There are hundreds of high school football programs in the United States. It's a big deal when a school sees one player drafted; in 2016, out of 253 players drafted, 247 high schools were represented. Only 6 programs had multiple players represented. Each of these programs saw two players selected. Sometimes, a player's talent sends them on a pipeline to the NFL regardless of their high school program. In other cases, the development of a future NFL star is inextricably shaped by the hard work of a caring and attentive high school coach. There are a few great high school football programs in the United States. Clairton High School, located in Clairton, PA, is quickly becoming one of these elite programs.
On November 24th, 2012, the Clairton Bears won their 60th consecutive game, setting a Pennsylvania state record for most consecutive wins. The victory, a 58-21 win over Sto-Rox at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, gave the team the 2012 WPIAL Class A championship. One of the big stars of that game? Current Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd. This is a team that is clearly capable of competing at a dominant level, and also capable of producing NFL-caliber talent. Boyd alone makes this program relevant at the highest level, but their record of player production does not stop with Tyler Boyd.
Tyler Boyd was not the first Clairton player to be drafted; Mike Micka was a first rounder picked by Washington in 1944. Jim Kelly was drafted by the Steelers in the 2nd round in 1964, Charles Braswell was drafted in the 8th round by the Lions in 1976, and Davlin Mullen was also drafted in the 8th round by the Jets in 1983. Daven Holly was drafted in the 7th in 2005 by the San Francisco 49ers. Clearly, this school has a history of producing NFL-caliber talent. However, while those players are spread out over a period of 61 years, Clairton has been a special place for high school football in recent years. Between 2006 and 2015, the Clairton Bears won 8 WPIAL championships and 4 PIAA titles.
This successful run is extremely intriguing given the state of Clairton as a city; a shrinking town initially built around the steel industry, Clairton has seen its share of struggles with crime. Yet this program sets its players up for success, both on and off the field. Much of the success of this program can be attributed to the passion and drive of two coaches, Tom Nola and Wayne Wade. While Nola gets much of the credit for turning the team into a powerhouse, winning 141 games, 6 WPIAL titles, 4 consecutive PIAA championships, and 66 consecutive games between 2009 and 2013, current head coach Wayne Wade has played a key role in the program's rise to national prominence. He was with Nola for the program's rise to relevance, and took over for Nola as head coach in 2014.
Wade is an unsung hero in the coaching world. He is a coach who always puts his players first. He cares about them as individuals, and pushes them to be their best at all times. When hired as head coach, Wade noted that "I have been around the program helping the kids and being their rock and helping them do things and I am going to continue to do that. I don't need to prove myself to anybody." (source here) This is a man who strives to coach to the best of his ability, but also a man who pushes for the best in his players at all times. Wade began working with Nola in 2008. The team began its rise to dominance in 2009. Clearly, his touch has played a crucial role in the development of the program.
In fact, this is a program brimming with NFL-caliber talent in recent years. Current Pitt player and NFL prospect Terrish Webb is a Clairton graduate. Lamont Wade, the top high school cornerback and 8th rated prospect in the nation as a high school player in 2016, also graduated from Clairton (source here). Wade spent time as a ball boy for Clairton while Tyler Boyd played for the team. Now Lamont Wade has committed to Penn State as a player, and the NFL is very likely in his future. In fact, with credentials like Wade's, he could easily be a first or second round draft pick in the NFL when all is said and done. Clairton graduate Trenton Coles recently spent time at the Kansas City Chiefs rookie camp (source here). Noah Hamlin has committed to play college football for the University of Cincinnati.
These are exciting times for the city of Clairton. As a small city on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, the Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh football programs loom large. So too does Penn State. However, the Clairton Bears are giving Clairton football fans something to get excited about. While the town has faced economic struggles as a result of a downturn in the steel industry, football is putting Clairton back on the map. Through the hard work of coaches Wayne Wade and Tom Nola, the Clairton football program has developed into a national powerhouse. As long as coach Wade continues to develop talent and mentor players, this program will remain relevant. Great things are on the horizon for Clairton, and we are witnessing the growth of a great football program.
The presence of a strong football program can help youth across a community. Some players will go on to successful college and NFL careers. Others will use football as an outlet for aggression and stress. For all players, football provides a structure that helps to keep a player driven for success. The legacy of the Clairton football program cannot be measured solely by the great college and NFL players that it has (and will continue to) produced. It must also be measured by the impact it has had on the players who have not gone onto play college or professional football. One of the best parts of Clairton's program is the emphasis that coach Wade places on helping his players. Wade is clearly a strong mentor to his players, and this role allows him to act as a strong role model for every player on his roster. Football may be a big deal, but the Clairton football program prepares players for futures both on and off the field. Here at Matt and Mike Sports, we look forward to watching the continued success and growth of Clairton Bears football. This is truly one of the nation's great high school football programs, and a program that should remain relevant for years to come. While Florida and Texas are often described as NFL pipelines, the newest NFL pipeline runs straight through the mill towns of Pennsylvania, through Clairton, PA.--Mike B. and Matt K.
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