerset 43, Forest Hills 12; Somerset 42, Bedford 20; Somerset 55,, Richland 6; Somerset 50, Greater Johnstown 13; Somerset 55, Westmont Hilltop 7; Somerset 54, Bishop McCort 14; Somerset 47, Cambria Heights 0; Somerset 35, Penn Cambria 7.

Junior quarterback Dylan Barnes developed into a game-breaking dual threat. Junior Jake Heiple paced a fast-break ground game that averaged 250 yards per game. Three receivers average at least 22 yards per catch, including senior Bryce Mostoller’s eye-popping 38.3 average on 33 catches. Somerset doesn’t post insane passing numbers, but it’s enough to be respected by defenses.

Speaking of defense, the Golden Eagles forced turnovers, created pressure and made plays everywhere. Mostoller has 31 tackles for loss; Raven Beeman has 28.

All those playmakers combined with excellent special teams had people talking in Somerset. This cozy, quaint baseball community thought these Golden Eagles might be the town’s best football team since the 1950s. A Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference title was a win – at home – away.

Then, in the Week 10 regular season finale, Bishop Guilfoyle came to Somerset and won easily. It was shades of the late 80s and early 90s. A rare great regular season capped with a disappointing home loss.

And the loss didn’t seem like a good sign for postseason success as Guilfoyle, despite being a private school, is Class A.

Well, Bishop Guilfoyle is convincingly in the PIAA Class A semifinals.

As for Somerset? The Golden Eagles are part of the Class AAA final four.

Sound crazy? It is.

But Somerset certainly earned its way.

At 14-1, Somerset carries a five-game win streak into Saturday’s semifinal against perennial power Archbishop Wood, winners of the last two Class AAA titles. Somerset manhandled Punxsutawney and Clearfield to win the District 5-6-8-9 subregion. It followed with a 42-14 win over District 4 champ Selinsgrove in its first PIAA playoff game. Last Saturday, Somerset shut out Bethlehem Catholic.

So here sits Somerset, a community known for farming, coal mining, skiing and hunting, with the big boys of Class AAA football. Archbishop Wood is loaded. So are the semifinalists in the western side of the bracket – WPIAL champ Central Valley and Bishop McDevitt, alma mater of LeSean McCoy. Those schools boast Division I talent.

Somerset, a decided underdog Saturday, has kids who don’t go to school the first day of deer season. Pretty sure the school gives students that day off. At least that was the case when I attended Somerset more than 20 years ago.

Not that it matters because, at least for this magical fall, Somerset played plenty of big-boy football.

Deer season can wait.