A PG Thanksgiving tradition: The Fabulous 22 high school football team
November 22, 2012 5:00 AM
Since 1980, a roster of the region's top varsity gridiron talent.
Like turkey and cranberry sauce, the Fabulous 22 is a Thanksgiving day tradition. Every Thanksgiving the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publishes its Fabulous 22, which is selected by the P-G scholastic sports staff, with help from high school and college coaches and also scouting services.
The team is picked from all WPIAL and City League teams.
The first Fabulous 22 team was published in 1980 (there was no team selected in 1992 because of a newspaper strike) and it included Penn Hills' Bill Fralic, one of the best linemen to come out of Western Pennsylvania.
Over the years, numerous Fabulous 22 players have gone on to big things at the major-college level and also the NFL. One (Pine-Richland's Neil Walker) even plays Major League Baseball for the Pirates. Other former Fabulous 22 players have gone on to become first-round draft picks in the NFL and also Pro Bowl players (such as Aliquippa's Darrelle Revis and North Hills' LaVar Arrington). Some former Fabulous 22 players in the NFL this season are Upper St. Clair's Sean Lee (Dallas Cowboys), Central Catholic's Stefen Wisniewski (Oakland Raiders), Woodland Hills' Steve Breaston (Kansas City Chiefs), Rob Gronkowski (New England Patriots) and Ryan Mundy (Steelers), Moon's A.Q. Shipley (Indianapolis Colts) and Hopewell's Paul Posluszny (Jacksonville Jaguars).
This year's Fab 22 team is full of junior achievement as six juniors were selected. A number of players have led their teams to major success this season as 11 will play in the WPIAL championship games Friday at Heinz Field:
College talk: Committed to Michigan in February after picking from a long list of schools that included Ohio State, Florida and Florida State.
The scoop: One of three repeat honorees on this team. Regarded as one of the top offensive line recruits in the nation. A three-year starter, he is the son of Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler.
Most memorable moment this season? Our two victories over Seneca Valley. They were trying to make it into a rivalry, but we pretty much shut it down. There was a lot of animosity between us, so it was nice to beat them the way we did.
Best part of Thanksgiving? Just eating as much food as possible. Eating a huge dinner, watching the Cowboys and then falling asleep.
You'd like to throw something at? This could probably get me in trouble. Seneca Valley's offense. They got on my nerves. All the things they were saying just got to me.
People might be surprised to know that . . . I'm the best pingpong player in the WPIAL.
College talk: Has made a verbal commitment to Stephen F. Austin, a Division I-AA school in eastern Texas.
The scoop: Arguably the best quarterback in the WPIAL, Leftwich has put together an outstanding season in which he has thrown for 2,411 yards and 32 touchdowns to go along with 441 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. In the WPIAL semifinals, he threw for 360 yards and was responsible for seven touchdowns (five passing and two rushing).
Most memorable moment this season? The North Hills game. Going into that game, they were talking a lot of trash. It's a big rivalry. To come out and blow them out in the first half was pretty big.
You'd like to throw something at? All the people who say I'm too short to play in college.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? Probably a teacher.
People might be surprised to know that .... I'm not too good of an athlete in anything else but football.
Height: 6-2 Weight: 225
College talk: Chose Arizona in July. Also had a scholarship offer from Bowling Green.
The scoop: Woodson didn't air it out much his first two years as a starter, but spread his wings this season, completing 118 of 204 passes for 2,395 yards and 23 touchdowns while helping Gateway win the Class AAAA Foothills Conference title.
Most memorable moment this season? I just think it was when our school board put [Gateway coach Terry Smith's] job in jeopardy. We got through that and had a successful season.
Best part of Thanksgiving? Just spending time with the ones who care about you, who have been with you since day one and have watched you grow as a person.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? Civil engineering.
People might be surprised to know that . . . . I actually like school. There's nothing bad about it. Also, I only eat two things: hot pockets and pop tarts.
Height: 6-2 Weight: 200
College talk: Although Nicholson is only a junior, Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State and Michigan, among others, have already offered scholarships. He is being recruited as a defensive back.
The scoop: The latest gem at talent-rich Gateway, Nicholson is considered to be one of the best junior defensive backs in the state. He has good size and is talented in pass coverage. Made an impact on offense (25 catches for 653 yards and six touchdowns) and defense (three touchdowns) for the Gators, who finished with a 9-2 record.
Most memorable moment this season? There's been so many things that the team has done together. We made a trip to Rutgers for a 7-on-7 over the summer that was a great bonding experience.
Favorite class? History or math.
You'd like to throw something at? Probably one of our coaches. They always get on my case. Then I realize they're coaches.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? I'd like to be an engineer.
People might be surprised to know that . . . . I like to play golf.
Height: 6-2 Weight: 190
College talk: Committed to Pitt in June, less than a week after originally committing to Toledo.
The scoop: Challingsworth did it all for South Fayette, starring at wide receiver, defensive back, kick returner, punter and even blocking kicks on special teams. Had 58 catches for 1,190 yards and scored 19 touchdowns.
Most memorable moment this season? Running out on the field the first game with the team and all the coaches. The whole senior year thing sticks out in my mind.
Favorite class? English.
You'd like to throw something at? My brother [Tyler] to get him back for all the years he picked on me.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? I'd want to do something sports related.
People might be surprised to know that . . . . I should be going into my senior year next year. I'm the youngest kid in my grade.
College talk: Partially due to the fact he's a junior, Williams says he has no scholarship offers yet, but is expecting some to come soon.
The scoop: Sto-Rox is in the Class A title game for the second consecutive year, with Williams being a big reason for that success. This season, his second full one as a starter, Williams is a 2,000-1,000 player. He has accounted for more than 3,000 yards of total offense (2,131 passing and 1,086 rushing) and 40 touchdowns (26 passing and 14 rushing). He has completed 120 of 205 passes for the 12-1 Vikings.
Most memorable moment this season: Probably the Rochester game (a 25-0 victory Oct. 26).
Favorite class? Trigonometry.
Best part of Thanksgiving? Being with my family and getting all the good food.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? Engineer.
You'd like to throw something at . . . . I don't really know.
Height: 6-0 Weight: 215
College talk: Committed to West Virginia in May, choosing Mountaineers over a number of other Division I-A programs. He also has offers from Pitt, Purdue, Illinois and Rutgers, among others. He was recruited to West Virginia as a linebacker.
The scoop: Christian was a two-way star this season for the Tigers. From his linebacker position, he helped anchor the McKeesport defense and was one of the top linebackers in Class AAAA. He also stood out on the offensive end, rushing for 546 yards and six touchdowns and helping McKeesport reach the WPIAL playoffs.
Best part of Thanksgiving? The eating.
Favorite class? Short stories.
You'd like to throw something at? A touchdown.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? Sports trainer.
People might be surprised to know that . . . . I'm really a quiet person.
Height: 5-9 Weight: 165
College talk: Is receiving increased interest from Division I schools, but is still waiting for his first scholarship offer. Only a junior, Wheeler figures to get more college interest in the future.
The scoop: Few players in the WPIAL rival his speed and productivity. He has rushed for 2,144 yards and 28 touchdowns, and has West Mifflin one victory away from winning its first WPIAL title since 1963 (as West Mifflin North). The Titans play West Allegheny for the Class AAA championship Friday at Heinz Field. This was Wheeler's first season as a starter and he also was one of the top sprinters in WPIAL track last spring
Most memorable moment this season? Probably right now going to Heinz Field.
Favorite class? World cultures.
Best part of Thanksgiving? Eating and watching football.
You'd like to throw something at? One of my teachers.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? Computer programmer.
College talk: Rated as one of the top-20 quarterbacks in the country by Rivals.com, Rawlins committed to Dana Holgorsen and West Virginia last May. He also had offers from Pitt, Purdue, Rutgers and numerous other Division I colleges.
The scoop: A dual-threat quarterback, Rawlins did it all for Monessen this season, accounting for 1,995 yards (1,382 passing and 613 rushing) and 29 touchdowns (13 rushing and 16 passing) while leading the Greyhounds to a 9-2 record. During the fall, he also played soccer for Monessen the past few seasons.
Most memorable moment this season: Seeing our team come together during the first game of the season [vs. California] at halftime.
Favorite class? Statistics.
Best part of Thanksgiving? The eating and the football part.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? Police officer.
People might be surprised to know that . . . . At first, I was a college-bound basketball player, my sophomore year.
College talk: Said that James Madison is probably his favorite, but is also considering Colgate, Michigan State and Ohio. James Madison thinks he could also possibly play receiver.
The scoop: In his second full season as a starter, Brown followed up on a strong junior campaign by racking up 2,487 yards (1,901 passing and 586 rushing) and tossing 21 touchdown passes with just three interceptions. Brown finished his three-year career with 6,528 yards. He completed 385 of 637 for 5,425 yards and ran for 1,003 on 235 attempts.
Most memorable moment this season: Our game last week [in the Class AAAA semifinals]. It felt like our team battled really well with North Allegheny.
Favorite class? Argument.
Best part of Thanksgiving? Football.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? I would like to get into marketing and advertisement.
People might be surprised to know that . . . . I run a 4.4 40-yard dash.
College talk: Gonzales was an unheralded player coming into the season, but some Division I-AA colleges are starting to take notice.
The scoop: Gonzales isn't as well-known as fellow lineman Pat Kugler, but coaches call Gonzales one of the best defensive linemen in the WPIAL. He is extremely quick and has 11 sacks this season to go along with 64 tackles, including 37 solo, three fumble recoveries and one punt block.
Most memorable moment this season? That would have to be the Gateway game.
Favorite class? Probably human anatomy. I like to learn about the body.
Best part of Thanksgiving? The turkey, the stuffing and to be with family is awesome. But just the food is phenomenal.
You'd like to throw something at? Probably coach [Art] Walker, just to see what he would do.
People might be surprised to know that . . . . I used to play soccer when I was a little younger, but I just got too big.
College talk: Although only a junior, Henry has scholarship offers from Pitt, West Virginia and Ohio State. Colleges are recruiting him as a defensive back.
The scoop: Henry has been a varsity running back since his freshman year, when he ran for 820 yards on 96 carries. For his career, he has 3,501 yards rushing on 393 attempts. This season, he has gained 1,316 yards on 116 carries and scored 23 touchdowns for a Quips team that will play for the WPIAL Class AA championship Friday at Heinz Field. He also is an outstanding defensive back.
Most memorable moment this season? I'd say probably just playing with this group of teammates I have.
Favorite class? Science.
Best part of Thanksgiving? The turkey.
You'd like to throw something at? Washington High School since we're about to play them.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? I will be a weightlifting trainer.
People might be surprised to know that . . . I wear different color socks every day.
College talk: More Division I colleges have started to take notice of Fields and he is likely to get scholarship offers in the future. He plans to visit Ohio State this weekend with teammate Dravon Henry.
The scoop: Fields has been dominant on both offense and defense. He has turned into one of the top linemen at Aliquippa in recent years and is one of the reasons the Quips have two 1,000-yard rushers this season. On defense, Aliquippa has allowed only 42 points all season heading into Friday's WPIAL Class AA championship game.
Most memorable moment this season? When we beat Beaver Falls on [Root Sports] TV.
Favorite class? English.
Best part of Thanksgiving? Eating with all my family.
You'd like to throw something at? Probably Kobe Bryant. I don't really like him.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? A teacher.
People might be surprised to know that . . . I like to eat buffalo chicken every day.
College talk: Wilson has Division I scholarship offers for football and basketball. North Carolina State, Temple, Ohio and Akron have offered for football; Robert Morris, Akron, Drexel, St. Bonaventure and Hofstra have offered for basketball. Florida State and Georgetown also have shown interest lately for basketball.
The scoop: Wilson finished with the WPIAL career record for receptions (230) and yardage (3,192). This season, he also saw considerable time at running back. He had 65 catches for 1,003 yards and rushed 73 times for 489 yards.
Most memorable moment this season? Probably the catch to break the receptions record.
Favorite class? English.
Best part of Thanksgiving? Just being around my family. We go to my aunt's house.
You'd like to throw something at? My older brother [Christian].
Career, if not an athlete or coach? I want to be a lawyer.
People might be surprised to know that . . . I love pajamas. I don't know. They're just so comfortable. I have, like, 14 pair.
College talk: Foster, ranked by scouting services as one of the top receivers in the country, had scholarship offers from schools across the country, but has narrowed his list to Pitt and Alabama. He has visited both schools and might make a decision soon.
The scoop: This season, he caught 45 passes for 756 yards, rushed 67 times for 549 yards and was a standout defensive back and kick returner. He also is one of the best punters in Class AAA. He played as a freshman at Monaca and finished his career with 1,332 yards rushing, 119 catches for 2,003 yards and 11 interceptions.
Most memorable moment this season? Probably my last game last week [against West Mifflin]. It was just a battle and they won.
Favorite class? Probably math.
Best part of Thanksgiving? Getting to communicate with my family, relaxing and talking about the past.
You'd like to throw something at? I wouldn't want to throw nothing at nobody.
People might be surprised to know that . . . I'm a momma's boy.
College talk: Johnson made a verbal commitment to Pitt Sunday. Ohio State and Virginia Tech were his other finalists. He originally committed to Penn State this summer, but backed out of the commitment after the school was hit with NCAA sanctions.
The scoop: Some scouting services rank him among the top 20 offensive linemen in the country. He has the ultimate build to be a standout offensive tackle and also moves well for his size.
Most memorable moment this season? I scored a touchdown this year against Albert Gallatin when I recovered a fumble in the end zone. That's the first touchdown I ever scored.
Favorite class? Law class.
Best part of Thanksgiving? The food and the people because we have people coming from out of town.
You'd like to throw something at? Probably one of my sisters. I have three younger sisters.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? I've always wanted to do something with personal training.
College talk: Roth decided last week that he will play next season at Princeton of the Ivy League. Roth, who has better than a 4.0 grade point average, also was considering Bucknell, Dartmouth and Cornell.
The scoop: In his first year as a starter, Roth turned into one of the WPIAL's top QBs. He completed 156 of 295 for 2,514 yards and 28 TDs. He is the first QB in Mt. Lebanon history to throw for 2,000 yards. He also has been a basketball starter since a sophomore .
Most memorable moment this season? I'd say beating Woodland Hills at Woody High's place in overtime.
Favorite class? AP physics.
Best part of Thanksgiving? Eating stuffing with gravy.
You'd like to throw something at? My little brothers. I have four half brothers and they're all younger than me.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? I'm going to major in engineering, so a mechanical engineer.
People might be surprised to know that . . . My favorite hobby is golfing.
College talk: McKenzie, although only a junior, already has seven Division I college scholarship offers. Pitt, Purdue and Maryland are among the schools that have offered McKenzie.
The scoop: McKenzie, whose first name is pronounced "Shy," led the WPIAL in rushing during the regular season and has helped the Little Prexies reach the Class AA title game. He has 2,656 yards on 214 attempts (12.4 average) and has scored 42 touchdowns. He has 3,859 yards in two seasons.
Most memorable moment this season? The blocked punt I picked up and ran for a touchdown against Jeannette.
Favorite class? English
Best part of Thanksgiving? Being with my grandparents and my dad.
You'd like to throw something at? [Philadelphia Eagles coach] Andy Reid.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? A child-care teacher.
People might be surprised to know that . . . I can eat 40 wings at wing night.
College talk: Boyd has a number of Division I scholarship offers and all of the schools are recruiting him as a receiver. Pitt and West Virginia are two of the schools he is considering. He visited Pitt last weekend. Boyd also said he is once again taking a look at Penn State.
The scoop: Boyd, one of the most versatile players in the state, has played on Clairton's varsity since his freshman year and has more than 5,000 career yards rushing. He also has scored 106 career TDs. This season, he has rushed for 1,979 yards on 148 attempts and scored 40 touchdowns. The average length of those TDs is more than 30 yards.
Most memorable moment this season: Hopefully, that's to come later on.
Favorite class? Math.
Best part of Thanksgiving? Hanging with the family, sitting around and eating all the food.
You'd like to throw something at? [Teammate] Titus Howard. I'm always messing around with him.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? A sports broadcaster
College talk: Howard made a verbal commitment to Pitt this summer. Toledo and Connecticut also had offered scholarships. He was recruited by Pitt to play defensive back.
The scoop: Howard has been a big-play threat on offense and a shut-down cornerback on defense for the undefeated Bears. He has caught 17 passes for 450 yards, scored five touchdowns and also intercepted a pass on defense.
Most memorable moment this season? Probably the Monessen game. That was probably my best game.
Favorite class? Algebra III
Best part of Thanksgiving? Being with my family and usually my grandma's macaroni and cheese.
You'd like to throw something at . . . [Dallas Cowboys quarterback] Tony Romo. Me and a friend always argue over if he's better than Big Ben.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? A big-time engineer.
People might be surprised to know that . . . I am goofy sometimes.
College talk: Bucknell and a few other Division I-AA schools are showing interest.
The scoop: Turner blossomed into one of the best defensive players in the WPIAL this season. He is an excellent pass rusher and has 19 quarterback sacks for a Woodland Hills team that will play North Allegheny for the WPIAL Class AAAA title today at Heinz Field. Turner also has 62 solo tackles and 30 assisted.
Most memorable moment this season? I'd have to go with beating Gateway, just because we were doubted by so many people.
Favorite class? Economics and U.S. government.
Best part of Thanksgiving? This year, a football practice.
You'd like to throw something at? [New York Jets coach] Rex Ryan He has it coming.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? Something with sports. Maybe journalism.
People might be surprised to know that . . . I eat cereal and watch cartoons every Sunday morning. Fruity Pebbles to be exact.
College talk: He has not made a college decision yet, but some Division I schools are interested.
The scoop: Barnes rushed for 1,676 yards and 30 touchdowns, both of which were team highs. He is a speedy running back who also was adept at catching passes. He finished his career with 4,495 yards of offense -- rushing for 3,393 on 497 attempts and catching 89 passes for 1,102 yards.
Most memorable moment this season: The Connellsville game. Two of my blockers weren't even playing. I have to give credit to the guys who took their spots and stepped up.
Favorite class? Honors government.
Best part of Thanksgiving? Remembering what you're thankful for -- not just in football, but life itself.
Career, if not an athlete or coach? Being an athletic director somewhere, or a sports announcer or sports agent, something in the athletic field.
People might be surprised to know that . . . I took salsa lessons a year ago.