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Clairton to rely on defense in quest to prolong winning streak

| Friday, Aug. 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
Clairton junior linebacker Ramon Clifford runs drills Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, at training camp.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
Clairton sophomore linebacker/running back Harrison Dreher runs through drills Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, at training camp.

That Clairton's football team has won 63 consecutive games — the nation's longest such streak among high school football teams—is astounding enough.

An even better illustration of Clairton's dominance, though, comes in the form of another number. The Bears have recorded 33 shutouts in those 63 games.

In fact, Clairton has produced 49 shutouts dating back to the 2006 season.

“Man have we had some players here,” Clairton defensive coordinator Wayne Wade said. “And you know what? We do again.”

Defense has been the backbone of the Clairton dynasty, which includes five straight WPIAL and four consecutive PIAA titles. Even on days when the Bears' terrific offenses have struggled, the defense seemingly never wavers.

Former defensive coordinators Jim Ward and Mike LeDonne, along with Wade, have devised schemes that have taken advantage of Clairton's greatest asset. Ask any opposing head coach what makes Clairton so daunting, and the word “speed” will invariably be mentioned.

Despite losing so many seniors from Clairton's 2012 team, Wade is delighted by what he sees. After all, it is a familiar look.

“Here's what makes me really happy,” he said. “When I look out there at this defense, when I look out there and see what we've got, I still see the team speed. Oh yeah. It's still there.”

These Bears are extraordinarily young. Only three seniors are on the Clairton roster this season, while as many as five freshmen could be asked to make a significant impact.

Still, Wade believes in this team.

“I have seen a lot of maturing taking place during the last few weeks,” he said. “We're depending on the younger guys. No doubt about it. We need them to come through. And we're really starting to see some progress, some people becoming leaders.”

No one at Clairton is under a microscope more than free safety Aaron Mathews. Although he prefers playing on the offensive side of the ball — a rarity for Clairton players — Mathews could be destined for greatness at free safety. He is 6-foot-5 and possesses a wingspan that will make it difficult for any quarterback to throw in the middle of the field, as the young ballhawk has athleticism that is already drawing Division I interest.

“He is obviously a very talented young man, and he's getting better and better,” Wade said. “And he's not alone.”

Clairton believes it could boast its best defensive line in many years. Size up front isn't ordinarily Clairton's greatest attribute, but nose guard Will Hampton and tackle Isreal Melvin give Clairton a couple of powerful players at the line of scrimmage.

Defensive ends JoJuan Bray and Carlito Spence both figure to produce pressure from the outside, which is always a staple in Wade's attack.

“There is plenty of speed and plenty of playmakers on this defense,” Mathews said. “No doubt about it.”

Sophomore Harrison Dreher looks like a standout at linebacker and has drawn comparisons to former Clairton star Eddie Ball because of his stocky stature and physical style.

“I've heard that comparison,” Wade said. “That's tough. Eddie was a great, great player. But yeah, I like Harrison. He's a player.”

Mathews will be the leader in a young secondary.

Freshman LaMont Wade will start at cornerback. His cousin, the defensive coordinator, is excited and nervous about his secondary.

“There is a lot of youth there and that makes you nervous,” Wade said. “But LaMont is going to be a really good player. He's put the work in to be good, and I do believe in him.”

Clairton's defense always puts the work in to be good. The man calling the shots isn't exactly sure what to expect, but he believes the physical attributes remain.

He loves that his unit's first test comes against a Chartiers-Houston team that almost beat the Bears last year in Week 1.

“Perfect,” he said. “That gets our attention.”

Clairton's defense has a way of getting everyone's attention.

“We'll be just fine,” Mathews said. “We're young, yeah. But we can play.”

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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