A few key injuries have bedeviled Clairton in recent weeks as the Bears prepare for Friday's PIAA Class A football championship game against Dunmore at Hersheypark Stadium.
Devontae Harvey, a 6-0, 240-pound senior defensive lineman, sustained a knee injury Nov. 23 in the Bears' 58-21 victory against Sto-Rox in the WPIAL Class A championship game at Heinz Field.
Also, Titus Howard, a 6-foot-3, 170-pound senior wide receiver/defensive back and a Pitt recruit, incurred a dislocated left elbow Nov. 30 in Clairton's 53-0 quarterfinal victory against Berlin Brothersvalley at Somerset.
Clairton coach Tom Nola is rightfully concerned with the injuries to two key players. But he is just as pleased with the way his team has responded to adversity.
"Harvey was our best lineman, and it was tough to replace him because he's a two-way starter," Nola said. "But Israel Melvin [6-2, 250, Soph.] blocked pretty well [last Friday night in a 44-12 PIAA Class A semifinal victory over Port Allegany]. He played the whole game [on offense], and he played a few plays on defense."
The Bears had to make several changes to compensate for the loss of Howard, who along with Harvey hopes to play on Friday.
"We've moved Tyler Boyd [6-2, 175, Sr.] to defensive back, and Bryon Clifford [5-9, 160, Sr.] played safety in place of Tyler," Nola said.
The Bears also had an answer on offense as Santeaun Sims (6-2, 190, Sr.) was moved from tight end to replace Howard at wide receiver.
Nola likes the way Harvey has remained focused on the team's ultimate goal of a fourth consecutive PIAA Class A championship that would complement the six WPIAL Class A championship trophies occupying the Bears' trophy case, the last five earned in the past five trips to Heinz Field as well as two other WPIAL football titles won in 1931 and 1954.
"He hasn't missed any practices, and he's always watching and trying to help," Nola said. "When the linemen are working together, he's with them. He wants to play in that last game, but it's doubtful. Everyone feels bad for him because he is a senior, and he wants to play real bad. But the seniors have told him they have his back, and they want to win it for him."
The team's seniors are a tight-knit group, Nola said, and they are determined.
"There are 16 seniors on the team, and all of them are going to college," the coach said. "Eight of them are going to play football in college, and the rest are playing in their final game on Friday.
"A lot of players in our senior class are making good grades, and they've represented their team, school and community very well. They're not just good athletes. They're well-spoken, and they all have good character."
Nola's message to his seniors before Friday's game will be brief and to the point.
"They'll have a chance to win a fourth title in a row," he said. "The [62-game winning] streak is still intact, and it's also their last game as Clairton Bears. I want them to ask themselves if they are ready to give everything they have for Clairton and this team. This is their last game, and I want them to give everything they have. If the seniors lead, the rest will follow."
Nola hopes he and his Clairton coaches have done just as good a job in getting their players ready for life off the football field.
"As they go on with their lives, we want them to be prepared for life by going to college and then getting a job," he said. "It's important they maintain good grades."
The memories the Bears have provided will last a lifetime. One more memory-making moment lies in store.
"What our team has accomplished has been so exciting," Nola said. "Our coaches, the school and the community are so proud of them."
He expects some Clairton residents will be traveling to Hershey.
"I know that when we get back, the whole town will be there to greet us," he said.
Nola may well be facing his own crossroads after the final score is posted on Friday.
He's been a football coach for 32 years, wiith the past 11 as Clairton's head coach.
"Not many coaches win one WPIAL championship, and I've been fortunate to win six," he said. "It's amazing what the players have done and the success that we've had. It's been a lot of fun."
It's too soon to say if he'll be back next season, Nola said.
"I just want to finish the next game and keep it going," he said. "After that, then we'll make those decisions."hsfootball
First Published December 13, 2012 5:00 AM