Varsity Xtra: Jacks of All Trades
Montour receiver Devin Wilson, right, greets Central Valley receiver Robert Foster before the start of their game earlier this season.
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If former Steeler Kordell Stewart was nicknamed "Slash" for his ability to play quarterback/receiver, then go ahead and call high school seniors Robert Foster, Devin Wilson, Tyler Boyd and Zach Challingsworth something like "Slash Slash Slash Slash Slash."
They are four premier players who have turned into the Renaissance Men of WPIAL football, seniors who all have Division I college scholarship offers to play receiver, but are doing everything for their high school teams except filling the Gatorade coolers. They are receiver/running back/defensive back/punter/kick returner and even quarterback here and there.
Sure, high school football has always had players who were standouts at two positions and also played special teams. But Central Valley's Foster, Montour's Wilson, Clairton's Boyd and South Fayette's Challingsworth are a unique group, jacks-of-all-trades who are taking this "Slash" role to a new level. One would be left scratching his head to come up with a previous WPIAL season where a foursome with such a bright future at receiver have done so much at other positions, especially at running back. Clairton's Boyd surpassed 4,000 career yards rushing last week.
"You had a guy here and there in the past do things, playing a number of positions, like Darrelle Revis [of Aliquippa] or Terrelle Pryor [of Jeannette]," said Central Valley coach Mark Lyons. "But, in my 25-30 years involved in coaching, I don't remember a core group of guys who are this multi-dimensional. ... But not only do they do all these things on offense, they're pretty darn good defensive backs. I want to say all four of them could be shutdown cover guys."
Montour coach Lou Cerro said, "I don't remember four high-profile guys in the same year doing all of this. It seems like you hear about these guys doing more and more every week."
For example, how many times over the years has a player at a school in one of the WPIAL's largest classifications had a game where they rushed for 137 yards on 13 carries from running back, caught eight passes for 136 yards from receiver, scored two touchdowns running and one receiving? But that's what Wilson did last Friday against Blackhawk. Oh yeah, he also played defensive back, returned kicks and punted.
Then there is Foster, who is ranked among the top receivers in the country by scouting services, but also is a standout defensive back, a threat at running back and a dangerous kick-returner. On top of that, the kid is a superb punter. He is averaging 42 yards punting this season and has excellent hang time on a number of his punts. Sometimes, he kicks off, too.
"He's an unbelievable punter. He's unreal," Cerro said of Foster.
But get this: Foster, Wilson, Boyd and Challingsworth all punt for their teams (Wilson filled in last week when the starting punter was ill, but Wilson had been the starting punter the past few years).
"I take a lot of pride in all the things I can do on the field," Foster said. "My coaches tell me just to make plays, so I'll do whatever it takes to win. I don't care if I have to go play center."
Wilson said, "I definitely like what I'm doing this year. The last couple of years I've just been out wide, and that was the only thing I did on offense. It's a lot of fun in games to just keep moving around and trying different things."
There are other players around the WPIAL who are making marks at receiver and also running the ball, whether at running back or getting direct snaps in the wildcat formation. But Foster, Wilson, Boyd and Challingsworth are the cream of the crop. Their versatility is terrific, their statistics impressive.
• Wilson is a 6-foot-3, 185-pound receiver/running back/defensive back/kick returner/punter. This is his first year playing running back, and he has rushed for 442 yards on 50 carries (8.8 average) and has two 100-yard games. He is tied for second in the WPIAL in catches with 41 for 659 yards and has four 100-yard receiving games. He has 30 tackles on defense, two interceptions and has averaged 23.2 yards on kickoff returns.
North Carolina State and some Mid-American Conference schools have offered him scholarships, and Penn State has been showing more interest lately. Wilson also has a few Division I scholarship offers for basketball.
• Foster is a 6-2, 185-pound receiver/running back/defensive back/punter/kick returner who has 35 catches for 598 yards and 34 rushing attempts for 269 yards. He has two interceptions on defense and more than 30 tackles
Foster has scholarship offers from colleges across the country but recently narrowed his list to Pitt, Ohio State and Alabama.
• Challingsworth is a 6-2, 190-pound receiver/defensive back/punter/kick returner and expert at blocking kicks. In the past two seasons, he has blocked seven extra points or field goals. This season, Challingsworth has 33 catches for 768 yards (23.3 average). He doesn't run the ball as much as Wilson, Foster or Boyd, but still has 61 yards on nine rushing attempts. He is averaging 32 yards a punt, 17.9 yards on punt returns and has two interceptions on defense, returning one for a touchdown.
"I've been working out at quarterack, too, just in case something happens," Challingsworth said.
Challingsworth already has made a verbal commitment to Pitt.
• Boyd takes the "Slash" moniker even further than Challingsworth. He is a 6-2, 180-pound running back/receiver/defensive back/kick returner/punter/quarterback. Not only does Boyd sometimes take direct snaps from center in the wildcat formation, he also has completed some passes this season.
This season Boyd has 1,147 yards rushing on 91 carries and has caught five passes for 114 yards. He has scored 22 touchdowns.
Boyd has more than two dozen scholarship offers. Pitt, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan State are among the schools he is considering.
"I think the bottom line is you have to be a special athlete to do what they are doing at such a high level," Cerro said. "Our offense, you have to learn maybe 15 sets at receiver. Then we have maybe seven different formations in our running-back game.
"Devin has had to learn them all, and he plays safety on defense, too."
Lyons believes Foster, Boyd, Wilson and Challingsworth are throwback players, with some added dimensions.
"You look back 25 to 30 years ago and way before that, you had great, tremendous two-way players who never left the field," Lyons said. "Then, we went through maybe an eight- to 10-year period where you had more guys focusing on one sport, or maybe one position in football.
"I think the cycle is coming back around. I think now you're seeing the guys in high school again, that my father, grandfather and uncles appreciate watching because they don't hardly ever leave the field."
The interesting thing about Foster, Boyd, Wilson and Challingsworth is they stay in contact with each other through text messages or social media outlets (Twitter or Facebook).
But they also have played with each other or against each other in offseason 7-on-7 tournaments. Wilson and Foster play in the same conference. Challingsworth and Wilson work out at the same facility -- Evolution Sports Institute in Bridgeville.
"I reach out to Foster sometimes. Obviously, I'd like to get him to Pitt," Challingsworth said, with a laugh. "I keep in touch with Boyd some and I've talked to all of them before. There is kind of a bond between all of us."
First Published October 19, 2012 12:00 am