When DeWayne Murray puts on his Steel Valley uniform, he blends in with the rest of his teammates.
Watch him run with the football, though, and it's obvious he's not your ordinary player.
"He's one of those players who has an appearance out there," Steel Valley coach Rod Steele said. "It's hard not to take notice of him."
Murray (5 feet 9, 180 pounds) is one of the top sophomores in the WPIAL and a budding star at the running back position. He was one of only two WPIAL freshmen named all-conference last season, this after rushing for 1,488 yards and eight touchdowns. Murray averaged 10.7 yards on 139 carries.
Those numbers are terrific no matter the player, but considering Murray was only a ninth-grader, his success makes him stand out even more.
"Just coming in as a freshman, he was like a baby out there," Steele said. "Remember, he was just a year out of middle school and he's playing against kids who are a year or two away from playing for BCS schools. That's a huge jump in competition. He's way ahead of the game. Not many kids can do what he did."
Steele said Murray rushed for "about 350 yards" -- on just 12 carries -- in a scrimmage against Trinity last Friday. That included a pair of touchdown runs of 80-plus yards.
Murray, who resides in Homestead, has put on 20 pounds since last season, Steele said. That extra muscle should be helpful, considering Murray will likely get even more carries this season.
The Ironmen, who went 4-5 last season, have a young squad with juniors and sophomores occupying many of the starting spots. The Ironmen are also breaking in a new quarterback.
Steele said Murray is already receiving Division I interest, saying that Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia have inquired about him and requested film from the first couple of games.
History suggests that Murray could start the season with a bang. When Steel Valley plays host to Class AA Century Conference foe Carlynton tomorrow, Murray will try to give the Ironmen a 200-yard rusher in the season opener for the fifth consecutive year.
Delrece Williams did it in 2010, Dontez Williams in 2011, and D'Andre Pickens in 2012 and 2013. Pickens, a 2014 graduate, was nagged by an ankle injury for most of last season, moving Murray into the feature role.
"[Murray] just needs to keep growing and developing the way he's supposed to," Steele said. "He needs to learn more about the game and get a lot better in knowing how to set up blocks. The natural ones have those instincts that we as coaches can't coach. He's one of those players. He has that 'Wow' factor."
Comebacks at Belle Vernon
As returning starters, running back Anthony Levis and quarterback Travis Snyder had big plans at Belle Vernon Area last season. Levis, though, sustained a broken leg in training camp and missed the entire season. Snyder incurred a knee injury the third week of the season and didn't play again.
Now healthy, this pair of seniors will try to help the Leopards make a push at a playoff berth and maybe even keep them in the hunt for a Class AAA Big Nine Conference title. The Leopards, led by new coach Matt Humbert, travel to play Trinity on Friday.
Levis rushed for 1,136 yards as a sophomore, while Snyder passed for 703 yards and eight touchdowns.
Snyder had gotten off to a strong start last year, throwing five touchdown passes in a season-opening win against Uniontown. He finished with nine touchdown passes in three games. The Leopards went 4-6 and lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.
Upper St. Clair at Penn Hills, 7:30 p.m. Friday -- This is an early showdown in the Class AAAA Southeastern Conference. Upper St. Clair is always rock solid defensively, but the Panthers will be tested from the get-go against Indians quarterback Bill Kisner, who typically does a lot of damage with his running ability. Kisner, however, was held to 36 yards in a 35-0 loss to Upper St. Clair last season.
McGuffey at Mount Pleasant, 7 p.m. Friday -- In the new-look Class AA Interstate Conference, defending champion Mount Pleasant could have its hands full against McGuffey. A Mount Pleasant team that lost seven all-conference players will need to slow down McGuffey running back James Duchi (1,065 yards last season).
Monessen at Greensburg Central Catholic, 7 p.m. Friday -- Having dropped from Class AA, Greensburg Central Catholic plays as a Class A team for the first time since 2001. Quarterbacks Noah Rullo (Monessen) and Tommy Pellis (Greensburg C.C.) are both returning starters. Rullo tossed 19 touchdown passes last season.