There is a great amount of pressure on the 2013 Clairton High School football team ... but also a great amount of opportunity.
Fair or not, the expectations surrounding a young Clairton team are to extend a 63-game winning streak, the longest active winning streak in the nation. As some of the players and coaches put it, it is not so much about continuing the streak, rather not being the ones to allow it to be broken.
Along with the expectations and pressure, there is also an opportunity for new stars to emerge.
Already people are wondering who might be the next great Clairton athlete. During the past decade the Bears have produced players who have become household names around Clairton such as Zaire Washington, Kevin Weatherspoon, Desimon Green, Trenton Coles, Terrish Webb and Tyler Boyd.
A new batch of potential stars will be introduced to the Black Hills Conference this season. Young players such as sophomore Aaron Mathews (6-5, 165) and freshman Lamont Wade (5-11, 190), are already generating their share of hype.
Mathews has speed and height not often seen in Class A. He was a top receiver last year for the Bears but will be in the mix at the quarterback position this year along with junior Ryan Williams (5-10, 160).
Wade, the nephew of long-time Bears defensive coordinator Wayne Wade, is prepared to become the feature back in the offense.
Coach Tom Nola compares him to a running back who predates the winning streak, Dana Brown, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound running back who graduated from Clairton in 2005. Brown topped 2,000 yards rushing in his senior year.
"People are already stepping up at practice," Mathews said. "The freshman, Lamont Wade, he stepped up for Tyler Boyd. I stepped up for Terrish [Webb], now we are just looking for someone to step up for [wide receiver] Titus [Howard]."
While Mathews considered Boyd a "five-cut type of running back", he says Wade is more of a one-cut type back.
Clairton has a seemingly endless pipeline of athletes coming through the program each year but the Bears have major holes to fill this year. They must replace 2,000-yard passer Armani Ford, 2,500-yard rusher Boyd and their top three receivers, Webb, Howard and Boyd.
Boyd scored an astounding 51 touchdowns last season, Webb had 15. While Mathews is loaded with potential, his playing time was limited last season on a team with receivers such as Webb and Howard.
"Aaron saw very little time last year," Nola said. "He is 6-5 and his body is growing. He is faster and he can jump. He is such a weapon out there at receiver, if Ryan can get him the ball, nobody can jump as high as he can. Aaron is really coming along this summer."
While most of the names are changing, two constants remain, Nola and Wayne Wade. There was speculation the team may lose its head coach or defensive coordinator this season, but both returned.
"We have a lot of inexperience," Nola said. "We are a pretty young team as of now. There are not any stars like we had in the past. They are going to have to grow into that. They know the streak and expectations are the same for them. It is their streak now and they have to continue it."
Through one week of preseason camp, Nola was unsure how the quarterback situation will work out.
"They are just battling it out," Nola said of Mathews and Williams. "They are pretty close. Aaron is our best receiver and our best player right now."
The winning streak will be closely followed once again this season and it is hard to not look ahead on the schedule for potential challenges to the streak. Clairton opens the season at home Aug. 30 against Chartiers-Houston.
Playing without 12 players because of off-field matters last season, Clairton survived a scare against the Buccaneers, ultimately prevailing, 22-20, easily its closest game of the year.
At least two other challenges in the conference will be Monessen and Brentwood. Clairton plays host to the Greyhounds on Sept. 20 and to the Spartans on Oct. 4.
When asked what the biggest conference challenge might be this season, Mathews responded: "I would say Brentwood, because of their running back [senior Justin Vickless]."
First Published August 22, 2013 4:00 AM