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Steelers

Western Pa. isn't No. 1 for NFL Draft

Kevin Gorman
| Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Josh Lay had never placed his standing in the NFL Draft in such a context, so the former Aliquippa and Pitt cornerback felt a tingling sensation when asked what it would mean if he was the first WPIAL player selected.

"It's really mind-blowing," said Lay, who could join Ty Law and Charles Fisher as former Aliquippa cornerbacks selected in the NFL Draft. "I never even thought of it like that. The chills just came through me, that I might be the first one of my class to get drafted from the WPIAL."

That Lay and former Seton-La Salle and Toledo quarterback Bruce Gradkowski aren't expected to be chosen until the third or fourth round at earliest could be perceived as a bad sign for Western Pennsylvania's reputation as a breeding ground for the NFL. Which begs this question: Does Western Pa. live up to its billing?

"Some years it does and some years it doesn't," said Joe Butler, director of Metro Index Scouting Service in Mt. Lebanon. "You're only getting 250 guys drafted every year and we're a small region of the country. You've got a population base in the WPIAL and City League, I'm guessing, of 2.5 million. If there is any more than five guys drafted out of this region, that's a very good year. People expect more, but you're dealing with population bases three times the size of Pittsburgh."

Neither the WPIAL nor the City League has produced a first-round draft pick since former North Hills and Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington was chosen second overall by the Washington Redskins in 2000. In fact, since 1990, only two other WPIAL players - both from Aliquippa - have been first-round picks: defensive tackle Sean Gilbert (Rams) in 1992, and Law (Patriots) in 1995.

"There's not a lot of first-round picks out of this region, but there's a lot of good guys and guys who are very productive in the NFL," Butler said. "That's a sign that there's talent and very good coaching in the lower levels."

Butler has a point. In the past decade, NFL teams have drafted 25 players from the WPIAL or City League. Of those players, 17 are still playing in the NFL and several are bona fide stars: Arrington recently signed a seven-year, $49 million contract with the New York Giants. Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor (Woodland Hills), a third-round pick in 1997, is a three-time Pro Bowl selection. St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger (Central Catholic and West Virginia), a sixth-rounder in 2000 who was cut by the New Orleans Saints, was named Most Valuable Player of the 2005 Pro Bowl.

If anything, Western Pennsylvania products have proven to be productive NFL players. Charlie Batch (Steel Valley) passed for nearly 9,000 yards in four seasons with the Detroit Lions and won a Super Bowl ring as a backup with the Steelers. Same for safety Mike Logan (McKeesport and West Virginia), who started his career with Jacksonville.

Western Pennsylvania players also have shown that it doesn't take first-day draft status or major-college experience to make it in the NFL. Offensive guard Leander Jordan (Brashear) played at Indiana (Pa.) and has spent six seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars and San Diego Chargers. Reggie Wells (South Park) went from Clarion to starting at offensive tackle for the Arizona Cardinals.

"Recruiting is a funny business, and so is scouting," Butler said. "Scouting is an inexact science. The one thing you can't project is the size of a guy's heart and how bad he wants something."

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Western PA to NFL
Here is a look at the 25 players from the WPIAL and City League who were selected in the NFL Draft in the past decade and how they have fared:
1996
Rd.
Team
Player
Pos.
High School
College
6
CIN
Tom Tumulty
LB
Penn Hills
Pitt
Career: Knee injury forced retirement after three years.
6
IND
Mike Cawley
QB
Mt. Lebanon
James Madison
Career: Cut by several NFL teams, has played in AFL, CFL, XFL.
1997
Rd.
Team
Player
Pos.
High School
College
2
JAX
Mike Logan
FS
McKeesport
West Virginia
Career: Nine-year vet won a Super Bowl ring with Steelers.
3
MIA
Jason Taylor
DE
Woodland Hills
Akron
Career: Three-time Pro Bowl pick has 92.5 sacks.
4
NE
Damon Denson
OG
Baldwin
Michigan
Career: Spent two years with Patriots, one with Ravens.
1998
Rd.
Team
Player
Pos.
High School
College
2
DET
Charlie Batch
QB
Steel Valley
Eastern Michigan
Career: Steelers backup has 9,309 passing yards, 49 TDs.
1999
Rd.
Team
Player
Pos.
High School
College
2
CIN
Charles Fisher
CB
Aliquippa
West Virginia
Career: Ended with severe knee injury in NFL debut.
2
DAL
Solomon Page
OG
Brashear
West Virginia
Comment: Started 58 games with Cowboys, Chargers, Giants.
2000
Rd.
Team
Player
Pos.
High School
College
1
WASH
LaVar Arrington
LB
North Hills
Penn State
Career: Giants signed three-time Pro Bowler for $49M.
3
CAR
Leander Jordan
OG
Brashear
Indiana (Pa.)
Career: Has 14 starts for Panthers, Jaguars, Chargers.
4
NYG
Brandon Short
LB
McKeesport
Penn State
Career: Re-signed with Giants after two years in Carolina.
6
NO
Marc Bulger
QB
Central Catholic
West Virginia
Career: 2005 Pro Bowl MVP has 11,932 passing yards.
2001
Rd.
Team
Player
Pos.
High School
College
3
NYG
Will Peterson
CB
Laurel Highlands
Western Illinois
Career: Has 200 tackles, five INTs in five years for Giants.
3
SF
Kevan Barlow
RB
Peabody
Pitt
Career: Has 3,614 rushing yards in five years for 49ers.
5
DET
Mike McMahon
QB
North Allegheny
Rutgers
Career: Has passed for 2,867 yards; signed by Vikings.
2002
Rd.
Team
Player
Pos.
High School
College
5
TEN
Jake Schifino
WR
Penn Hills
Akron
Career: Played for Titans, Patriots; signed with Texans.
6
DAL
Bob Slowikowski
TE
Central Catholic
Virginia Tech
Career: Cut by Cowboys, Browns after serious knee injury.
2003
Rd.
Team
Player
Pos.
High School
College
4
IND
Steve Sciullo
OG
Shaler
Marshall
Career: Had 28 starts for Colts, Eagles before 2005 release.
4
TB
Lance Nimmo
OT
Laurel
West Virginia
Career: Won Super Bowl ring with Patriots; quit in 2005.
6
ARIZ
Reggie Wells
OT
South Park
Clarion
Career: Has started 26 games in three seasons with Cards.
2004
Rd.
Team
Player
Pos.
High School
College
2
SF
Shawntae Spencer
CB
Woodland Hills
Pitt
Career: Has 153 tackles, four INTs in two years with 49ers.
7
MINN
Jeff Dugan
TE
Central Catholic
Maryland
Career: A backup, he hasn't had any catches for Vikings.
2005
Rd.
Team
Player
Pos.
High School
College
5
SF
Rasheed Marshall
WR
Brashear
West Virginia
Career: Had no catches in 12 games for 49ers as a rookie.
6
BUF
Justin Geisinger
OG
Mt. Lebanon