Top Western Pa. quarterbacks set to show skills at 4th Willie Thrower camp

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Wednesday, May 8, 2024 | 6:31 PM


More than 50 quarterbacks from the WPIAL and throughout Western Pennsylvania and Ohio will get a chance to show their stuff at the fourth annual Willie Thrower Memorial Award Foundation Quarterback Camp on Saturday at Valley High School.

“With this camp, you not only are seeing the great number of quarterbacks but also the great quality of quarterbacks,” Valley football coach Mark Adams said.

“We are able to draw kids from all throughout the WPIAL who want to come in and show what they can do in front of college coaches and scouts. The top tier of those quarterbacks will end up playing Division I football. That is a great look for this camp. That was the idea, to make this an elite camp for Western Pennsylvania.”

The camp is slated to start at 10 a.m. and run until about 1 p.m. It is for quarterbacks who will be entering ninth through 12th grades for the upcoming 2024 season.

College quarterback coaches and some local high school coaches will instruct the campers, and Adams expects more than three dozen college coaches and scouts to be in attendance to evaluate participants.

Greg McGhee, the quarterbacks coach from Howard University, is the camp’s lead instructor.

“We’ve sent out invitations to about 40 different schools from PA down to Georgia for coaches and others to come in and check out the camp and the quarterbacks,” Adams said.

“We’re hoping to get a great turnout. The excitement is there. A lot of them said they are sending somebody from their staffs if the head coach can’t come. It’s a great opportunity for the kids to get some additional exposure.”

Quarterbacks from schools in the Alle-Kiski Valley and surrounding communities, Adams said, add to the special feel of the camp.

Highlands is sending five, including Menage Lucas, a starter for several games last year as a junior.

Burrell starter Steve Hasson and Kiski Area starter Carson Heinle also will be there along with their teammates and other quarterbacks from schools such as Penn Hills, Monessen, Knoch, Armstrong, Hempfield, Imani Christian and Clairton.

“It’s good for them to see who is out there and how they’re working out and trying to get better as a player,” Adams said. “Our camp numbers are looking really good right now, and they’re growing.”

The camp each year seeks to honor the memory and celebrate the career of Willie Thrower, who made a name for himself at quarterback at New Kensington High in the 1940s before branching out as a starter at Michigan State and ultimately becoming the first Black quarterback to start a modern NFL game.

Thrower played for the Chicago Bears in the 1953 season.

A statue of Thrower in a throwing pose greets people as they enter the main gate at Valley High Memorial Field, the site of Saturday’s camp where some of the best arms will be on display.

Adams said that this year’s camp has the full participation and endorsement of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In addition to the quarterbacks who will be slinging footballs all over the field, Dan Rooney Jr., a standout quarterback himself some 17 years ago at Shady Side Academy before playing in college at Dartmouth, will be on hand to speak to the campers about the hard work necessary to excel as a quarterback beyond high school.

Rooney now is the director of business development and strategy with the Steelers.

“Dan has had varying degrees of responsibility with the Steelers and was a scout in the personnel department,” said Bob Pallone, a New Kensington Arnold School District board member and a co-coordinator of the Willie Thrower Camp. “He’s a great guy and an excellent role model for these players to mirror. Not often do we get someone of Dan’s stature in the Valley.”

“I think Dan coming in will not only be good for the young kids involved but also for some of the high school coaches who will take part as far as helping out and instructing,” Adams said.

In April, the Willie Thrower Memorial Award Foundation selected Central Catholic senior Payton Wehner as this year’s award recipient, recognizing him as the WPIAL’s top quarterback from the 2023 season.

A finalist last year, Wehner continued to put in the work, and it paid off in the form of a final high school season that saw him throw for 2,940 yards and 36 touchdowns to help the Vikings reach the WPIAL Class 6A title game.

A three-year starter for Central Catholic, Wehner will continue his football and academic pursuits at St. Francis (Pa.) in the Northeast Conference.

Saturday’s camp is presented free of charge.

For more information or to pre-register, contact Valley High School athletic director Kim Johnson at 724-337-4536 or at kjohnson@nkasd.com.

Quarterbacks not able to register in advance can do so at the field Saturday before the camp begins.

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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