Clairton seniors reflect on final trip to Hershey
Over the last few days, senior members of the Clairton football team have paused in their preparations for the PIAA Class A championship game and taken a nostalgic look around Neil C. Brown Stadium.
“It's kind of heartbreaking for us because we've been playing football with these guys all of our life,” senior quarterback Armani Ford said. “This is going to be our last game together and then we're going to go our separate ways.”
At approximately 11 a.m. Thursday, Clairton's senior football players will be called out of class for the last time.
They will ride down to the stadium locker room, put on sweats and shells and step on the grass one last time for their final walk-through of the season.
“It's a surreal moment to come out onto this field knowing that it's your last week and your last game,” running back Tyus Booker said. “I might not play football after this because I had four concussions in my career, so this might be my last game ever.”
Perhaps the toughest moment will be when the players board the bus for the three-hour trip to Hershey. That's when it may finally hit the seniors that, minutes earlier, may be the final time the team is together in pads on its home field.
“It's sad for real because we all grew up playing football together and it's finally coming to an end, and we're all about to go our separate ways,” defensive back Bryon Clifford said. “It's the start of a new beginning, and that's how I look at it.”
This emotional moment of pulling away from the stadium has almost become a rite of passage at Clairton (15-0), which will play in its fifth consecutive state championship game when it takes on District 2 champion Dunmore (14-1) at 1 p.m. Friday at Hersheypark Stadium. The Bears are so used to playing in state finals that they have a preset routine for each day of the week leading up to the championship game, one that includes a normal time to get out of class, the same departure schedule and staying in the same hotel.
“I think that's when it's going to first hit us, but I don't think we're going to start shedding tears or anything until after the game,” running back Tyler Boyd said. “We've still got a game to play and that's when our emotions will show, but that's a special feeling for us out here.”
This senior class is different from almost every other that has taken the field in Pennsylvania as only four other times has a team gone into the state championship game with an opportunity to win four consecutive state titles. Three of them were successful as Berwick became the first team with four consecutive state championships in 1997, while Southern Columbia defeated Duquesne in 2005 to win its fourth, then added a fifth with a win over West Middlesex in 2006.
Only Central Bucks West won three straight state titles, got to the championship game the following year and failed to win a fourth championship. That was the team that won a then-state-record 59 consecutive games then lost to Erie Cathedral Prep in the 2000 finals.
Clairton is hoping to avoid the same fate as Central Bucks West. The Bears eclipsed the Bucks streak of consecutive victories and will take a 62-game string into the state finals.
More telling for this class is that they have lost just one game, their first game as freshmen, and they do not want to bookend their careers with losses.
“It's that feeling every year from the senior class because they get emotional knowing that it's the last time on this field,” Boyd said. “As a leader, I don't want anybody out here playing around because we want to get everything done and everything right so we can finish good.”