Central Thrives On Expectations

Photo Alex Kozlowski Wheeling Central’s Curtis McGhee III runs the ball during the Class A state championship game.

WHEELING — When you are in this business, you hear a lot of “coach-speak.”

In the past three years, I would say every interview I have had with Wheeling Central football coach Mike Young, like clockwork, he always mentions the high expectations at Wheeling Central.

It is a little crazy when you think about it. These are high school kids we are talking about. But everyone wants to win and fair or not, those expectations are on the coaches and the players.

And at Wheeling Central, anything short of a state championship is widely considered a failure among the fanbase.

So how does a coach deal with all this?

“The biggest thing is to keep a lid on it,” Young said. “What I mean is that kids are high-strung today. They know what the expectations are and sometimes they are little bit big-headed because they hear how good they are, how good they are going to be.

“My job is to keep them grounded. As much as I like those expectations, keeping them grounded is the biggest thing because you can lose them. Distractions are huge sometimes. But I have great kids to work with. I would rather have high expectations than to not think much of what we are going to do.”

Saturday night at Wheeling Island Stadium, Wheeling Central wrapped up its second straight W.Va. Class A state championship with a 44-15 thumping of Williamstown.

It was a season that began with a 33-0 shutout victory against those same Yellowjackets.

I was at that game. It wasn’t close. Had Central not committed more than 100 yards in penalties, the Maroon Knights would have rolled Williamstown by a larger margin on its home field.

And that was the first game. I knew then this team was going to win a state championship. This was a team that was only going to get better.

And they did.

One by one by one, everyone put in Wheeling Central’s way went down. I even thought Linsly would be able to jump up and get them. I was wrong.

After that game, my colleague Shawn Rine wrote a column saying the season was over and to give Central the state championship now.

A lot of people around the state didn’t like it. But he wasn’t wrong.

“When you have someone throw that out, it is not totally bad, because that is someone thinking pretty highly of you,” Young said. “You mean something and I would rather have that than someone say you would be lucky to win five games.”

With no disrespect to Magnolia, Wheeling Central was not at full strength when the two teams played. The Maroon Knights avenged that loss two weeks later when the game mattered most.

Wheeling Central’s playoff run saw it win by an average of 30.25 points.

Saturday night against Williamstown, Young saw a more relaxed team. One that had been there and knew what was expected of them.

“They have been focused the last three weeks because they saw that light at the end of the tunnel,” Young said. “Getting Curtis (McGhee III) back at full strength, getting Adam (Murray) back at full strength, getting Vinny (Mangino) back at full strength, now the family is back together.

“And it is a family. These guys love each other, care about each other and they know I love them. And that is not just words. That is the amount of respect I have for them.”

McGhee capped off a solid season, winning game Most Valuable Player honors after throwing for 154 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 131 yards and a score.

It was his injury in a Week 8 victory that gave the Knights their biggest adversity of the season.

“We embraced it,” McGhee said. “We like when people talk about us on Twitter. ‘Central recruits.’ ‘Central is not that good.’ ‘Central lost to Magnolia so their state title hopes are in jeopardy.’ We take that as fuel to the fire and just try to come out and put a hurting on people.

“We realized what we had coming back. We lost a lot of good seniors and senior leadership, but we worked our butts off all offseason to get where we are today.

“We are one. Our coaches are our father figures. We a tight-knit family and the word this year was unity.”

Murray finished with eight total tackles, also scoring two touchdowns. His biggest contribution Saturday was a heads-up play where he faked a punt, keeping a drive alive that led to a McGhee 14-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to make it 23-8.

“It was a snap to my right and it was a little wide,” Murray said. “I saw a guy out of the corner of my eye coming right at me so I took it to my right. I trusted my teammates to get their blocks and they did and I took advantage of it.

“(Saturday) was the perfect cap to this season. We hear a lot of not so much hate, but people who don’t want to see us succeed and that is what fuels this team. When people say we can’t, we love that and that builds our fire. That is what keeps us going.”

So yes, Wheeling Central has fought off expectations and is back on the top of the Class A mountain. With McGhee and Murray, as well as Payton Marling, Jordan Waterhouse, Michael Horan, C.J. Rose, Jalen Creighton and more, back for another go-around next year, the expectations are going to be even higher.

But hey, what else is new?

Josh Strope can be reached at jstrope@theintelligencer.net

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