No debate about the greatness of these former WPIAL stars
Who are the top high school football players in the WPIAL’s rich history?
That debate could rage on until next high football school season or the one after that.
But there’s no debating the greatness of these former WPIAL stars from the Tribune-Review’s coverage area, listed alphabetically below:
LaVar Arrington, North Hills
Arrington’s accomplishments at North Hills are nothing short of spectacular. He played on the 1993 North Hills WPIAL and PIAA championship team as a freshman.
By his senior season, Arrington was known nationally as a linebacker and a running back. He rushed for 4,357 yards on 711 carries and scored 72 touchdowns as the awards rolled in —1996 Parade National Player of the Year, Bobby Dodd National High School Back of the Year, the Gatorade Player of the Year and USA Today Pennsylvania Player of the Year.
After finishing ninth in the 1999 Heisman Trophy balloting, he left Penn State and was picked No. 2 overall in the NFL draft by Washington. He played 85 games in seven NFL seasons.
Arrington was inducted into the WPIAL Hall of Fame in 2011.
George Blanda, Youngwood
Born in 1927 as part of a family of 12 children, Blanda began his climb at tiny Youngwood High School, leading the Railroaders to a 7-1-1 record in 1944. The loss came to much-larger Greensburg team and the tie was to Mt. Pleasant Hurst.
His ability caught the attention of the University of Kentucky, where he played under the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant. After his collegiate days, he was drafted by the Chicago Bears and played under another coaching legend — George Halas. Tired of being used only as a placekicker under Halas, Blanda retired after the 1958 NFL season.
Along came the American Football League and Blanda, playing for the Houston Oilers, became one of fledgling league’s first big stars. His legend grew when he won five straight games for the Oakland Raiders in 1970. His final game was the AFC title game at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium in January 1976.
Blanda played in a record 340 NFL games and, in 1981, became the first Westmoreland County player selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Tyler Boyd, Clairton
The only person in WPIAL history to score more than 300 points in two consecutive seasons (2011-12), setting a then-WPIAL record with 117 career touchdowns. Boyd ranks eighth in WPIAL annals with 5,763 yards.
Clairton went 48-0 in his three years as a starter (2010-12) and 63-1 when his freshman year is included. Boyd owns a record that might never be broken: 21-0 in playoff games that he started, and 28-0 as a varsity member. He was part of four consecutive WPIAL and PIAA titles.
Boyd played three seasons at Pitt. He was a second-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2016 and is now in his fourth NFL season.
Tony Dorsett, Hopewell
Dorsett is one of three WPIAL players to win a Heisman Trophy, joining Johnny Lujack of Connellsville and Leon Hart of Turtle Creek.
At Beaver County’s Hopewell High School, Dorsett played cornerback as a sophomore at 147 pounds, but was deemed too small by his coaching staff to take the rigors of running back at the time. But he broke through as a junior, racing 75 yards with a screen pass early in the season against Ambridge, and never looked back. Dorsett rushed for 1,034 yards as a junior with 19 touchdowns and was an all-state selection as Hopewell went 9-1.
In 1972, he ran for 1,238 yards as Hopewell went 8-1. Dorsett was a first team all-stater. He excelled at linebacker for the Vikings, but became one of the country’s most-recruited running backs.
He had a stellar career at Pitt before embarking on a Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys. His 12,739 rushing yards places him 10th on the NFL career list.
Bill Fralic, Penn Hills
Usually, the top high school recruit in Western Pennsylvania is a speedy running back or strong-armed quarterback. But in 1980, Fralic was considered the top recruit from Western Pennsylvania at 6-foot-5, 280 pounds.
At 6-foot-1, 235 pounds in the eighth grade, he was working at a golf course when then-Pitt assistant Jackie Sherrill asked which college he played for. A year later as a high school freshman, he started for defending WPIAL champion Penn Hills and was part of the 1977 team that shared the WPIAL title with Butler after a 7-7 tie. Penn Hills won the WPIAL again in ’78 and ’79.
Fralic made The Associated Press all-state team as a junior in 1979. In 1980, he made both the AP and United Press International all-state first teams on both offense and defense.
He played at Pitt from 1981-84, becoming known for the “Pancake Block” — termed for the way he would flatten opponents when blocking.
Fralic was selected No. 2 overall in the 1985 NFL draft by Atlanta, starting for the Falcons at offensive guard as a rookie. He was named All-Pro in 1986 and ’87. Fralic played in 132 NFL games with the Falcons and Lions before retiring in 1992.
Fralic died on Dec. 13, 2018.
Dan Marino, Central Catholic
After growing up in Pittsburgh’s South Oakland neighborhood, Marino became nationally-known as a quarterback with Central Catholic’s breakthrough 1978 season. The Vikings, with Marino throwing for nearly 1,600 yards in an era where most schools had a run-first mentality, won their West Penn Conference title with a 9-1 record.
In Marino’s only WPIAL playoff game, the Vikings lost to eventual champion Penn Hills, 14-0, in an opening round playoff game at New Kensington’s Valley Memorial Stadium. Still, Marino was named first team, all-state quarterback by The Associated Press and the United Press International.
Marino took over at Pitt midway through his freshman season and was part of three consecutive 11-1 Panthers teams. He played 15 record-breaking seasons in the NFL with the Dolphins. He had 61,361 career passing yards, fifth in NFL history.
Dick Modzelewski, Har-Brack
A native of the West Natrona section of Harrison Township, Dick “Little Mo” Modzelewski was an all-state selection in 1947 as he helped lead Har-Brack to the WPIAL title game against cross-river rival New Kensington. Har-Brack lost to Ken-Hi, but Modzelewski repeated as an all-state lineman in ’48.
During his years with the Tigers, Har-Brack compiled a 23-6-1 record.
Modzeleweski followed his brother, Ed “Big Mo’ Modzelewski, to the University of Maryland, where he took over as a starter in his sophomore season in 1950. He was part of a Maryland 22-game unbeaten streak as the No. 3 Terrapins finished 11-0. Modzelewski won the Outland Trophy in 1952 and was drafted by the Redskins in the second round of the 1953 NFL draft. He ended up in New York in 1956 and was part of the original “Fearsome Foursome” with Roosevelt “Rosie” Grier, Jim Katkavage and Andy Robustelli.
He was a part of what’s been called the “Greatest Game Ever Played,” the 1958 championship where the Giants lost in the first overtime game with to the Colts. Modzelewski sacked Johnny Unitas three times.
He appeared in 175 straight NFL games, then a record.
Terrelle Pryor, Jeannette
Pryor was the first player in state history to accumulate 4,000 career yards in both passing and rushing. Pryor had 4,832 rushing yards and 4,340 passing yards. He led Jeannette to WPIAL titles in 2006 and ’07 as the Jayhawks defeated Greensburg Central Catholic and Beaver Falls, respectively. After losing the PIAA 2006 title game to Wilson, Pryor capped his Jeannette career with a win over Dunmore, 49-21, to bring Jeannette its first state title.
As a quarterback, Jeannette had a 12-3 overall record in postseason games.
Pryor’s high school accomplishments include being the two-time Pennsylvania Player of the Year, the 2007 Associated Press Class AA Offensive Player of the Year and the MVP of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Pryor was named to the Parade All-America football team for the 2007 season and was selected as the Parade National Player of the Year.
Darrelle Revis, Aliquippa
Before he trademarked his “Revis Island” fame with the New York Jets of the NFL, Revis earned considerable honors with Aliquippa, culminating with the 2003 WPIAL and PIAA championships.
In the 2003 WPIAL Class AA playoffs, the Quips outscored the opposition 136-7 by defeating Union 54-0, Ford City 26-7, Freedom 36-0, and Jeannette 18-4 to win the championship at Heinz Field. In that game, Revis caught a 54-yard touchdown pass. On defense, Revis made three tackles and had a fumble recovery and an interception.
In the PIAA championship, Revis led Aliquippa to a come-from-behind 32–27 win over Northern Lehigh. Revis scored five touchdowns: three rushing, a punt return and a returned blocked field goal attempt. He also completed a 39-yard pass, caught a pass and had an interception in the game.
In his third and final season at Pitt, he staged a memorable, 73-yard punt return against West Virginia, breaking seven tackles along the way.
Revis was drafted in the first round by the Jets. He played 11 years in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots in 2014. He is eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2023.
George Guido is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.