Despite roster turnover, Clairton pledges to continue winning run
For five years, Clairton has been the gold standard by which all others in WPIAL Class A are measured.
Five consecutive titles, four straight state championships, a national-best and state record 63-game winning streak and several players competing at the Division I FBS level will do that.
This season, however, the Bears don't have three bona fide top-level collegiate prospects at the skill positions. In fact, Clairton graduated both of its top receivers in Terrish Webb and Titus Howard, its starting and backup quarterbacks (Armani Ford and Bryon Clifford) and, in Tyler Boyd, a player who is the No. 5 rusher and top touchdown producer in WPIAL history.
“We lost a whole team of starters,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “We lost a great group of skill people, and it's possible we can find some people to share time, but we're still looking all over the place.”
Coming up with replacements for what could arguably be one of the best teams in WPIAL history will be an arduous task. About the only positive is that those skill position players will be lining up behind one of the best lines in Class A, one that returns four starters, including tackles Will Hampton and Israel Melvin, along with Dryan Davenport and Vance Gibson.
Through the preseason, Clairton has used two quarterbacks — junior Ryan Williams and sophomore Aaron Mathews — but the position remains a work in progress. Williams may have the edge and could be the opening-night starter against Chartiers-Houston, while the versatile Mathews (6-foot-4) might provide a game-breaking target at wide receiver.
“Mathews is a basketball player, so he can jump up and get the ball,” Nola said. “They both throw about the same.”
Perhaps the main receiver will end up being 6-4 tight end Jojuan Bray, who also will anchor the team's defense in a defensive line/rover role.
“Jojuan Bray, he might be our best player on both sides of the ball,” Nola said. “He's starting at outside linebacker, and he should put big pressure on the quarterback, and he should provide a big target. He's our best overall player.”
Clairton did have a bit of turmoil in the offseason when coaches Jim Dumm and Tim Bukowski apparently left the program, but according to Nola, both will be with the team during the season.
Although Clairton is young and somewhat inexperienced at the skill positions, the goal has not changed. The Bears firmly believe they remain the team to beat in Class A and continually talk about the winning streak. The senior class never has lost a varsity game, and Clairton could become the first team to win six consecutive outright WPIAL titles in any classification.
“The streak does matter,” Nola said. “It matters now because it's their streak now, and it's on them to keep winning, and we still talk about it.”