Hoenstine, Harrold enjoying family success in sports
Twenty-five years ago, A.J. Hoenstine and Dane Harrold were college roommates and teammates on the Mansfield baseball team.
Instead of getting together and rehashing stories of their own sports glory, both are reveling in their sophomore sons leading their respective high school football teams to success this season.
Jeff Hoenstine leads the Mirror’s coverage area in passing with some extremely impressive numbers. He’s 66-of-101 for 1,095 yards and has thrown 15 touchdown passes to just one interception during Central’s 4-0 start.
Right behind him among area passing leaders is Garrett Harrold, who has completed 56 of his 87 passes for 745 yards and four touchdowns to help Penn Cambria get off to a 3-1 start.
Oh, and this generation of Hoenstines and Harrolds also share a dugout. The pair play together in AAU baseball for the Flood City Elite.
“We both have worked pretty hard, and we have been playing baseball together for a couple years now,” Harrold said. “It’s cool to know somebody that’s my age and close to me that’s been going through the same things as me and getting some of the same achievements that I have been accomplishing.”
Both sophomores got their feet wet as varsity quarterbacks last season. Harrold threw all but three of Penn Cambria’s passes as a freshman and went 130-for-226 for 1,676 yards and 14 touchdowns but also threw 10 interceptions.
“The biggest stride he made is that he takes better care of the football this year,” Penn Cambria coach Nick Felus said. “He can work to his second or third option and is doing a better job at protecting the football while he’s doing it. He’s making better decisions with the football.”
Hoenstine also saw plenty of time at quarterback as a freshman but split his duties with Braden Kitt and played as a wide receiver when he wasn’t under center. Hoenstine was 56-of-94 for 756 yards and threw for 15 touchdowns while being picked off five times. He also led the Scarlet Dragons in receptions with 41 for 356 yards and a score.
“It got me used to the environment,” Hoenstine said. “I learned how to be a varsity quarterback, and it helped me to learn the system and carry that into this year.”
Central doesn’t need Hoenstine among its receiving crew this season.
“We have good receivers, and we obviously have a great quarterback,” Central coach Dave Baker said. “We did a lot of seven-on-sevens in the summer, and we work on that stuff a lot. They all play other sports together, and that helps. It’s a really good unit that’s done very well for us.”
In fact, some of those workouts came against Penn Cambria and Harrold.
“Jeff is a great player,” Felus said. “We spent some time with him in the summer doing some seven-on-sevens with them last year and this year. We’re very familiar with their program, and they do a great job with their program. It would be special for us to play a great program like Central in the playoffs.”
If the playoffs started this week, the Dragons and Panthers would meet in the District 6 Class 3A semifinals, but both teams are hoping the seedings change in the next two weeks to give the two sophomores a chance to square off in the championship game.
“I think it would be pretty cool to have two sophomores going at it, hopefully in the district title game,” Hoenstine said. “We’re both pretty competitive, so I know we’ll both be out there trying to win the game.”
Both teams have big challenges this week. Central will host Clearfield, which has played only two games due to a positive COVID-19 test at its school but enters the game 2-0 and is widely considered one of the best teams in the Mountain League.
“Beating Clearfield is a big task, because they are really good,” Baker said. “That’s going to be a monumental task to beat Clearfield. If we can do it, we can likely wrap up one of the top seeds.”
Baker said Hoenstine’s excellent play along with receivers like Devon Boyles, Hunter Klotz and Hunter Smith will give the Scarlet Dragons a good chance.
“It has just been a steady improvement,” Baker said. “We have improved our receiving corps, and everything seems to be coming together. It has made our team a lot stronger.”
Penn Cambria will travel to defending District 6 Class 2A champion Richland a week after rallying to beat previously unbeaten Central Cambria, 29-28, with a two-point conversion in the final minute.
On the winning play, Harrold had to improvise to find Jake Tsikalas for the go ahead score.
“We work on that play every day in practice, and the first option was to get the ball to (Nick) Marinak in the flat right away,” Felus said. “It was there, but he got a little pressure from the edge, and he just did an outstanding job of knowing where his second option was going to be on that play. He gave himself some room, and he just delivered.”
Harrold said the play was made easier because of the experience he’s developed with receivers like Tsikalas, Marinak and Brandon Storm the past two seasons.
“Last year, we really boosted our chemistry,” Harrold said. “This year, we have taken it up a level. We’re all on the same page, and we can trust each other. We’re pretty good together overall.”
Hoenstine and Harrold are also both threats to run the ball, something Felus said has helped with the versatility of Penn Cambria’s offense.
“He put on some weight, so he’s stronger, faster and bigger,” Felus said. “We’re using him a little more in the run game this year, and that’s helped our offense.”
The baseball teammates and friends off the field also check in on how the other did after each game.
“We’re pretty good friends, and it’s pretty neat to see us both having so much success on the football field,” Hoenstine said. “I always look and see how he did, and I’m always rooting for Garrett. He’s a good friend, and I hope he continues to do well this year.”
While neither sophomore wanted to claim he was better than the other at any sport they play, if Hoenstine and Harrold end up meeting in the District 6 Class 3A championship game the weekend of Oct. 30-31, they will be doing their best to claim bragging rights for not just themselves but their fathers.
And even if they don’t match up in this year’s playoffs, Central is joining the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference next season, which means plenty of games with Penn Cambria to sort out who gets to hold his head just a little bit higher the next time the friends come off the field.
“They are friends, and they are close. They are cut from the same mold,” Felus said. “They are competitors. I know they both play to win.”