Aidan Besselman emulated NFL Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Troy Polamalu on the football field at Upper St. Clair. A three-year starter, he led the Panthers in receiving for the past two seasons while also dominating in the defensive secondary.

“Aidan was a big-play wide receiver and hard-hitting safety,” said USC head coach Mike Junko. “He presented a home run threat on offense and had the ability to attack all parts of the field.

“Defensively, he’s a hard-hitting, run-stopper and shutdown cover guy. You really have to know where he is on the field because he can cover a lot of ground.”

His 41 receptions this autumn covered 817 yards. Ten of those grabs terminated in the end zone. One of his career catches ended up on an ESPN highlight reel. Another advanced the Panthers to the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals.

When he ran with the ball, he averaged 4.1 yards a carry. Once this fall, he even completed a pass for 63 yards. He provided the Panthers 71.1 yards of offense in 13 games this season not to mention 72 points.

On defense, he ranked fifth on the team in total tackles (34) and solo shots (30). He added one sack, three pass break-ups and 7.5 TFL. He was tied for first on the team with three interceptions–one a Pick-6.

“He was the best player we played against,” said rival coach Brian DeLallo from Bethel Park.

Many other Allegheny Six Conference coaches concurred as Besselman was named its offensive Player of The Year. Besselman shared the distinction with BP’s Ryan Petras. Besselman also gained recognition on the conference’s first team defense.

It was the second straight season, Besselman gained the respect of conference coaches. He was an all-league performer as a junior, hauling in 30 receptions for 412 yards and seven touchdowns, including the highlight reel that gave the Panthers an overtime win against South Fayette.

Besselman was one of 10 returning seniors on a Panther defense that allowed just 64 points while finishing runner-up in the Allegheny Six Conference. This fall, USC allowed 57 conference points and again took the divisional runner-up hardware with a 4-1 record. The Panthers did however avenge that defeat when they triumphed over BP, 17-7, in the WPIAL semifinals.

USC finished 10-3, however, after falling to Pine-Richland, 34-3. In the championship contest, Besselman hauled in four passes for a team-high 74 yards.

“Aidan really has grown as a receiver,” Junko said. “He really improved his route running and became more than just a ‘speed guy’ for us.”

Besselman is more than just a standout on the gridiron. He excels in the classroom, maintaining a 4.37 GPA that has attracted interest from the Ivy League institutions. A potential business major, Besselman is also being courted by several MAC schools.

A versatile athlete, he could potential play more than one sport in college. He is after all an All-American in lacrosse.

Besselman also played basketball on USC’s WPIAL championship club in 2020. He also lettered last year but is focusing on football, his recruitment and lacrosse preparation this winter.

Besselman acknowledges playing multiple sports, especially lacrosse, has improved and accentuated his performances on the football field.

“Lacrosse is very fast and physical,” he said. “It combines the agility from basketball and physicality of football into one. It’s super fast and fun. It’s made me a better player.”

This autumn, Besselman could not have gotten any better. He has been named The Almanac’s MVP for football.

Trio excels

Though a sophomore Ryan Petras of Bethel Park was one step behind Besselman in the voting for Almanac MVP as were his teammate Gavin Moul and Jamaal Brown from USC.

In the Allegheny Six Conference, Petras shared Player of the Year honors on offense with Besselman while Moul garnered the POTY distinction on defense.

Petras, who was The Almanac’s Rookie of the Year last season as a freshman, was a two-way starter for the Black Hawks as well as a special teams performer, returning punts and kickoffs.

Before breaking his collarbone in the final moments of the last regular season game, sidelining him for the playoffs, Petras managed 578 yards rushing as well as 578 yards receiving. He led the team with 44 receptions and touchdowns with 16. He ranked third on team in rushing. A starter in the defensive secondary, Petras had 24 solo and 6 assisted tackles. He picked off two passes and recovered one fumble as well as batted away one pass.

According to Mike Junko, Petras was the toughest player his Panthers faced this season. “He’s a great young player with a bright future,” he said.

Petras is also a standout outfielder and starter on BP’s state championship baseball team.

Meanwhile Moul’s future is as a linebacker at the University of Delaware. A four-year starter, he chalked up 45 unassisted and five assisted tackles. Named the Allegheny Six Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, he also racked up five sacks and 16 tackles for loss.

Used primarily as a blocking back on offense, Moul picked up 649 yards on 113 carries. He also caught 18 passes and scored eight touchdowns for the Black Hawks, who won the conference championship with a 5-0 record and finished 10-2 overall after losing to USC in the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals.

“Gavin was the best linebacker in Western Pennsylvania,” said BP skipper Brian DeLallo. “He can play any position on the field. He’s also the most intense competition that I have ever coached. While we had a lot of very good players, our best football player was Gavin”

Brown was probably the most congenial player at USC.

“He’s a fine young man that’s beloved by his teammates,” Junko said.

“He also was the heart and soul of our run game. Jamaal’s a power running back with great speed and agility. He was very valuable to our team.”

Brown ranked among the leading rushers in the WPIAL. He was No. 1 for the Panthers, rolling up 1,489 yards on 201 carries for a 7.4-yard average and 12 touchdowns. He added 13 receptions for 125 yards and two additional scores. Including kick returns, Brown finished with 1,787 all-purpose yards and atop the scoring list for the Panthers.

Brown saw limited action on defense. He managed seven tackles and six assists. He also recovered a fumble.

Almanac Sports Editor

An award-winning journalist, Eleanor Bailey has been employed by Observer Publishing Company since 1982. She is the sports editor at The Almanac and a contributor for the Observer-Reporter.

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