Hornets cherish finale
Juniata Valley celebrated its finest high school football season ever in 2018.
Led by Class 1A first-team all-state quarterback Quinn Zinobile, the Green Hornets won their first District 6 championship since 1986 and made it to the PIAA semifinal game before losing to Lackawanna Trail and coming up one win short of a berth in the state title game in Hershey.
It was a season to remember, especially for Zinobile and Valley’s other senior players — three of whom, Jaxson Rand, Kyle Derugen and Garrett Funk — will officially usher out their high school football playing careers as members of the South team in Friday night’s 35th Lezzer Lumber Classic.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Clearfield Area High School’s Bison Sports Complex.
Along with being represented by four players, Valley will have plenty of representation on the sidelines as well. The Green Hornets’ head coach, Bill Musser, will serve as the South team’s head coach, and two of Musser’s Valley assistant coaches, John Boone and Jason Showalter, will be among the members of the South’s coaching staff.
“It’s an awesome feeling any time that you get to work with this level of talent and this amount of talent,” Musser said. “It’s so enjoyable to be around. Just to be able to coach in a game like this is an experience that you have to cherish and enjoy and celebrate.
“It says a lot about our community that we can be represented at this game,” Musser said. “We had a lot of talent on last year’s team, and we had the work ethic and desire to be match the talent. When our players went out on the field, it wasn’t all about them. It was all about our community. I think our players really took that to heart last year, and I think it really showed.”
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Zinobile was prolific as both a passer and runner at quarterback for Valley last season, completing 99 of 163 passes for 1,604 yards and 13 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,247 yards on 214 carries and 17 touchdowns.
But in Friday night’s game, he will play mostly at wide receiver, a position that he will play in college at Clarion State University.
“I’ll probably play slotback or wide receiver in college, so I am going to work on that,” said Zinobile, who caught 39 passes for 512 yards as a Valley sophomore wideout in 2016. “It’s going to be a real pleasure playing in this game. Some of our fans will come to watch us play for the last time, and I’m going to be on the same team with some very good players. Playing with Jaxson Rand, Kyle Derugen and Garrett Funk will be an honor.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound Rand rushed for 1,056 yards on 218 carries and 12 touchdowns as a senior fullback for Valley last fall. He’ll play fullback or slotback in Friday’s game.
“It’s an honor,” Rand, who will play college football at Millersville, said about playing in the Lezzer Lumber Classic with his Valley teammates. “It’s our last game that we play together. We get to play one last football game under the lights with a lot of talented players, and the atmosphere is going to be crazy Friday night.”
The 5-foot-9, 130-pound Derugen will split time at wideout and safety in the Lezzer Lumber Classic. Derugen caught 25 passes for 480 yards and two touchdowns last season for Valley, while picking off three passes as a safety.
Derugen has enlisted in the United States Army.
“I just think it’s a good last football game to be a part of, to spend time with teammates and other players from throughout the area,” Derugen said. “I think it’s even better that I get to do it one last time with my coaching staff.”
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Funk will play college football at Shippensburg University. He was a two-year starter for Valley at outside linebacker, a position that he will play in Friday’s game.
“It’s a lot of fun, one more chance to play football,” Funk said. “It’s another chance to play with the guys I’ve been with for the last three or four years, even though we’re all going off to different places.”