WHEELING - I've always found it interesting as to how Wheeling Central can manage to sustain its greatness while other West Virginia Class A one-hit wonders continue to go by the wayside. Not the inner workings of the situation, mind you, but more along the lines of staying hungry.
If you really think about it, shrugging off the general malaise of the situation can't be easy. In all seriousness, what else is out there? The Maroon Knights will be playing for their ninth state championship - they have won eight of those - since the 2000 season and they don't even get to travel to compete for it, thanks to the Super Six being held on their home field.
A little complacency wouldn't be out of the question, was the thought as I approached Coach Mike Young following his team's 37-14 rout of East Hardy last Saturday in the state semifinals. And then his voice cracked, and he might have even shed a tear or two.
Suddenly, it was all perfectly clear. If it's still new and fun to the head coach, that trickles down to his players.
''To some people it's ho-hum, (but) to us it's excitement, it's jubilation, it's joy, it's a reward for great hard work being put out by our kids, our coaches, our support staff, our football moms, our community, our boosters, our parents,'' he said. ''I can't tell you enough how thrilling it is. How rewarding it is. How great it is for these kids.
''It's definitely not ho-hum. That's how the people who maybe have not had the opportunity to feel what this feeling is, might look at it. I'm as emotional as I've been.''
That probably can't be good for a Williamstown team that has had its share of problems with Wheeling Central - hey, who hasn't? - on the state's grandest stage. The clubs played three straight seasons in the Super Six - 2005-2007 - with the Maroon Knights winning each time.
Playing With House Money
Raise Your hand if you picked Wheeling Central to be here when practice began back in August. Now everyone who doesn't wear a maroon jersey and gold pants during home games, put yours down.
That's what I thought.
You better believe there are people around this state who hope the Maroon Knights fail. I've spoken to a number of them both for this job, and just during general conversation. Everyone, including myself, thought this was the season Wheeling Central was going to take a step back. Too many graduation casualties, and not to mention a trio of transfers, would be too much to overcome, was the reasoning.
Hey, these kids hear that stuff too.
''We came in on Aug. 3 and had a team meeting,'' defense end-tight end Braxton Nolte said. ''People said it couldn't be done.
''They said we lost too many people and that we didn't have ''Central's line.'' Central's line is the top line in the state. We have two great offensive line coaches and they give us motivation.''
Young also heard the chatter, and like Nolte, chose to use it as a bit of bulletin-board material.
''No we're not (supposed to be here),'' the coach said. ''But these kids proved they deserved to be here.
''These kids proved that they have the right frame of mind to be a team, to accept their roles.
''We had two linemen move up to guards. We had Parker Henry move from running back to the quarterback spot. We've had Gino Bianconi step up and play injured.
''We've had Andrew Keane - an unselfish player. (Erik) Gompers on offense and defense.
''That front line of (David) Stanley and (Nick) Naumann and (Ian) Iuliucci, (Derrick) Yocke and (Anthony) Siebieda and Nolte. They're a force together, and they know that. They're a great, great group of kids.''