By Matt Popchock
For once Rushel Shell actually looked human, and all it took was a simple gathering of the best high school football prospects in the country to do it.
Another outgoing senior running back from the WPIAL, Greg Garmon of Erie McDowell, made his college choice during the same all-star game in which Shell participated.
Garmon’s team will no longer be a full-time WPIAL football member in 2012, which is one of the things leading District 7 to discuss significant changes in its upcoming biennial football realignment.
All this happened during a busy Tuesday on and off the field.
Shell, who has been named a Second Team U.S. Air Force All-American by MaxPreps, was honored by another branch of the military when he got to play in the inaugural Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl.
The Pitt recruit and state career rushing champion was one of six WPIAL players to play in the game. Shell and Jeannette safety Demetrius Cox were drafted onto the “East” team, while Garmon, Sto-Rox linebacker Deaysean Rippy, Fox Chapel lineman Adam Bisnowaty, and South Allegheny tight end Jesse James were drafted onto the “West” team for a contest that saw the West squeak out a 17-14 win at Chase Field in Phoenix.
They were joined by a nationally renown group that included California recruit Hardy Nickerson Jr., a linebacker and the eponymous son of the former Steeler, and Justin Combs, son of rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs, who was in the house to see the cornerback/UCLA recruit play.
It was a game dominated by the defenses; Shell’s biggest highlight was outracing Rippy for a nice run early in the first half, and converting a 3rd-and-1 two plays later. He was held to short yardage most of the night and was bottled up behind the line of scrimmage right before the East gave up a fatal interception in the final two minutes of regulation.
Garmon, running behind West co-captain Bisnowaty for much of the first half, had a couple decent reps early on as well, and during the second half, he verbally committed to Iowa. He had offers from several other midwestern teams, though Arkansas and Miami (FL) were the two other programs supposedly on his short list.
He ran for nine TD’s and over 1,000 yards as a senior, and after kicking cancer, went on to earn two all-state nominations and rack up over 2,800 career rushing yards with the Trojans. Garmon’s college choice unites him with another former WPIAL star, Iowa head coach and erstwhile Upper St. Clair standout Kirk Ferentz.
When asked why he picked the Hawkeyes, he pointed to their rich football tradition, which Ferentz has helped revitalize since taking the team over in 1999. Garmon, who, like Shell, is one of the more highly-touted players at his position nationally, added that he felt Iowa gives him the best chance to eventually go pro.
Meanwhile, back in western Pennsylvania, it came to light that the topic of possibly condensing WPIAL Class AAAA and Class AAA in football will be seriously discussed at the next board meeting in two weeks.
In 2011 those two classifications comprised 58 of the 126 football teams in the district. However, with student bodies continuing to either shift and/or shrink, and with McDowell giving up full-time membership, Class AAAA and Class AAA will combined for only 53 teams in 2012.
According to WPIAL Chief Executive Tim O’Malley, this means both those classifications would be reduced from four conferences to three. There would be one eight-team conference in Quad-A, and the others would each have nine teams.
We’re not sure what this would mean for the WPIAL football playoff formant (currently the top four teams in all four conferences make that classification’s playoffs), but in any event, if this goes through, this would mean fewer non-conference games in general, and less schedule-making freedom for the individual schools.
Keep reading the “Mr. High School Sports” blog for more on this developing story.
BY THE WAY… Montour junior Devin Wilson received a WPIAL-best 72 passes for 12 TD’s and over 900 yards on a Spartan squad that won its first WPIAL title since 1964 and first-ever PIAA playoff game this past fall. He’s received attention from the SEC and Big Ten, and now he’s also received an early invitation to play in the 2013 Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl.
What’s interesting is that Wilson was the only invitee from Pennsylvania announced during halftime of Tuesday’s game. Another outstanding Parkway Conference junior, Central Valley athlete Robert Foster, has received national attention too, and I consider him just as worthy of an early invite. He and Wilson could be the hottest commodities of next year’s WPIAL recruiting class, but anyway, between those two and Shell, we can plainly see how incredibly good the football has been in that part of the district lately.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)