Brothers to savor time in WPIAL spotlight
South Fayette senior Zach Walker watched with admiration and a bit of envy as brothers Tyler and Zach Challingsworth lined up together as defensive backs and wide receivers when the Lions beat Aliquippa to win the WPIAL Class AA title in 2010.
Walker, a freshman at the time, wanted his own brother, J.J., down on the Heinz Field grass beside him to share the experience, but the closest the younger Walker, then an eighth-grader, could come was the bleacher railing.
What Walker longed to experience three years ago will become a reality Saturday, when South Fayette again meets Aliquippa to determine the Class AA champion.
“I'll be with him in warm-ups this time because we play the same position, so we can just take it all in together,” Zach Walker said. “The chances of me and him making it to the NFL or even college together where we'd play at Heinz Field are slim to none. So we want to enjoy this as much as we can.”
Said J.J. Walker: “It's going to be something I can remember for the rest of my life and always be able to bring up with him.”
Brothers abound in Saturday's four WPIAL championship games. Of the eight teams involved, only Woodland Hills and Aliquippa lack a pair of siblings.
Likely no brother combination will influence a game's outcome more than the Walkers, both of whom are two-way starters — Zach is an inside linebacker and right guard, and J.J. as an inside linebacker and fullback.
“We've had a lot of brother combinations,” said South Fayette coach Joe Rossi, who noted Brumbaugh and Fetchet siblings also belonged to the 2010 title team — Brett Brumbaugh, then a ball boy, now is a junior quarterback, and Grant Fetchet is a senior running back. “You become pretty successful when you have a strong gene pool like that.”
J.J. Walker leads South Fayette in tackles, and Zach is second. Zach Walker sacrificed his own shot at stardom early in the year by moving from fullback to the offensive line, a decision that allowed J.J. to step in and become South Fayette's short-yardage specialist — the junior has 50 carries for 255 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“I'm sure J.J. grinds that into Zach a little bit at home,” Rossi said, “but Zach doesn't really care about any of that stuff. He just wants to win. And it'd be great to see them hold up that championship trophy together.”
Not all of the brothers will see equal time between the hash marks at Heinz Field.
Sto-Rox junior Mike Dean might secure playing time on the offensive line. His brother, 5-foot-3, 145-pound freshman lineman Richard Johnson, likely will get his moment of glory when he takes the field as a drummer in the band.
The oldest of West Allegheny's three Kadlecik brothers, junior Zach, starts on all of the Indians' special teams units, while his siblings, sophomore Luke and freshman Nick, wait for their time to come.
Central Valley seniors Nolan Mowad and Michael Masciantonio and junior Isaiah Vreen contribute to the Warriors as situational specialists. Their younger brothers — sophomores Nick Mowad, Mario Masciantonio and Kyle Vreen — are a year or two away from prominent roles.
“What's funny about every set of brothers we have is they're complete opposites in their daily demeanors,” said Central Valley coach Mark Lyons, who also supervises senior twins Zemarr and Zaquan Jeter. “Seemingly one talks a lot, and the other is always quiet.”
An injury-filled season robbed Central Catholic's Swann brothers of the opportunity to share a huddle at Heinz Field. Sophomore running back and safety Braxton Swann and senior wide receiver Shafer Swann — the sons of Steelers legend Lynn Swann — possessed the abilities to start for the Vikings this season, but a torn meniscus kept the younger brother out for the season's first five weeks, and then a damaged labrum in Week 6 ended his hopes of finishing the year.
“I always wanted to play on the same team as my brother, whether it was football or another sport,” Shafer Swann said. “I was definitely pretty angry when he got hurt again.”
North Catholic senior linebacker/fullback Jarred Fragapane struggled to imagine the day he'd play at Heinz Field, let alone get there with a brother, freshman reserve wideout Mario, as a teammate.
Jarred Fragapane was a freshman at Deer Lakes in 2010, when the Lancers, with the help of older brother Jordan Fragapane, made the WPIAL playoffs for the first time in school history.
After his sophomore year at Deer Lakes, Jarred Fragapane decided to return to his Catholic school roots and began attending North Catholic.
“It would be huge for our family (to win a championship),” Jarred Fragapane said. “I always enjoyed playing with my older brother. My little brother loves being along for the ride.”