Gorman: Boatright epitomizes Clairton's heart
HERSHEY — Robert Boatright looked down at his jersey in the first quarter of the PIAA Class A championship game and saw it was ripped from his collar down to the No. 9 across his chest.
The Clairton senior knew officials wouldn't let him play with his uniform in that condition, so he quickly switched jerseys with a teammate on the sidelines and returned to the field wearing No. 6.
Every time Boatright made a tackle, the public address announcer credited Titus Howard. Never mind that Howard, a cornerback committed to Pitt, was standing on the sidelines with his dislocated left elbow in a sling.
“We talked about somebody wearing my number all week,” Howard said. “That made me feel so special inside. It made me feel like I was still in the game.”
Boatright loved that he unwittingly paid tribute to a classmate he and the rest of the Bears, without hesitation, call their brother.
“If I would've thought of it in the first place, I wouldn't have even put on my No. 9,” Boatright said. “I would've just worn No. 6.”
The Clairton coaching staff reminded the Bears all week that their bond of brotherhood set them apart, that this would be their last game together wearing the orange and black uniforms. Tom Nola told his team to play this game like it was their last, knowing that it very well could be.
Boatright took it to heart.
“I'm playing with all my brothers for the last time, so I might as well give my all,” he said. “We're a family. This is the last time we put on these jerseys. We wanted to go out on top.”
Boatright isn't one of Clairton's Killer T's — the nickname given to stars Tyler Boyd, Titus Howard and Terrish Webb — but his fourth-quarter sack helped the Bears beat Dunmore, 20-0, Friday afternoon at Hersheypark Stadium.
“It meant everything to me,” said Boatright, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound outside linebacker/defensive end. “I knew since I wasn't a headline guy that people doubted my talent. I know people look at my size at defensive end and think, ‘I'm going to crush this guy.'”
That might have been what Dunmore 6-foot-6, 285-pound right tackle James McHale was thinking on fourth-and-7 at the Clairton 26 with 8:00 left. That's when Boatright made the biggest defensive play of the game, if not his high school career.
When he saw McHale drop into pass protection and turn to his right, Boatright used an inside swim move and a quick first step to sack quarterback Brandon Kujawski for a 10-yard loss.
“I expect nothing less from him,” Clairton linebackers coach Eric Fusco said. “He's under the radar, but we expect guys like that to make plays. He doesn't have the stature, but he's all heart.
“Guys like Robbie, they feel in their own right that they're good players, too, so they play with a chip on their shoulder and want to prove something to everybody.”
Boatright long ago proved his worth to Clairton, when he helped preserve its record-setting win streak by playing other positions.
“I'm not the biggest or strongest guy, but it's the size of your heart,” Boatright said. “I'm not the most talented guy, but I'm the hardest-working. I'm always going to give my all so the coaches know they can put me anywhere.”
When injuries and ineligibility decimated the offensive line early this fall, Boatright moved to left guard. So, the PIAA final wasn't even the first time Boatright wore a different number this season. He wore No. 56 against Carlynton and No. 69 against California.
Boatright led the Bears in tackles, and was at his best in their biggest games. He had 12 tackles and three sacks against Sto-Rox in the WPIAL final. With a chance to extend their state-record winning streak to 63 and become only the third team in state history to win four consecutive state titles, he had five stops and a sack.
“Robbie is the wild card,” Fusco said. “He stands out in televised games — people say, ‘That No. 9 is a tough kid' — but we say it every day in practice. He's the epitome of a coach's player.”
If not the epitome of the Clairton Bears, an incredibly talented team whose heart and toughness were often overlooked amid this incredible run.
As Boatright proved, the Bears were never about the number on the front of their jerseys, but rather the one that grows with every victory.
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7812.