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At West Mifflin, a Titanic challenge

| Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, 12:18 a.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr./ for the Daily News

West Mifflin got its first litmus test for the season Saturday when it hosted Steel Valley in the first of its two scrimmages.

Like most teams after the first week of camp, the Titans' results were more of a mixed bag of parts than a finely tuned machine.

“It was a pretty even scrimmage, and I thought we played pretty well, but we have to really look at the film and use it just like we would any scrimmage,” West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said. “The team overall played well, but they need a lot more experience.”

West Mifflin already knows it will likely have to rely on senior quarterback Derrick Fulmore to carry the offense, at least early on. Fulmore, who also plays defensive back, is the lone starter returning in the offensive backfield and one of the few skill-position players who saw significant playing time for the Titans when they won their last four regular-season games and tied Thomas Jefferson for the Big Eight championship.

So far, Fulmore has grabbed the reins and asserted himself. He's been a camp standout on both sides of the ball and performed well in the scrimmage against the Ironmen.

“He's doing real well, and he's improving on what he did last year,” Braszo said. “He really works hard, he played well, and he's a real leader.”

Fulmore was a dual threat last season, rushing for twice as many touchdowns (12) as he threw. But the problem he could have is finding a big-play receiver on the outside. West Mifflin has tried a host of players at receiver but has struggled identifying who will be the most effective.

The team is working juniors A.J. Olasz, Davon Dutrieville and Colton Weber along with senior Marcus Martin among others to see who can fit into the two starting slots.

“We need to settle on who we want to play out there to give us that threat ... and there's so many guys I can't think of them all right now,” Braszo said. “That's something we need, or teams are just going to gang up on us at the line.”

The line, despite being anchored by senior center Jim Keys, is a relatively young group and has to come together quickly. It will be charged with opening holes for speedy running back Jimmy Wheeler, one of the best sprinters in the state who is entering his first season as a starter.

Entering Friday's scrimmage against Jeannette, West Mifflin will be trying to figure out how durable Wheeler is.

For a team that likes to run the ball as much as the Titans and had a running back gain more than 1,400 yards last season, Wheeler's development could be the linchpin for a West Mifflin conference title repeat.

“We're hoping that, even though he's not a big kid, he's coming into his own, and he's playing pretty well,” Braszo said. “He could be the key to our season.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kbarnes@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.

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