High school football practice in Pennsylvania "officially" started this morning and Varsity Blog's "Going Camping" makes its return. "Going Camping" is Varsity Blog's tour of some high school football practices and camps in the WPIAL and City League.
Today's stops were made at Clairton and Belle Vernon
OK, let's get right to what a lot of people want to know: What's up with Dorian Johnson? He is Belle Vernon's 6-foot-6, 290-pound mountain, er, senior offensive lineman. He committed to Penn State earlier this summer, but when the NCAA sanctions hit Happy Valley, Johnson called coach Bill O'Brien and backed out of his commitment.
Johnson has many other scholarship offers to consider. Alabama, Notre Dame, Georgia, West Virginia and many others have offered. When I asked Johnson if Pitt was now his top choice, he said, "Pitt and Ohio State." But he added that he would be taking some visits in the future.
Johnson will be the subject of our "Blue Chip Chat" series in tomorrow's paper. He talks about a number of things, including what it was like to tell O'Brien that he was backing out of his commitment.
Johnson is certainly impressive physically. Upper body resembles something of a sophomore or junior in college.
*** From the Did You Know department? Johnson has a cousin, Scott Booker, who played defensive back and receiver at Shady Side Academy and then at Kent State.
*** At age 28, Aaron Krepps is one of the youngest coaches in WPIAL Class AAA or AAAA. Krepps has a team to keep an eye on this season. A player to watch in the future is sophomore QB Travis Snyder, who started last year as a freshman. After watching him in practice today, he has some nice potential for the future.
It wasn't all that hot today. Krepps said he'd rather have some days in the 90s during two-a-days. He believes it gets the kids in better condition and makes things a little harder on them. I'll tell you one thing that's not easy on Belle Vernon players. The walk from the stadium to the locker room. That should be a workout in itself.
*** I've always liked Belle Vernon's Weir Stadium. Very good place to watch a high school game.
*** Former Pitt tight end Dan LaCarte is in his first season as an assistant coach at Belle Vernon. He coached at Charleroi, his alma mater, in recent years. LaCarte is pictured below.
*** Belle Vernon player, after a water break in the middle of practice: "Warm Gatorade tastes like acid."
*** Johnson on the team to beat in the conference: "Definitely Thomas Jefferson."
*** Johnson is ranked the No. 23 offensive lineman in the country by Rivals.com and No. 20 by Super Prep magazine. Super Prep ranks North Allegheny's Pat Kugler the No. 6 offensive lineman in the country. Kugler was the subject of a Blue Chip Chat in yesterday's Post-Gazette.
The first stop of "Going Camping" was Clairton this morning. Some items from Clairton:
*** First off, some odds and ends. Clairton has a sophomore reserve player, Damion Rump, who transferred last season from Fox Chapel. Now that's a transfer you don't see often - Fox Chapel to Clairton.
Speaking of transfers, Clairton has one from Elizabeth Forward who looks like another pretty good skill-position player. He is 6-2, 180-pound Santeaun Sims, who will play receiver.
Heck, while we're on the subject of transfers, one more noteworthy one, in basketball. Wayne Wade, former Clairton star quarterback and now the Bears' defensive coordinator, is also an assistant basketball coach at McKeesport. Wade says Jaquan Davidson, a promising junior basketball player, will now attend Elizabeth Forward. Davidson might have been McKeesport's top returning hooper.
*** Clairton is one of those places where the team means so much to some of the town folks. In fact, some show up and watch practice. They have no sons playing. They are just interested - and aren't afraid to speak their minds.
"If we have a close game, you hear it from them in the stands," Clairton coach Tom Nola said with a laugh.
A handful of those "town guys" were on the sideline for the first practice this morning. "I never miss a practice," said Tom Long, who lives close to Clairton's Neil C. Brown Stadium.
Then there was Donnell Warren. He didn't even go to Clairton. He was a McKeesport star linebacker who played at West Virginia in the late 1980s and was a starter on some excellent WVU teams. But he now lives a stone's throw away from Clairton's stadium. Warren is pictured below standing in front of the bleachers that are under construction.
I covered West Virginia when Warren played there and asked me if I remembered him. When he told me his name, I definitely remembered and told him that he changed his name, like, three times during his career. First, he was Darnell Warren. Then he was Donnell Warren. Then he was Ken Warren.
Anyway, the "town guys" didn't keep quiet during practice, even though they were close to the team today. You should have heard the 10- to 15-minute debate between Long, Warren and three or four others while Clairton was practicing. Clairton was running a shotgun offense and the center snapped the ball over the quarterback's head on three of four plays. Shaquille O'Neal couldn't have caught the darn thing.
"He's not Carvan Thompson," Long said loudly. "Greatest Clairton Bear of all time."
Oh, did that spark the debate on the sideline in the middle of practice. Thompson was a four-year varsity starter at Clairton at center and defensive lineman. He graduated in June. Clairton reached the PIAA title game in all four of Thompson's years and he started all 64 of Clairton's games in his four seasons. No high school player in the history of Pennsylvania started that many games.
"Kid had a 62-2 record, too. How you gonna argue against that?" Long said.
Warren chimed back, "Level of play isn't the same nowadays as it was years ago. He's not the best Clairton Bear ever. C'mon, now."
Long: "Well tell me who else started 64 games, held down the middle all four years, and won three state championships? Tell me."
The debate then gets a little louder. Assistant coach Eric Fusco comes near the "town guys" and just laughs.
"OK, I'll give you he has the best record, but I'll name 11 players better than him and I didn't even go to Clairton," Warren says.
Long: "Then start naming them."
Warren got to only five.
The debate went on for a few more minutes, muffling some of the sounds of practice. Oh well, I couldn't help but laugh at the whole exchange. RIGHT ON THE SIDELINE DURING PRACTICE!!!! Stuff like this only happens at places like Clairton or maybe Aliquippa. A lot of coaches in the WPIAL would never let any guys like this on the sideline during practice. Maybe that's part of the charm of Clairton.
Long, by the way, was pointing out a few future Clairton stars who aren't even in high school, but were acting as managers today.
*** Desimon Green, former Clairton standout QB-DE, signed with Texas Tech in high school. But he never made it there. Went to Hargrave Military Academy to try and raise his academics and get into Texas Tech. Now he's playing at California, Pa.
*** Tyler Boyd is Clairton's terrific do-it-all player. He is being recruited by Division I colleges and will play some quarterback this year. From what I saw of his few plays at QB, he might have the best arm on the team.
Speaking of Boyd, he visited a Pitt practice Saturday. He said he's going to take official visits before he decides anything, though. So it will be a while before he decides. Assistant coach Eric Fusco, who has been with Boyd on some other visits, said Penn State was probably Boyd's No. 1 choice until the sanctions. He's looking at a number of places now. Boyd was the subject of the "Blue Chip Chat" in today's Post-Gazette.
Clairton will use three quarterbacks this year - Armani Ford, Bryon Clifford and Boyd.
*** They need a new sign, don't they? The sign below sits atop Clairton's press box and is from last year. They need another "back" on there now. Clairton has won back to back to back state championships. Maybe they'll get a new one for the first game.
*** Tom Nola almost didn't come back as Clairton's coach this year. He thought about retiring.