Armstrong’s Cadin Olsen repeats as Willie Thrower Award winner

Saturday, March 25, 2023 | 5:17 PM

The great Willie Thrower was said to have the largest hands in football history. The former Ken High football star’s nickname was “Mitts.”

He was even recognized for it by Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not.”

Cadin Olsen’s hands are not as big as Thrower’s, but the Armstrong senior quarterback was glad to once again wrap his around the trophy bearing Thrower’s name.

Olsen was a repeat winner as his name was announced Saturday during a luncheon at Knead Community Cafe in Thrower’s home town of New Kensington.

Olsen knew what the Willie Thrower Award, presented to the quarterback of the year from the WPIAL and City League, felt like because he also won the 29-pound bronze prize last year.

Now, he has two of them.

“I started playing football in seventh grade, so I feel like I have come a long way,” Olsen said. “I wasn’t even going to get into football, now here I am. It’s amazing. I’m so happy for my teammates and coaches, too.

“I did some research on (Thrower), and I see how important it is to carry on his legacy.”

One of five finalists, Olsen was selected over fellow seniors Keyshawn Morsillo of Westinghouse, Cruce Brookins of Steel Valley, Josh Jenkins of Sto-Rox and Central Catholic junior Payton Wehner.

The conscientious Olsen, a Penn commit who carries a 4.3 grade-point average and plans to get into the medical field — his grandfather is an eye doctor and his father is a chiropractor — will graduate as a 17-year-old. He already has job-shadowed a radiologist.

The 6-foot-5 Olsen, a three-time Thrower finalist, led the WPIAL in passing yards for the second straight year with 3,210 yards and 43 TDs. His brother, Ian, was one of his pass-catchers.

Olsen ended his career as the seventh all-time-leading passer in WPIAL history with 7,819 yards. He will play in the Big 33 Classic next month.

He led Armstrong from one win four years ago, to a conference title.

“I have never seen him upset,” Armstrong coach Frank Fabian said. “He’s never raised is voice. He’s always poised and under control.”

Fabian said Olsen nearly left Armstrong to play at IMG Academy in Florida, but “he wanted to finish her career here, with his friends. In three years, he became a household name. Between him and Zane (Dudek), I don’t think anybody is going to wear No. 33 or 4 for awhile.”

Thrower, revered for being the first black quarterback to play in the NFL, starred at Ken High and Michigan State and then suited up for the Chicago Bears, making pro football history as a trailblazer in 1953, his lone season in the NFL.

He died of a heart attack in 2002 at 71.

Saturday’s ceremony was as much a celebration of Thrower’s life and legacy as it was a chance to recognize the best quarterback. The common theme seemed to fit: Pass it on; tell people who Thrower was.

“There is a lot of unity here today,” said Melvin Thrower, Willie’s son. “So many people came together. We had the first black mayor (of Pittsburgh) here today. There were people in my dad’s own hometown who didn’t believe that he was the first black quarterback in the NFL. That hurt him. But there is so much love now … we’re gaining momentum.”

A number of distinguished guests attended the ceremony, including Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey; Chuck Cooper III, the son of Chuck Cooper, the first black basketball player to be drafted by an NBA team (Boston Celtics); former Pitt basketball player Darelle Porter; and others.

New Kensington mayor Tom Guzzo alluded to Thrower’s impact on today’s game: Two black quarterbacks faced off in Super Bowl LVII, with Patrick Mahomes leading the Kansas City Chiefs over Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles.

And he reminded the crowd that New Kensington native Skyy Moore, who played at Shady Side Academy and Western Michigan, caught a touchdown pass for the Chiefs in the game.

“(The award) has such historical meaning and relevance,” Guzzo said. “Pioneer. Barrier-breaker. Trailblazer. Those words undoubtedly describe New Kensington’s own Willie Thrower. … In every social-change situation, there is always somebody who is first, someone who has to bear the pressure of the moment. The first is always a legacy.”

Thrower led New Kensington to back-to-back WPIAL titles in 1946 and ’47. Across the county, Arnold Palmer won a pair of district golf titles in the same years.

Wehner, a North Huntingdon native, was second in the WPIAL in passing yardage with 2,504 as Central Catholic returned to the WPIAL Class 6A title game. He is believed to be the first Central passer to clear 2,000 yards in a regular season.

“This is a special event to be a part of,” Wehner said. “Seeing Cadin win it, he’s one of the best. Obviously, winning (championships) is what it is all about for us. But it’s something to work for (next season).”

Morsillo led Westinghouse (14-1) to the PIAA final for the first time since 1997 while throwing for 2,544 yards and 43 touchdowns and rushing for 916 yards and 16 more scores. The Cal (Pa.) commit is the award’s first finalist from the City League.

Brookins, who is headed to Pitt to play defensive back, guided Steel Valley (12-1) to a WPIAL Class 2A championship, rushing for 1,716 yards and passing for 858.

Jenkins, a Holy Cross commit, threw for 2,431 yards and 31 touchdowns for Sto-Rox (10-3) and ended his career with over 5,000 yards and 60 TDs.

This is the third year for the award. Cole Spencer of Pine-Richland was the inaugural winner in 2021.

It also was announced that Thrower will be inducted into the PA Sports Hall of Fame.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at

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