Central Catholic QB Payton Wehner wins Willie Thrower Award

Saturday, April 6, 2024 | 6:28 PM

Central Catholic senior Payton Wehner was the only finalist for the fourth annual Willie Thrower Award who was honored in 2022.

Even though Armstrong’s Cadin Olsen won for the second consecutive year, Wehner knew he had a shot at the award if he dedicated himself to the sport.

His hard work paid off as Wehner was the 2023 Willie Thrower Award winner as the top quarterback in the WPIAL or City League. The announcement came Saturday at the awards banquet at Knead Community Café in New Kensington.

Wehner, who will attend St. Francis (Pa.), was selected by a committee of coaches and select media members.

Thrower helped New Kensington to consecutive WPIAL titles in 1946 and 1947 and then became the first African American quarterback to start at Michigan State and in the NFL for the Chicago Bears.

Aliquippa coach Michael Warfield, the keynote speaker, said he was hesitant about speaking at the banquet until he learned more about Thrower. It was a no-brainer after he did his research.

“After watching film of Thrower, he might have been the first quarterback to run the RPO (Run Pass Option),” Warfield said. “It’s a privilege to speaker in his honor.”

The other finalists were Montour senior Jake Wolfe, North Allegheny senior Logan Kushner, Peters Township sophomore Nolan DiLucia, Fort Cherry sophomore Matt Sieg and Penn Hills graduate Julian Dugger, who graduated from Penn Hills in December and is enrolled at Pitt.

Dugger was unable to attend the banquet because of Pitt’s spring practice.

“Being here last year and when I went home, it was on my mind to come back and win it,” Wehner said. “It was motivation for me throughout the whole season.”

Wehner, a three-year starter, had an impressive career. He ended up as the WPIAL’s 13th all-time leading passer with 6,956 yards and 71 touchdowns.

This past season, he threw for 2,940 yards and 36 touchdowns and helped the Vikings reach the WPIAL Class 6A title game.

He was selected to play in the East-West All-Star game. He had a GPA of 4.3 and also played basketball.

“It means a lot to be picked from a lot of great athletes,” Wehner said. “I knew it could go either way. I know there were a couple young guys in the running that I know will work hard in the next few seasons.”

Wehner said he didn’t know much about Thrower before last year. But he said it’s an honor to represent him.

All the finalists talked about the honor of being selected for the prestigious award, and they learned how Thrower was a history maker.

“It’s a great honor,” Kushner said. “Thrower was a special person.”

Kushner led North Allegheny to the WPIAL Class 6A title and had a tremendous championship game where he had a hand in six touchdowns (four rushing and two throwing).

He passed for 1,877 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 1,475 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Sieg helped Fort Cherry to its first Class A title. He passed for 1,671 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 2,387 yards and 40 touchdowns. He also plays basketball and baseball and runs track.

DiLucia helped lead Peters Township to a WPIAL Class 5A title. He passed for 3,131 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushed for 489 yards and eight scores.

Dugger was a three-year starter for the Indians. During his senior season, he passed for 1,646 yards and 29 touchdowns and rushed for 776 yards.

Wolfe finished with 4,868 career yards passing and 53 touchdowns. As a senior, he passed for 2,662 yards and 31 touchdowns and rushed for 861 yards and 14 scores.

Previous winners were Pine-Richland’s Cole Spencer (2020) and Armstrong’s Olsen (2021 and 2022).

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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