TribLive HSSN ranks the top 7 defensive linemen in WPIAL history — No. 1

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Friday, September 7, 2018 | 7:18 PM


Did you ever wonder how you would rank the top high school football players in WPIAL history?

So did the staff at the TribLive High School Sports Network.

Trib HSSN will rank the top 7 high school football players in WPIAL history by position based on their performance during their scholastic careers.

We will announce the players in reverse order each day, starting Saturday. The top player will be released each Friday morning.

We encourage you to tell us through social media if you agree, or if we have missed the mark with our rankings.

There are no perfect rankings, but it’s something to discuss and debate each week.

Have fun with them and hopefully your — or your father’s — favorite player made the lists.

Here’s a look at the Trib 7 all-time great defensive linemen:

No. 1 — Bruce Clark, New Castle

Considered the top recruit in Western Pennsylvania in 1975, Clark was a United Press International first-team all-state pick.

In 1973, he was part of a Red Hurricanes team that won the WPIAL title over Mt. Lebanon, 3-0. The following season, New Castle lost to Gateway in the semifinals, 20-12.

It was back to the title game in 1975. That one ended in a 0-0 against Upper St. Clair.

As a senior that season, he was selected to the prestigious Parade Magazine All-American team.

Clark also played end on offense and was New Castle’s kicker, once booting a field goal to defeat Butler, 3-0.

Clark played in the 1976 Big 33 game against Ohio before embarking on an outstanding career at Penn State, where he was an All-American pick in 1978 and ’79.

Taken by Green Bay as the No. 4 overall pick in the 1980 NFL draft, Clark opted to play for Toronto in the CFL for two seasons before signing with the New Orleans Saints in 1982.

He played in 102 NFL games over eight seasons.

No. 2 — Leon Hart, Turtle Creek

One of three WPIAL players to win a Heisman Trophy (Johnny Lujack of Connellsville and Tony Dorsett of Hopewell are the others), Hart helped Turtle Creek to a 7-1 record in 1944. Only a loss to North Braddock Scott prevented the Creekers from WPIAL title consideration.

He was an Associated Press all-state, third-teamer in 1945 before heading to Notre Dame.

Hart remains the biggest player to win the Heisman at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds. During his years at South Bend, the Fighting Irish won national championships in 1946, ’48 and ’49, compiling a 36-0-2 record during that time under coach Frank Leahy.

Hart was a two-way end for Notre Dame in the two-platoon era, catching 174 passes for 25 touchdowns and scored twice as a defensive end on fumble recoveries. Besides the Heisman in 1949, he was Associated Press Athlete of the Year, edging out National League MVP Jackie Robinson and golfing legend Sammy Snead.

Hart was drafted by the Detroit Lions and played 92 games in eight seasons.

No. 3 — Rich Saul, Butler

One of three Saul brothers to play in the NFL, Rich played in 176 NFL games with the Rams. His identical twin brother Ron played 142 games with the Oilers and the Redskins, while older brother Bill played in 88 games with the Colts, Steelers and Saints.

While at Butler, Rich was Associated Press first-team all-state in 1964 and ’65 and first team for the United Press International in 1965.

During his time at Butler, the Golden Tornado compiled a 26-3 record. In 1963, Butler (9-1) lost the WPIAL title game to West Mifflin North.

In ’64, a loss to eventual WPIAL champion Aliquippa meant an 8-1 record while the ’65 team was 9-1, losing only in the WPIAL finals to Uniontown. In other words, the three losses were all to the WPIAL champions.

Rich Saul played in the 1966 Big 33 game against Texas.

He and Ron went to Michigan State, where they were Academic All-Americans in 1969.

Rich was drafted by the Rams in the eighth round in 1970 and played in L.A. for 11 seasons.

Rich Saul died Apr. 15, 2012, of leukemia.

No. 4 — Aaron Donald, Penn Hills

Recently, Donald was the highest paid defensive player in NFL history for less than 48 hours.

The contract he signed with the Rams put him in that category on Aug. 30, only to lose that status when Khalil Mack signed with the Bears on Sept. 1.

A part of three Penn Hills WPIAL playoff teams as a varsity member, Donald was first-team all-state in Class 4A on the defensive line in both his junior and senior seasons.

As a senior, he was credited with 63 tackles — 15 of those for losses — and 11 sacks.

The Indians were eliminated by Gateway in the 2009 quarterfinals and the 2008 semifinals while Penn Hills lost a 2007 quarterfinal matchup to North Allegheny.

Donald also was an offensive guard for Penn Hills.

While at Pitt, he accumulated 181 tackles, 66 for losses and 29½ sacks. In 2013, he won the Outland Trophy, the Lombardi Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award.

He played at Pitt for four seasons before entering the 2014 NFL draft, where he was drafted in the first round by the St. Louis Rams.

With the Rams, Donald is 4 for 4 in Pro Bowls, being named each season of his NFL career. When his recent holdout ended, he signed a six-year, $135 million contract.

No. 5 — Dick Modzelewski, Har-Brack

Dick “Little Mo” Modzelewski was the younger brother of Ed “Big Mo” Modzelewski, though his career was anything but little.

A native of the West Natrona section of Harrison Township, he was an all-state selection in 1947 as he helped lead Har-Brack to the WPIAL title game against cross-river rival New Kensington. Har-Brack lost, but Modzelewski repeated as an all-state lineman in ’48.

During his years with the Tigers, Har-Brack compiled a 23-6-1 record.

Modzeleweski followed his brother to the University of Maryland, where he took over as a starter in his sophomore season in 1950. He was part of a 22-game unbeaten streak as the No. 3 Terrapins finished 11-0.

Modzelewski won the Outland Trophy in 1952 and was drafted by the Redskins in the second round of the 1953 NFL draft. He ended up in New York in 1956 and was part of the original “Fearsome Foursome” with Roosevelt Grier, Jim Katkavage and Andy Robustelli.

He was a part of what’s been called the NFL’s Greatest Game, the 1958 title game where the Giants lost in the first overtime to the Colts. Modzelewski sacked Johnny Unitas three times.

He later set what was then the NFL record of appearing in 175 straight games.

No. 6 — Bob Schilken, Mt. Lebanon

Now known as Dr. Robert Schilken, an orthopedic surgeon with the Allegheny Orthopedic Associates, he played on back-to-back WPIAL championship teams in 1980 and ’81, the first two seasons of Class 4A football.

The Blue Devils compiled a 25-1 record over those two seasons under legendary coach Art Walker.

The only loss was a 1980 nonconference game to Aliquippa.

In 1979, Mt. Lebanon lost a WPIAL semifinal game to Gateway, but in 1980, it defeated Bethel Park for the initial 4A title and followed that with a 34-6 rout over North Hills at what is now Cupples Stadium on Pittsburgh’s South Side.

Schilken was a 1981 Parade All-American, a first-team Associated Press all-stater and a second-team selection by United Press International.

Always interested in the medical field, he chose Pitt over three other schools with pre-med programs — Penn State, Duke and Virginia.

Over a dozen players from those Mt. Lebanon teams played Division I football.

Schilken played for Pitt teams that made the Cotton and Fiesta bowls before earning his medical degree.

No. 7 — Randy Crowder, Farrell

A first-team all-state lineman in 1969 by both the Associated Press and United Press International, Crowder led the Steelers to a 9-1 record.

Only a loss to Ellwood City prevented Farrell from WPIAL title consideration. But earlier in ’69, Crowder played on a WPIAL and PIAA state championship basketball team under coach Ed McCluskey and was the team’s second-leading scorer.

He also lettered three times in track

After the ’69 campaign, he was selected to the Parade All-American team and was Midwestern Conference MVP. Crowder played in the 1970 Big 33 Game before embarking on an outstanding career at Penn State.

He was named All-American in 1973 as a member of the 12-0 Nittany Lions team that won the Orange Bowl where he was named Most Valuable Lineman of the game.

Crowder was then selected in the sixth round of the 1974 NFL draft by the Dolphins.

He played 71 NFL games for Miami and Tampa Bay over six full seasons.

He is a member of the Penn State and Mercer County halls of fame.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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