West Mifflin enters season with concerns, just not at running back
West Mifflin will deploy a new quarterback, a new tight end, a partially new offensive line and a revamped defense this season.
And the Titans figure to be as dangerous as ever because running back Jimmy Wheeler and coach Ray Braszo are back.
Braszo has a history of turning tailbacks into stars and said he believes Wheeler's talent is special enough that West Mifflin could thrive during what otherwise would be a rebuilding campaign.
“We knew he was going to be good before last season, and we knew he had great speed,” Braszo said. “But, you know, I never imagined he was going to do anything like what he did. He really did have an unbelievable year, and we'll be counting on him again.”
Wheeler became a star in West Mifflin's run-oriented offense.
In his junior season, he rushed for 2,226 yards and scored 29 touchdowns.
Only Washington star Shai McKenzie and former Clairton great Tyler Boyd rushed for more yards in the WPIAL.
“I really think he can do it again,” Braszo said. “It will be tough because the guys in front of him are different this year, and we've had some changes on the offensive line. But Jimmy's a special runner. He's got the vision and the speed that you need to produce a lot of big plays.”
Braszo's offense is simple. He loves to run the ball with his tailback and ordinarily does so out of the I-formation.
Getting the ball into the hands of his best player usually is Braszo's objective, and Wheeler was good enough to carry the Titans to the Class AAA championship game.
“It won't be easy to pull that off again,” Braszo said. “I'm worried about our defense. We lost a lot, and I don't know that it will be as strong this year. But one thing we've got is our running back, and that's a good thing. We need to score points this year.”
History says Braszo will find a way to guide West Mifflin into the postseason. He seldom missed the playoffs during his first stint at West Mifflin.
In the four seasons West Mifflin was without Braszo — 2006 through 2009 — the Titans didn't make the playoffs.
In the three seasons since Braszo's return, West Mifflin is 24-10 and has made the playoffs three consecutive times.
The Titans went 11-2 last season and figure to challenge Thomas Jefferson for Big 9 Conference supremacy.
“I always say that until someone beats Thomas Jefferson,” Braszo said, “they're going to be the team to beat. That's just the way it is.”
Braszo said he is unsure if he has a team capable of toppling TJ.
Returning quarterbacks Jeff Foreman and Karlyn Garner will attempt to fill the big shoes of former quarterback Derrick Fulmore, who emerged as a dual-threat in 2012.
“I'd rather have just one quarterback,” Braszo said. “But I'll use two if I have to. I think the offense is fine.”
Braszo said he isn't so sure about his defense.
He hopes Wheeler will make up for any of his team's shortcomings.
“I've been happy with the players I've had ever since I came back to West Mifflin,” Braszo said. “There is talent here. Hopefully, we can put it all together.”