Defending conference champ West Mifflin eyes repeat performance
It may be the Big 9 Conference instead of the Big 8 and there are a couple of additions and subtractions thanks to the biennial PIAA realignment, but whatever it's called West Mifflin will enter the 2012 season as co-defending champion.
It's an unfamiliar position for the Titans, who haven't been there since 2006 when they came into the season as the reigning winners of the Big 7 Conference. But the team is nonplussed about its chances of repeating as it heads into its extremely tough 2012 slate.
“It's a tougher road for sure because we had a lot of experienced kids back last year, and we thought, if things went right, that we would be able to win our conference,” West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said. “This year, we're just working hard and trying to get to the season and hope that we stay healthy and we can keep getting better.”
If West Mifflin is to continue its progression to become one of the elite teams in Class AAA, it will need another outstanding year from senior quarterback Derrick Fulmore. The multi-threat signal caller accounted for 1,122 yards and 18 touchdowns passing and rushing last season and is a tremendous weapon in the backfield.
“Like everybody else in the offseason, he worked on his conditioning and was in the weight room, trying to get stronger, and got a lot of experience in the passing camps,” Braszo said. “I think after the year he had last year he's a lot more confident and he's one of our leaders. He's worked hard and he's planning on having a big year.”
What will help him is having tight end Marcus Martin back. The Titans' top receiver from 2011 is beginning to garner quite a bit of interest from several Mid-American conference schools and will make for a big target in the middle of the field in critical situations.
Perhaps the biggest problem West Mifflin will have is replacing running back Shamar Greene, who was 16th in the WPIAL in rushing last season with 1,441 yards and 15 touchdowns. Filling that offensive void will fall on the shoulders of junior speedster James Wheeler, a state finalist in the 100 and 200 meters who had 15 carries for 82 yards and two touchdowns in 2011.
“He's done really well in track and he's a speed guy who's not real big,” Braszo said. “If we can get him to learn to run behind his blocking, we think we'll be fine there. But our running game is our No. 1 priority and, last year, in a lot of our games we were way ahead and we didn't have to throw much.”
What helped was that West Mifflin was able to generate a lot of turnovers and had a solid defense that allowed just 11.3 points per game. Keeping opponents off the field with a solid rushing attack is one thing, but if the Titans are to make that next step, they will again need key contributions on the defense.
“We have a lot more work to do on our defensive side of the ball than we do on the offense,” Braszo said. “We lost some really good players on defense, and there will be a lot of guys that are inexperienced.”