A / EASTERN: Unthinkable almost happens in Duquesne

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Worry dethroned celebration as the overriding sentiment the past few months in Duquesne.

The situation hung over the city because this was -- and this is a tough proposition in Duquesne -- even bigger than high school football.

More than the possibility of an existence without football, Duquesne stared directly at the possibility that there would no longer be a Duquesne High School.

Because of faltering finances, the future of the Duquesne City School District was in jeopardy until last month when the Pittsburgh Public Schools agreed to provide management services.

"Losing football would be difficult on this community because, my gosh, football has been such a vital part of identifying Duquesne," said coach Pat Monroe, who also attended the school. "The stadium goes back 82 years if I'm not mistaken, and that alone goes to speak of how much football is part of the fabric of this town."

Athletic director Montel Staples, also a Duquesne native, had a difficult time trying to fathom an autumn without Saturday home games.

"I just thought about what it would be like for the entire city. From the older people who follow the team and played years ago to the young kids in elementary school who are coming up and look at the high school players as their heroes," Staples said.

"With all of them, I just kept thinking that what had to be going through their mind was, 'What will this town become if we lose our football team and our athletic department?' "

The talk had shifted from what should have been the primary focus as this year approached -- the Dukes went 14-1 last season, won the WPIAL Class A championship and reached the PIAA title game.

But the past few months, everyone has been searching for deeper answers than who the starting quarterback will be, who will complement senior standout Fitzgerald Bobo or what defensive schemes the Dukes will run -- they have been wondering if there would be a team at all.

"People come to me for answers, because I think that I've earned the trust of the people here and, also, they know I have Duquesne's best interest in mind because I grew up here," Staples said.

"When I couldn't give them answers, I know everyone was probably skeptical. People I've known my whole life might have thought I was holding out on them, but I just didn't know anything about what was going to happen."

Now, everyone can rest a little easier; there will be football in Duquesne this year.

After all, can you imagine the town without it?

EASTERN DATA

TEAM TO BEAT
Clairton The Bears are looking to do what coach Tom Nola's squad did in 2004, when it reached the WPIAL title game. Many think they have the pieces in place, especially with senior Leroy George (QB/RB, 6-1, 195). Also, senior Deon Pompey (WR, 5-9, 170) is a speedster and can shift the direction of a game in a hurry.

CONTENDERS
Duquesne The Dukes are the defending WPIAL champion and a PIAA runner-up. But the question is, can senior Fitzgerald Bobo (6-4, 195), a defensive back and a player apt to line up in a variety of positions on offense, take the leadership role with Elijah Fields now at Pitt?

Springdale Senior Beau Citrone (QB, 5-10, 175) has a grasp of the offense and junior Nathan Zurisko (RB, 6-2, 180) moves into the feature spot in the backfield after performing as a reserve. On defense, look for senior John McCauley (LB, 6-2, 220) to rattle more than a few ballcarriers.

Riverview The Raiders reached the postseason last year and return a dependable running back from that team in senior Gino Scampone (5-11, 175). He'll be aided on offense by seniors Sid Facaros (TE, 5-11, 185) and Greg Dessell (RB, 5-11, 190).

THE OTHERS
Apollo-Ridge The Vikings won their final two regular-season games to inch into the playoffs last year, but they lost five all-conference performers, including defensive MVP Ian Milanak, a linebacker.

Leechburg Going 1-8 last year had to hurt, but junior Tommy Phillips (QB, 6-4, 195) learned from that experience.

Wilkinsburg Cliff Simon is in his first season as coach. He'll have to turn things around from a program that won just two games in the past two seasons. He'll count on senior John Meek (QB, 6-1, 170).

FIVE TO WATCH
Fitzgerald Bobo, Sr., Duquesne, WR/QB/DB, 6-4, 195; Quinton Brody, Jr., Clairton, LB, 5-11, 225; Beau Citrone, Sr., Springdale, QB, 5-10, 175; Leroy George, Sr., Clairton, QB, 6-2, 195; Marcel Washington, Sr., Clairton, DE, 6-4, 270.

GAME OF THE YEAR
Clairton at Duquesne, Sept. 23


RETURN TO MAIN INDEX


Colin Dunlap can be reached at cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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