Former NFL great Curtis Martin is in town to be inducted into the Allderdice Alumni Hall of Fame tonight.
Martin played at Allderdice High School before going on to play at Pitt and then in the NFL for 11 seasons. He finished his career with 14,101 yards, which is fourth on the all-time rushing list. Jerome Bettis is No. 5.
The funny thing is both Martin and Bettis both surpassed 13,000 career yards when they played against each other in a Steelers-Jets game in 2004. The picture is of Martin and Bettis after that game seven years ago.
With Martin in town, it brings back memories of his very short high school career - and also of the first time I saw him play at Allderdice. I'd say he is one of the three best running backs I have seen in the WPIAL-City League in three decades plus of covering high school football for the PG. The other two were Washington's Brian Davis and Hopewell's Rushel Shell.
Martin basically played only his senior year at Allderdice (1990). Due to injuries and other situations, he played only a few games before his senior season. He was a nobody until his final year at Allderdice, when he burst on the scene with a few 200-yard rushing games in a row.
People started to notice Martin because of his statistics. But the competition was a little suspect. So, in the sixth game of the 1990 season, I decided to check out Martin because Allderdice was playing Perry. Back in 1990, Perry was the defending state champion in Triple-A. Perry had a number of starters back from a team that beat vaunted Berwick for the state title one year earlier. Perry's defense was tremendous in 1990, with a few future Division I college players on it. Two of them signed with Pitt - defensive back Abu Whitaker and defensive end Chad Skrocki, who ended up a tight end at Pitt. Lineman Dennis Martin signed with Nebraska.
It was a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon in early October when I drove to Squirrel Hill and picked up "Schween," our wizard high school sports record keeper at the Post-Gazette. Schween and I headed to the North Side to watch the game. Back then, some City League teams still played games at their school, unlike today when all City League games are played at Cupples Stadium on the South Side. Perry's field was behind the school on the North Side. On the way there, I had to drive with the car window down because Schween insisted on having his customary cigarette in MY CAR.
Anyway, Martin made my jaw drop that day. He was that good. He showed speed. Quickness. Power. Durability. Perry knocked him around pretty good, but Martin kept producing. Perry ended up winning, 34-14, but Martin finished with 217 yards on 29 attempts. He showed an extra gear that most high school runners don't have. During that era, nobody ran for 200 yards on a Perry defense.
I was convinced Martin was a big-timer, but who could've ever predicted he would go on to be one of the leading rushers in NFL history? I found my story from that Oct. 5, 1990 game. Perry was coached then by Gus Catanese, who did a lot of winning during his days with the Commodores. After the game, he said of Martin, "By far, he's the best back I've seen sice I've been coaching. I've never seen a kid take the hits he took and keep bouncing back up."
Catanese couldn't remember anyone running for 200 yards against a Perry team since he was coach.
Chad Skrocki said of Martin, "He's great."
By the end of the season, Martin was being recruited by Miami, Pitt and a number of other schools. I remember Sal Sunseri, then a Pitt assistant, watching an Allderdice game from the sidelines at Allderdice's field. Martin eventually signed with Pitt and the rest is history.
One other thing. It's not often a City League player is the leading rusher or passer in the area (WPIAL and City League) for a season. But in 1990, Martin led the WPIAL-City League in rushing with 1,641 yards.
Making an impact in basketball
Obviously Western Pennsylvania doesn't produce college basketball players like it produces college football players. But if you look around at some preseason college basketball all-conference teams, a handful of former WPIAL and City League players are having a pretty decent impact at the Division I level.
Three former players were selected either first-, second- or third-team all-conference in the preseason. Schenley product DeAndre Kane is now a redshirt sophomore at Marshall and was a first-team Conference USA selection.
Zeke Marshall, a 7-foot center out of McKeesport, is a junior at Akron and was picked second-team Mid-American Conference. Marshall (pictured) already has 151 career blocked shots. With two seasons left, he has a shot at the Mid-American Conference career record of 301 blocks.
T.J. McConnell is a sophomore guard at Duquesne University and was a third-team all-Atlantic 10 Conference selection.
And don't forget about former Aliquippa player Herb Pope, who is hoping to have a big final season at Seton Hall in the Big East Conference.
Speaking of former players in the WPIAL, Trinity graduate Josh Valentic played a little more than 20 minutes and scored six points for Wheeling Jesuit against Robert Morris the other night. Valentic is a freshman.
Top NCAA passer from WPIAL
While on the subject of former players doing well on the college level, let's go back to college football for a moment. Did you know the leading passer in all of NCAA Division II football is from the WPIAL?
West Virginia Wesleyan's Adam Neugebauer, a graduate of North Allegheny, leads Division II with 365 yards passing a game. He has completed 286 of 418 (68 percent) for 3,290 yards. Neugebauer also leads Division II in touchdown passes with 35. In fact, the 35 TDs is better than anyone on the Division I-A level.
Neugebauer has helped West Virginia Wesleyan to a 9-0 record, the best start in school history.
Coaches corner luncheon
Upper St. Clair coach Jim Render, Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane and Bishop Canevin coach Bob Jacoby will be three of the speakers at the third Pittsburgh Coaches' Corner Luncheon of the year, this Tuesday at the Pittsburgh Masonic Center in Ross Township. The other speakers will be a Pittsburgh Steeler, Slippery Rock coach George Mihalik and Robert Morris assistant John Banaszak. Former Duquesne University coach Dan McCann runs these events and I've attended some of them over the years. It's a good time. The last one will be in December when WPIAL and City League championship coaches will be honored. A Pitt coach and a Penn State coach usually speak at the Decemember event. The speakers are sometimes entertaining. The events are open to the public. For tickets, call Dan McCann at 412-761-7696.