“Mr. High School Sports” – WPIAL Becomes A MAC Machine
By Matt Popchock
While Rushel Shell was promising any incoming Pitt freshman who might be straddling the nearest fence a shot at a championship, I wonder what Julian Durden, the second-leading rusher in WPIAL Class AAA, tweeted to his future teammates?
“Ford Field or bust,” maybe?
“Next stop Detroit,” perhaps?
Okay, wild guess:
“GoDaddy.com Bowl, here we come!”
(Imagine the free swag they give to players at Ladd-Peebles Stadium that week…)
But, seriously…the point is, although population decline and the general growth of the game have taken a toll on WPIAL football, the cupboard is never absent of talent. Some of the talent that doesn’t get the same attention as a player like Shell has found a home away from home.
Those kids have faced each other in meaningful games in high school, and there is, at least, an honest mathematical chance they’ll see each other in a meaningful game again.
Starting with the recruiting class of 2010 and including the 2013 class, 31 WPIAL football players and counting have committed to Midwestern Athletic Conference schools. One of them is Western Beaver running back Dustin Creel, who has signed on with Eastern Michigan. He will indeed play in a meaningful game Friday at 7:30: the Penn-Ohio All Star Classic at Springfield High School in New Middletown, OH, his high school football farewell.
Creel (6’3″, 205 lbs.) did just about everything but sell 50-50 tickets for the Golden Beavers in 2011, as they finished 5-2 in the Big 7 Conference to qualify for the WPIAL Class A Playoffs for the third time in his four years of varsity ball. He ran for 690 yards with an average approaching ten yards a carry. He racked up 354 more as a receiver, which is where he’ll start for an EMU squad looking to improve its aerial attack after finishing fourth from the bottom in Division I passing yardage.
His most memorable moment, in fact, was a 45-yard catch in the back of the end zone to defeat Monaca early in the 2009 season. Little did he know that would be the last home loss in Monaca program history.
“The coaches there relied a lot on me, because we’re a small school, and we don’t have many guys who play only one position,” said Creel, who finished in the top ten in Class A scoring with 16 TD’s. “If anything, you have to be ready to do it all.”
He won’t get to punt or kick for head coach Don Phillips on Friday, though he may see time at defensive back, so three out of five ain’t bad. But it wasn’t just his versatility that got Creel noticed by college scouts.
“I got picked up on a 7-on-7 team over the summer: the PA Swag team coached by Terry Smith of Gateway. We traveled down the whole east coast, playing against the top kids in the nation, and I feel I played pretty well,” he said.
Creel will join former McKeesport safety and Class of ’11 commit Kevin Johnson later this year, which will make Eastern Michigan one of ten MAC teams with at least two WPIAL alums on their training camp roster. Furthermore, it’s one of three MAC teams with a McKeesport player; senior quarterback Ed Stockett made Akron the third when he signed there earlier this week.
One of the better under-the-national-radar QB’s in Quad-A, Stockett, as a junior, completed 55% of his passes for 1,772 yards, good enough for third in the classification, and good enough for top ten in the district. He tossed 17 touchdowns against just six picks, and eventually he’ll run an offense that will include former Bethel Park all-purpose back Bre’ Ford.
Akron’s radar also happened to pick up Greensburg Central Catholic senior defensive back Zach Guiser, who has 16 INT’s in his first three varsity seasons, at around the same time.
Guiser, like Creel, has worn several hats for his high school team. Meanwhile, it’s the job of one of Bowling Green’s top 2012 recruits, Pittsburgh Central Catholic graduate Logan Dietz, to put hats on hats. The offensive tackle will come to the Falcons after a fine senior season that saw Central finish fourth in Class AAAA in scoring offense, averaging 34 points per game.
That was largely a result of Dietz opening holes for Damion Jones-Moore, who, at a very early juncture in his varsity tenure, became the focal point of Terry Totten’s offense. The size of Jones-Moore (5’7″, 173 lbs.) probably frightened away a few interested parties, but it didn’t stop him from amassing 1,673 yards and 32 TD’s as a senior, and making Central Catholic the first WPIAL school to boast two 4,000-career-yard rushers.
With the Rockets short on fuel at the running back spot, Jones-Moore will probably play sooner, not later, for Toledo, which really seemed to benefit from the 2012 WPIAL bumper crop. When Todd Graham soured on Pitt, which originally recruited über-athlete Corey Jones, the thought of playing with teammates Chaz Whittaker and Treyvon Hester sweetened the deal.
Whittaker will play defensive back, and Jones receiver–though the latter is so fast he could simultaneously play quarterback–while Hester cracked the MaxPreps national top 100 list of interior linemen. Hester will play offense, and Toledo beefed up its defense by inking linebacker Jaylen Coleman, who played a brief stint at Gateway before winning a championship and a City League MVP award with University Prep.
If we’re lucky, they’ll meet Kent State in Detroit real soon. In case the initial Motor City allusion didn’t tip you off, that’s where they play the MAC Championship–not to be confused with the Motor City Bowl, which is typically the reward for winning the title.
I’m sorry, it’s called the Little Caesar’s Bowl now. My bad.
Okay, I’ll simplify: Jones-Moore versus Durden with a big trophy at stake would be a nice blast from the past, yes?
(Hopefully Jules doesn’t think I forgot him…and hopefully the company doesn’t bust me on my plugola scheme to hit him up for free pizza, either…)
Anyway, same story here as that of Jones-Moore. Durden isn’t the biggest guy on the field (5’8″, 165 lbs.), but he isn’t just a stat-monger, either. The Montour product ran for over 2,000 yards in both campaigns after his transfer from North Catholic, and in November he debuted his own “Dark Knight Rises” teaser trailer by donning black and gold and exploding at Heinz Field.
His 202 yards and four touchdowns on just 15 carries catapulted the Spartans to their first WPIAL title since 1964. We’ll see if his luck changes without big blockers Matt Barone and Tyler Haddock, each of whom committed to former MAC member/returning Big East member Temple.
Excluding Temple, the five other schools I mentioned have combined for seven appearances in the MAC final since the game was created in 1997. The four schools I neglected to mention that have WPIAL players on their rosters (Buffalo, Ohio, Miami, and Western Michigan) have combined for ten.
Get used to watching the best of the MAC compete in Friday’s all-star game. Soon you’ll see the other MAC stage a WPIAL all-star game every Saturday.
(Special thanks to FinestPreps.com for their contributions to this post.)
(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)