"Bout Dat" was the Clairton Bears rallying cry a year ago. Many Clairton players had Twitter accounts using "Bout Dat" and with the country's current longest streak still in tow at the end of last season, the Bears were certainly "all about that."
For this season, Clairton has a new motto:
"Bout Dat 2.0"
Welcome to the new generation of Clairton Bears.
Loads of talent from last year's team left when Clairton's class of 2013 graduated earlier this summer. All-everything player Tyler Boyd and two other Clairton players, Titus Howard and Terrish Webb, are now freshmen on Pitt's team.
Only a few starters return from last year, but the streak still remains. The Bears have won 63 games in a row, a state record and the 13th-longest streak in the history of U.S. high school football.
Football in Pennsylvania begins tonight, and one of the biggest questions in this state is "who got next" for Clairton? Throughout the winning streak, Clairton has had star players. Look at the teams who had the longest winning streaks in the country, and many of them had star players.
This Clairton team, because of its youth and inexperience, doesn't have a star. Or at least not yet. Will we be talking about a 79-game winning streak at the start of next season or is this the year the Bears will be hibernating come WPIAL and PIAA championship time?
"We were huddled up with the team the other day, and the question was posed how many guys played every game last year?" said Wayne Wade, Clairton's defensive coordinator. "I think only two kids raised their hands. We're definitely looking at a different team, a team that I guess is in the middle of a learning curve offensively and defensively."
Clairton coach Tom Nola said, "We're used to putting veterans out there to play. This is the first year we've had to do this, playing a lot of younger guys, so we'll have to be more patient."
But do winning streaks have patience?
Winning with stars
During the 63-game winning streak, Clairton had some future Division I college players. Some were just excellent high school players. But they were standouts -- and those stars aligned for more than five dozen wins in a row.
Clairton might never again have a player like Boyd, who has earned a starting receiver spot at Pitt as a freshman. Besides Boyd, Webb and Howard, Clairton has had a handful of other stars who are playing for Pitt, including Kevin Weatherspoon and Trenton Coles.
Desimon Green was a talented quarterback and defensive end at Clairton who signed with Texas Tech a few years ago but is now playing tight end at California University of Pennsylvania. Deontae Howard was a 4,000-yard rusher who is now the starting halfback at Robert Morris. Linebacker Brandon Small, quarterback Capri Thompson and lineman Carvan Thompson are Clairton examples of simply terrific high school players who weren't major-college prospects. Thompson started more games (64) than any player in the history of Pennsylvania high school football.
"Just from last year, besides those big-name guys, we had 13 or 14 other seniors graduate with them," Wade said.
It seems just about all those teams around the country that had winning streaks longer than Clairton had star players. De La Salle (Calif.) holds the country's longest winning streak of 151 from 1992-2003. De La Salle, a large private school, had loads of future Division I college players and some future NFL players during the streak. NFL players Maurice Jones-Drew and D.J. Williams were two of the most well-known.
Independence won 109 games from 2003-09 and had quarterback Chris Leak, who played at Florida, and receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, currently with the New York Jets.
South Panola High in Mississippi is third on the all-time list with 89 wins in a row. Several of South Panola players went to major colleges.
So, if a team wants to keep its long winning streak intact, can it be done without stars? It is a little unfair to compare Clairton to some of the teams around the country that had long winning streaks because those teams come from much larger schools than Clairton.
"We might not have as many star players as those other teams we've had here, but we've got a lot of solid players," said Clairton lineman JoJuan Bray, one of only four Clairton seniors on this year's team. "Plus, we have some players who are good, but people just don't know about them yet. Like [quarterback/receiver] Aaron Mathews. He's probably going to be a great player, but people just don't know about him."
Next in line
Nola, Wade and the players believe there are players with the potential to emerge as stars. One of them could be Mathews, who is a 6-foot-4, 178-pound sophomore. A few Division I colleges have already expressed interest in him as a receiver, but he will play quarterback for the Bears because of his athleticism.
"We didn't know he would be this good," Nola said. "He really improved his speed this summer and gotten stronger. Plus, he's only 15 and he's already 6-4. He's better at receiver but we need him at quarterback."
Maybe Lamont Wade (Wayne Wade's cousin) is another star in waiting. He is only a 14-year-old freshman, but already he is 5 feet 10, 177 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. He will start at running back tonight when Clairton plays host to Chartiers-Houston.
"If I keep working hard, I'll be the next one to step up," said Lamont Wade, whose father, Carlton, was a star basketball player at Clairton in the 1980s.
When asked if he was ready for the pressures of being a starter as a freshman, Lamont Wade said, "I'm completely ready."
Wade was a manager for Clairton the past few years.
"For other ninth graders, it would be a lot of pressure to handle," he said. "For me, I don't think it's too much because I've been around."
Clairton has some returning linemen who saw considerable playing time last year -- Bray, Vance Gibson, Israel Melvin and Will Hampton. Maybe a few of them could have star power. Or maybe it could be running back Raymone Clifford.
"Actually, this year's team is one of the hardest working teams we've had in the past four or five years," Wade said. "I think they kind of feel like they have to prove themselves."
Pressures of the streak
The "new guys" that put on the Clairton orange and black tonight have the weight of that streak on their shoulders. They admit it can get pretty heavy. They don't want to be the team that ends the streak.
"I feel it," Lamont Wade said of the pressure. "You feel it from the whole town. You don't want to let the whole town down."
Mathews said, "The streak gets brought up everywhere -- in school, on the street. If I have a Clairton shirt on and I'm outside of Clairton, people want to talk about the streak."
But will the streak continue?
"The key is just to dominate on defense," Bray said. "We'll still have a good offense, but if we dominate on defense, we don't have to score that many points."
The "Bout Dat 2.0" debuts at 7:30 tonight at Neil Brown Stadium.
"We're trying to not put so much pressure on these young ones," Nola said. "They realize the community and everybody is still going to keep eyes on us. We've sort of established that expectations are to keep our winning streak going. Part of our job as coaches is to work them physically, but also psychologically to maintain what we've established. They're catching on to that."
'Bout that streak
Longest winning streaks in history of American high school football (Rank Weeks School Years):
1. 151 De La Salle (Calif.) 1992-2003
2. 109 Independence (N.C.) 2003-09
3. 89 South Panola (Miss.) 1989-95
4. 79 Smith Center, (Kan.) 2004-09
5. 74 Maryville (Tenn.) 2004-08
6. 72 Hudson (Mich.) 1968-75
7. 71 Jefferson City (Mo.) 1958-66
8. 69 Animas (N.M.) 1984-90
9. 68 Celina (Texas) 1998-2002
10. 66 St. Mary's-Colgan (Kan.)1999-2004
11. 64 Carver (Miss.) 1958-1965
12. 64 Pittsfield (ll.) 1966-73
13. 63 Clairton 2009-?
13. 63 Barton (Ark.) 1985-90
13. 63 Paulsboro (N.J.) 1992-97
13. 63 Blue Ridge (Ariz.) 1994-98
(Note -- 11-player football only)
Mike White: email@example.com First Published August 30, 2013 4:00 AM