WPIAL Class A football breakdown: Clairton, Jeannette among ‘wide open’ field of contenders
By: Paul Schofield
Wednesday, August 14, 2019 | 11:20 AM
There isn’t a clear-cut favorite among WPIAL Class A football teams this fall. Ask any coach who the team is, and they can’t tell you.
“It’s wide open,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “I expect the usual suspects: Clairton, Rochester, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and us.
“I know a lot of the top teams lost a lot, but you never know who comes in at some schools.”
Clairton would be a good choice. The Bears finished 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the Eastern Conference behind Jeannette last season. They were seeded No. 2 behind the Jayhawks in the WPIAL playoffs, and both lost in the semifinals.
The Bears return a solid offensive attack led by quarterback Brendan Parsons, who passed for 1,357 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 325 yards and seven scores last season. And with the transfer of coach Wayne Wade’s son Wayne from McKeesport, they have reliable options in the running game.
The other backs returning are junior Dontae Sanders, who rushed for 401 yards, and classmate Isaiah Berry, who missed last season with a knee injury.
“We’ll be OK,” coach Wade said. “We have some playmakers back. We have to find some linemen.”
As for what team will be the best?
“Jeannette always has players, and Laurel and West Greene could surprise people,” Wade said. “Other than that, it’s really hard to say. You don’t really know who has what returning.
“Those first couple weeks really tell you who are able to compete, who will be in playoff contention and who may be playing for a championship.”
Clairton will be tested. Its schedule features WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A champion Aliquippa in a Week Zero nonconference game, as well as a matchup with a strong Class 2A team in McGuffey in Week 1 and contests against Class A foes Laurel, West Greene and Jeannette.
Junior lineman Demetrious Weatherspoon (6-foot-6, 309 pounds) will anchor the lines for the Bears.
Jeannette lost quarterback Seth Howard and wide receiver Marcus Barnes, but it returns a veteran line, wide receiver Jackson Pruitt and other playmakers. Pruitt and lineman Justin Cramer are looking for big seasons.
“We have a nice balance,” Hall said. “We have a couple young kids that will surprise people.”
Laurel could be ready to make a run in the Big 7 Conference, especially after WPIAL champion Our Lady of the Sacred Heart graduated quarterback Tyler Bradley and all his receivers. The Chargers will rely on an experienced line.
The Spartans return 1,000-yard running backs Luke McCoy and Daniel Blank. They graduated only six seniors. Also back is massive junior tackle Mitch Miles and senior linebacker Dom Wade.
WPIAL runner-up Rochester must replace its top running backs, Noah Whiteleather and Darius Goosby.
“Laurel was a young team last year, and it still is young,” Wade said. “It has its top running backs returning.”
Laurel coach Brian Cooper said with so many starters back on both sides of the ball, he expects to have a successful season.
Cooper felt his team was capable of reaching the playoffs last year but didn’t get the opportunity.
“This year, the team knows what they’re capable of, and the expectations are high,” he said.
In the Tri-County South, West Greene is capable of making a run, especially if running back Ben Jackson stays healthy. Jackson has compiled three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, including a 1,541-yard, 26-touchdown effort last year.
The Pioneers, who finished 7-4 and tied California and Monessen for the Tri-County South Conference title, have a new coach in Brian Hanson, who takes over for Rob Huffman, who resigned to spend more time with his family. Hanson coached the previous three seasons at Wicomico High School in Salisbury, Md.
“The group that took the field last year was a group that had been pretty successful at every level,” Hanson said. “I believe their biggest frustration is getting over the hump against very good teams such as California, Clairton and Rochester.
“In order to improve upon last year, we need to stay healthy. But we really need to become more physical on the line of scrimmage.”
Hanson isn’t the only new coach in the Tri-County South. Ed Woods had taken over at California and J.J. Knabb at Bentworth.
TJ Wiley has taken over as the coach at Bishop Canevin in the Big 7, and Bret Colbert has been tabbed to lead Greensburg Central Catholic in the Eastern Conference.
1. Clairton (9-2)
The Bears will be battled-tested with a schedule that features three Top 5 Class A teams and the returning Class 3A state champion. QB Brendan Parsons is starting his third season behind center.
2. Jeannette (11-1)
3. Laurel (6-4)
4. Rochester (11-2)
5. West Greene (7-4)
Justin Cramer – Jeannette, sr., OL/DL
The 6-foot, 220-pound run-stopper has 332 tackles and 22 sacks in his career. He’s also an outstanding wrestler.
Aaron Gunn – Union, jr., OL/DL
The 6-4, 305-pound junior lineman holds Power 5 conference offers from Michigan State, West Virginia and Kentucky. He was named first-team all-conference in the Big 7 last season.
Ben Jackson – West Greene, sr., RB
The 6-1, 220-pound Jackson rushed for 1,541 yards and scored 26 touchdowns. He’s eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing the past three seasons.
Demetrious Weatherspoon – Clairton, jr., OL/DL
The 6-6, 309-pound tackle looks to anchor the offensive and defensive lines for the Bears.
Eric Wilson – Sto-Rox, sr., QB
The 6-3, 185-pound quarterback set a WPIAL regular-season passing record with 3,003 yards last season. He also threw for 38 touchdowns and rushed for two more.
Aug. 30: Laurel at Rochester: Fans will find out early if Laurel is the team to beat in the Big 7 with a test against WPIAL runner-up Rochester.
Sept. 20: West Greene at Monessen: Will West Greene running back Ben Jackson be too much for Monessen’s defense to handle? This could decide the Tri-County South Conference title.
Oct. 25: Jeannette at Clairton: First place in the Eastern Conference and a possible No. 1 seed could be on the line when these squads face off in the final week of the regular season.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .