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Sophomore Mathews is next in line of Clairton football greats

| Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 11:45 p.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
Clairton junior quarterback Ryan Williams (right) and sophomore quarterback Aaron Mathews (left) work Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, at training camp.

Clairton's next star has arrived.

The 2013 campaign will be one of transition for the four-time defending PIAA Class A champions, as a senior class — led by the incomparable Tyler Boyd — has departed.

But the team with the nation's longest winning streak still boasts plenty of talent, and in sophomore Aaron Mathews, stardom appears inevitable.

The 6-foot-5 Mathews will split time at quarterback and wideout this season for coach Tom Nola's Bears. He is also slated to become among the WPIAL's tallest secondary players, as he will line up at free safety when the Bears are playing defense.

“I think he has a chance to be a really special one,” Nola said. “He just does everything well, and he's got that height. He's got that special height.”

Mathews has been a clear standout throughout the first three days of Clairton's training camp. He figures to see most of his time playing wideout when Clairton has the ball.

At 6-5 — and still growing — Mathews provides a tough matchup.

“It's hard to throw anything over his head,” Nola said. “He's definitely the kind of guy that you want to have the ball. Plus, he's gotten so much faster since last year. He will play quarterback some of the time, because he can help us there, but I really think he'll be at receiver a lot.”

It has quickly become apparent to the Clairton coaching staff that Mathews is on the verge of becoming a household name in the City of Prayer, where Division 1 recruits such as Boyd (Pitt), Trenton Coles (Pitt), Titus Howard (Pitt), Terrish Webb (Pitt), Manny Williams (Pitt), Kevin Weatherspoon (Pitt), and Desimon Green (Texas Tech) have been the foundation of the dynasty that has seen Clairton win 63 straight games, four straight PIAA titles and five straight WPIAL titles.

Can Clairton, which will boast only two senior starters, keep the streak going?

“I believe we can,” Mathews said. “Is team as talented as last year? Maybe not quite. We lost great players, we all know that. But there is a ton of talent here, and I'm ready to have a big year.”

Mathews, Nola believes, will become his own man.

At first, Mathews' tall build reminded Nola of Green. But Mathews isn't as naturally powerful as Green, though he is faster.

“They're different,” Nola said. “I can't say that he reminds me of anyone, to be honest. He's just unique and really, really talented.”

Mathews respects the galaxy of Clairton stars that came before him, but has a slightly different mentality.

Former Clairton stars — all of them, really — maintained a preference for playing defense. It was always the Clairton way. And Mathews looked the part at Wednesday's practice, at one point intercepting a pass on three consecutive plays from his safety position.

Coaches believe he will impact games from the defensive side as much as on offense. But Mathews isn't all about playing defense.

“Not me,” Mathews said with a smile. “I like offense. I like having the ball.”

But he doesn't need to be the man under center.

In fact, Mathews said he would prefer junior quarterback Ryan Williams take over the majority of the responsibilities under center.

“That's fine with me,” he said. “I love being a receiver.”

These are new times at Clairton. The Bears have lost 19 of their 22 starters from last season. It's easily the youngest team Nola has coached since coming to Clairton a decade ago.

But talent is always a constant with the Bears. And more times than not, Nola's roster is in possession of at least one player with special talent.

“He's definitely got the look of a Division 1 player,” Nola said. “And he's quite a leader, too. We need that because we're so young. I like everything I see with him.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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