Inside the Program: West Mifflin football
West Mifflin running back Jimmy Wheeler rushes against Elizabeth Forward in the first quarter last Friday.
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Two years ago, the West Mifflin football team was mired in mediocrity, having finished a 4-6 season that saw it lose four of its final six games by a combined 100-59 margin. The 2010 season concluded a four-year stretch in which West Mifflin went 14-23, a span that included one winning season. Things turned around considerably for the Titans last season as they lost one game in the regular season and reached the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals, where they lost to Montour, 31-7. Through six games, the progress has continued this season. The Titans are enjoying a 6-0 start and sit atop the Big Nine Conference standings. They are ranked No. 5 in Class AAA. West Mifflin is the second-highest scoring team in Class AAA and the fourth-highest scoring team in the WPIAL with an average of 43.7 points per game. The Titans will be trying to extend their unbeaten streak -- which is part of the turnaround run that has seen them win 15 of their past 16 regular-season games -- today with a non-conference home game against Indiana (2-4).
Any discussion surrounding West Mifflin must start with the rapid development of junior running back Jimmy Wheeler. With 1,202 yards on 121 carries already, Wheeler is the WPIAL's leading rusher more than halfway through the season. Wheeler has rushed for more than 100 yards in every game this season -- with a season-low rushing total for a single game being 110 yards -- and he has scored 15 touchdowns. After scoring only two touchdowns in his limited playing time last season, Wheeler's sudden emergence has made this season more remarkable. "I'm a lifelong resident of West Mifflin and a graduate of West Mifflin High School, and it's great to see this community get so excited about this football team," said Scott Stephenson, the athletic director at West Mifflin. "And, with Jimmy, it couldn't happen for a better kid."
While Wheeler understandably gets the headlines and attention that come with being the leading rusher on a ranked, undefeated team, there is more to the offense than a star running back -- namely, quarterback Derrick Fulmore who has excelled this season. A dual threat, Fulmore has been a nearly equal part of the offense's success. He has accounted for 893 yards of offense (472 passing and 421 rushing) and 14 touchdowns (six passing and eight rushing). He has only thrown 25 passes this season, but, when he does pass, there is a tendency for big things to happen. Fulmore is averaging 33.7 yards per completion, and, of his 14 completions this season, six have resulted in touchdowns.
A variety of factors could readily explain West Mifflin's undefeated status, but an important one is the large number of upperclassmen the Titans have. Of the 68 players on the West Mifflin roster, 45 are juniors or seniors.
West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo has played a large role in the football program's turnaround, with the team's recent success coming in his second stint with the school. Braszo, who has a career record of 139-98-3 in 23 seasons, was the head coach for 17 seasons, then accepted a job at Steel Valley for four seasons before ultimately returning to West Mifflin in 2010. His return has paid dividends for the Titans and, for that, they are thankful he came back. "Words can't describe what he's done for not only the football program, but also the community and our school," Stephenson said.
First Published October 12, 2012 12:00 am