Gorman: Family affair, not feud, for Fulmores
Michael Fulmore had every right to be dazzled and dismayed when North Catholic's terrific tailback weaved through the Wilkinsburg defense for a long touchdown run.
No doubt about this: He definitely took it personally.
Fulmore found himself in an awkward position Friday night. He is the head coach of the Wilkinsburg Tigers. His son, P.J., is the star tailback for the North Catholic Trojans.
They were on opposite sides of an Eastern Conference game at J.C. Stone Field in North Park.
“We say all the time, ‘It's my boy going against my boys,' ” Michael Fulmore said. “We really just enjoy the situation revolving around that. All of my Wilkinsburg Tigers know P.J.”
Michael coached P.J. in pee-wee football, where the Mount Washington resident starred for the South Side Sabers.
So, he knows full well his son's tantalizing talent. P.J. has one of the most unbelievable highlight tapes you will see, a series of spinning, slicing and speeding runs.
Aside from P.J.'s mother, Cristine, Michael is his biggest fan.
“He's just unbelievable, one of the best athletes I've ever seen in person,” Michael Fulmore said. “He has vision, speed, acceleration, balance, and he's extremely coachable.”
North Catholic coach Bob Ravenstahl agrees, considering the 5-foot-8, 180-pound junior, an FBS prospect, ran for 1,824 yards and 24 touchdowns last year to lead the Trojans to the WPIAL Class A semifinals.
“He means a lot to our team,” he said. “He does things on the football field that a lot of kids can't do. You only come across gifted kids so often, and he's one of them. I'm just honored to have a kid like that on my team.”
North Catholic is undefeated this season, despite P.J. sitting out most of the first five games with a high-ankle sprain. He returned, just in time to play against Wilkinsburg.
“Obviously, as a dad, I want to see him play. I want to see him on the field,” Michael said. “It's just Wilkinsburg's luck that the kid is as close to 100 percent as he's ever been for a high school football game. Good news for him, bad news for me.”
The good news for the Fulmore family is that this happens only once a year. Wilkinsburg plays its home games on Saturdays, so Michael often can watch P.J. play and scout future opponents at the same time.
“We kid him about it,” Ravenstahl said. “P.J. just prepares as if it's another team.”
Even though he knows it's not.
“It's a little bit weird playing against him, but we're competitors,” P.J. said. “We play to win, no matter who we're playing.”
Before the game, Michael sent P.J. a text message, wishing him the best of luck.
North Catholic beat Wilkinsburg, 20-0, last year but the Tigers were one of the few teams to hold P.J. to fewer than 100 yards. This time, P.J. scored on his second and fourth carries, running for touchdowns of 9 and 8 yards. North Catholic took advantage of Wilkinsburg's penalties and turnovers for a 35-0 lead at 10:08 of the second quarter.
P.J. had only 44 yards at that point. Then he took a handoff and burst right, made a defender miss and cut against the grain without breaking stride for a 62-yard scoring run. It was a big moment for P.J., not only because he finished with 106 yards and three touchdowns on eight carries in the first half of the 41-12 win.
“I really just wanted to win,” P.J. said. “It was nice to break that big one because it let me know I still have it in me.”
Michael Fulmore had no mixed emotions.
“Not after you get to be across from arguably one of the best players in the WPIAL,” Michael said. “I'm proud to take the loss to a kid who gives everything he has and has such love for the game. I'm a proud father, and that goes before being a coach.”
Afterward, they posed for a photo, father and son doing their best to turn a tough game against one another into a picture-perfect moment.