Central Primed for Run at Another Repeat Title
By JOSH STROPE
WHEELING — Mike Young will be the first one to tell you that “expectations are always high” at Wheeling Central.
And coming off a state championship, they are about as sky-high as you could imagine.
“This is definitely a group we are proud of what they accomplished, but we also lost some great senior leadership and some outstanding young men,” Young said. “We have a nice group coming back that played a huge role in that state championship.
“Expectations at Central are always high. This year is no different. But last year is what we did. Now is what we have to do. You can’t rest on your laurels and what you did yesterday. You have to grind today and these kids know that because we preach it.
“These kids know what is expected of them. The biggest challenge is getting these younger kids some experience and staying injury-free. We only have 34 kids. We have great talent, but you lose one person here, one person there and it could put you back a lot.”
Wheeling Central went 6-4 last season before going on an impressive run that culminated in raising the championship trophy at Wheeling Island Stadium following a 40-21 victory against St. Marys.
As is the norm at Wheeling Central, the schedule won’t be easy.
The Maroon Knights open defense of their title at Williamstown tonight in a Thursday night clash.
Young said “Williamstown is always a tough place to play.”
Wheeling Central opens the home portion of the season the following Thursday against rival Madonna. The Maroon Knights and Linsly will continue their rivalry during Wheeling Central’s Hall of Fame game on Sept. 29.
Martins Ferry, Shadyside, East Hardy, Fayetteville, Steubenville Catholic, Portsmouth West and Magnolia make for a daunting task in trying to return to the playoffs.
“Not to sound like a cliche, but we have to take one game at a time,” Young said. “Come up with a game plan for each team we play to execute and take away what they do best and showcase what we do best.”
Curtis McGhee III took over at quarterback as a sophomore last season and after an up-and-down start, played some of his best football down the stretch.
He threw for more than 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns, while running for 400 yards on 120 attempts.
This season, more will likely be placed on the junior’s shoulders and Young said that is something he fully expects McGhee (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) to be able to handle.
“He grew every week as a sophomore and represented us in that championship game with a great amount of class and leadership,” Young said. “I can’t be more proud of his development, not just physically, but mentally.
“Your quarterback is so significant in your success or failure. Curt just continued to get better.”
Junior Jacob Rine will be his backup.
Bray Price (6-1, 165) enters his senior season as one of the most explosive backs in the valley. If he finds a tiny seam, good luck catching this speedster.
During the state championship game, he was named the Offensive Most Valuable Player, rushing for 190 yards and a pair of scores. During the season, he rushed for 450 yards on 90 carries, while collecting 27 receptions for 435 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“He shows great skills in every area, as a receiver, a runner, a defensive back,” Young said. “He is being pursued by colleges at the next level all over the country. That is a tribute to his offseason and work habits and his academics.”
Sophomores Jordan Waterhouse (6-0, 160) and Bellaire transfer Payton Marling (5-11, 175) will receive some carries to spell Price and McGhee.
You can’t have a strong running game without having a solid offensive line and Wheeling Central is definitely not lacking there.
Luke Duplaga is “a force along the offensive front,” according to Young.
Duplaga (5-9, 220) is a a returning senior that made an impact last season opening holes for McGhee, Price and the graduated Dawson Wear.
Joining him is senior Dom Mills and junior Griff Stenger. Tackles will be Hayden Manns, C.J. Rose. Michael Horan will see time at guard.
“We have some pretty good size and I like what they have brought in terms of their work habits and skills,” Young said.
At tight end is Adam Murray, who is “relentless as a blocker,” according to Young. He will also see time at fullback along with Vinny Mangino.
“Those are two versatile athletes that can put us in position to make us execute the offense we want,” Young said. “They are definitely going to get carries at fullback. We feel very comfortable with them stepping in and replacing Dawson.”
Central was primarily a running team last season, but Young feels the team will be a little more balanced this fall. A lot of that has to do with the growth of McGhee, but also as talented a wide receiver group as you will find in Class A in West Virginia.
“We can put the ball up and have a lot of guys with great hands that can go up and get it.” Young said.
Anthony Robbins is the tallest of that group at 6-2, along with Jalen Creighton (6-0), Marling and Price. Mangino, Murray and Waterhouse are dangerous threats out of the backfield.
“These guys can make plays,” Young said. “Teams aren’t going to be able to gang up on us and take away the run with nine or eight in the box. We feel confident putting it in the air. I feel we can exploit the run and the pass.
“Most of who we have been at Wheeling Central is a running team, but I feel this year we can be even more balanced.”
The defense was a major strength last season.
The suffocating run stuffers helped limit some of the top runners in the state such as South Harrison’s Freddy Canary and St. Marys’ Jaiden Smith.
“Our defense will be aggressive, even though we lost three good linebackers that played in the OVAC All-Star Game,” Young said. “We are going to need guys to step up and take that leadership role.”
The prime candidate for that could be Murray, the player voted as the Sam Huff Award winner given to the state’s top defender.
The 6-foot, 220-pound linebacker compiled 120 tackles and three sacks. He was named captain of the all-state first team, as well as All-Valley co-captain. In becoming the first sophomore to win the Huff Award, he was also named The Intelligencer’s Sophomore of the Year.
Murray will be joined at linebacker by Baron Vogrin with backups being Mason Smith and Wheeling Park transfer Nick Sherman.
The outside backs are Robbins and Marling, along with sophomore Vinnie High, Mason Smith and Ethan Turner.
McGhee, Creighton, Price will lead a talented secondary, with Waterhouse as the main backup. Trey Helms, Braden Martos and Rine will also see time.
The defensive line will be Horan and Mangino at the ends, with Duplaga manning one of the tackles.
Rine will be the placekicker and Murray will be the punter. Peyton Anderson and Waterhouse are the backups, respectively.
Young, who will be inducted into the Wheeling Central Hall of Fame before coaching the game against Linsly, is entering his 13th season in charge of the Maroon Knights. He is joined by assistants Jason Rine, Shannon Kuchinski, Jim Wolfe, Phil Pest, Brett Clough, Ed Anderson, Chance Siebieda, Felix Bruno and statistician Keith Bell.