Wayne Wade can relate to Clairton High School athletes and the obstacles many must overcome to find success.
Times were often tough for him growing up just outside of the Millvue Acres housing project, so he used sports as a getaway and eventually a springboard to a college scholarship.
A three-sport standout at Clairton, Wade led the Bears to WPIAL football and basketball titles his senior year before going on to play college and professional football.
So when former football coach Tom Nola left for Gateway in February, Clairton administrators felt no need to publicly open the position or interview any outside candidates.
Nola's successor had been there all along.
Wade, 42, was hired as head coach by a 7-0 vote of the school board less than two weeks after Nola took the same position at Gateway. Wade was Clairton's defensive coordinator the past four seasons and a member of the coaching staff for the past six. In that time, Clairton won five WPIAL titles, four PIAA titles and put together a 66-game winning streak, the longest in Pennsylvania high school football history.
Wade's success speaks for itself, and the tremendous support he has received from the community speaks volumes for the amount of respect so many have for him.
"I was very excited [to get the job]," Wade said. "I kind of knew Coach Nola was going to be leaving and the position was going to be there for me. I think the community was very excited and the kids were excited. I just want to help continue the success."
This is actually Wade's second stint as Clairton's head coach. In 2001, Wade was hired just a few weeks before the start of training camp. Ironically, Nola was the other candidate for the job. The Bears went 4-5 and Wade's position was opened at the end of the season. Nola took over and was there for 12 seasons. Wade didn't coach for six years before joining Nola's staff as a volunteer assistant in 2008.
Wade now takes the helm of a Clairton team that went 10-2 last season. Wade will continue to handle the defensive play-calling and said nothing will change on that side of the ball. The Bears will continue to load up the box and tempt teams to throw on what should again be an excellent secondary.
It's on offense where the biggest change will occur. Typically a run-heavy team, Clairton will play more of a spread style of offense and likely pass more frequently under new offensive coordinator Shawn Liotta. Last month, Liotta coached the Erie Explosion to its second consecutive Continental Indoor Football League championship.
"We'll be running the spread, which is very exciting for our offense," Wade said. "The kids are picking it up pretty good."
Opposing defenses will have their hands full trying to slow down Clairton's newest crop of future Division I talent -- junior wide receiver Aaron Mathews and sophomore running back Lamont Wade. Pitt has already offered scholarships to both players. Wayne Wade and Lamont Wade are cousins.
Wayne Wade said he expects plenty of senior leadership, too. Among the key seniors are quarterback Ryan Williams, fullback-linebacker Raymone Clifford, wide receiver/defensive back Jamie Hines, and tackles Will Hampton and Israel Melvin.
Wade himself was a star in his playing days at Clairton. In his senior season of 1989, Wade quarterbacked Clairton to its first WPIAL title in 35 years. That same school year, he was the leading scorer for the basketball team that won the WPIAL title. He also played baseball, and helped the Bears reach the WPIAL semifinals. Wade played college football at Akron and then with the Milwaukee Mustangs of the Arena Football League.
Now it's up to a man who has been referred to as "the beloved son of Clairton" to keep the school's winning football tradition alive.
Don't expect the goals to change one bit.
"Just like we do every year, we'll look to go 16-0, but take it one game at a time," Wade said. "I look to contribute to what we've been doing and hope to have a successful season."