2021 WPIAL Class A football breakdown: Clairton returns size, skill, speed … again

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Tuesday, August 24, 2021 | 6:01 AM


Wayne Wade has heard about Jeannette’s transfer issues and low player turnout.

But the Clairton coach wants to see for himself if the ravaged Jayhawks are truly in for the rough go everyone says they are.

Call it a respectful nod to the defending WPIAL Class A champions, who throttled the Bears, 45-14, to win their 10th district title.

“We’ll see what happens in their scrimmage and once they get going,” Wade said of the Jayhawks. “You hear about all those guys leaving. You hate to see that happen to any program. No team should have to experience that. But Jeannette is the defending champs, so they have to be the team to beat.”

Jeannette returns one starter from a team that came within a few plays of winning a PIAA title. The top playmakers are gone, including quarterback Brad Birch and his main receiver and brother, Brett, both of whom transferred to Gateway.

Nine potential two-way starters left the program. Two went to Greensburg Central Catholic, which could join Springdale as another contender in the Eastern Conference.

Then again, Wade might simply be downplaying his own team. The Bears are the preseason No. 1 because they return size, skill and speed — sound familiar?

“I expect a big year from us, yes,” Wade said. “We set the culture and climate here. We won’t be a Lamont (Wade) or Tyler (Boyd) or Desi (Green) team, but the kids still expect to win.”

Since 2006, Clairton has won eight of its 14 WPIAL titles, and Jeannette has captured four of its championships, including two in Class AA.

The Bears last season became the sixth WPIAL program to reach 700 wins. Jeannette leads the list of WPIAL football wins with 766.

“It is what it is with our situation,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “Our kids are working hard. They have a chip on their shoulder because people are doubting them. We’ll see how it goes.

“Clairton has to be No. 1. When you talk about Class A football, you always talk about the Clairton Bears.”

Clairton returns key linemen in seniors Kanye Hawkins, Keith Meade and junior Tyrese Washington-Law, along with senior quarterback Capone Jones and senior wideout Brooklyn Cannon.

Greensburg Central Catholic has a new coach in Marko Thomas, who left Class 5A Connellsville after four seasons. He inherits a talent-rich team that looks strong at receiver, running back and linebacker.

The Centurions are hoping to take preseason hype and run with it this time. They were ranked No. 3 to start last season and stumbled to a 2-5 mark to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference.

“We need to continue to jell,” Thomas said. “And be able to fight through adversity.”

While the Eastern gets much of the respect, and rightly so, the Big Seven Conference has a couple of potential contenders in Rochester and Shenango.

Playoff regular Rochester brings back senior linebacker Sal Laure and junior defensive back Jerome Mullins from a semifinal team that lost to Jeannette.

Look for senior linemen Jason Domenick and Trever Valenti to open running lanes for Shenango, which lost to Clairton in the semifinals.

Don’t completely undersell the Tri-County South, either.

California returns seniors Damani Stafford and Ethan Fike, a talented linebacker pair. Stafford played quarterback last year but will move to running back as Brownsville transfer Hunter Assad takes over under center.

THE FAVORITE

1. Clairton (8-1)

The WPIAL runner-up Bears return seven starters and feature size up front and speed at receiver. They will look to take full advantage of a rare lean year at Jeannette and make a run at their 15th WPIAL title.

Preseason rankings

2. Rochester (7-2)

3. California (6-1)

4. Springdale (5-3)

5. Shenango (7-2)

THE STARS

Joe Blahovec

Greensburg C.C., sr., WR/DB

Big-bodied receiver and solid pass defender is a Youngstown State commit.

Brooklyn Cannon

Clairton, sr., WR

Big-play pass-catching threat averaged more than 15 yards per catch last season.

Logan Dexter

Springdale, sr., DB

The Dynamos’ top defender and a multi-faceted talent, he helped the team allow 15.2 points last season from his safety spot.

Braylan Lovelace

Leechburg, jr., RB

Lovelace rushed for 983 yards, including a 392-yard game, caught 27 receptions and scored 13 TDs for the Blue Devils last season.

Damani Stafford

California, sr., RB/LB

A running back and outside linebacker with big-play ability, he played quarterback last season but will return to the backfield.

DON’T MISS

10.15: Greensburg C.C. at Clairton

If GCC can live up to its potential, this game will show just how good the Centurions can be. Conversely, the game could be a step closer to another conference title for Clairton.

10.22: Rochester at Shenango

A game that could decide the Big Seven title should be all about defense. Rochester won last year’s meeting, 13-0.

10.22: Clairton at Springdale

Springdale has the potential to give the Bears a run in the Eastern Conference and playing the Bears at Veterans Memorial Field is a plus for the Dynamos.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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