Wilkinsburg’s most nagging opponent last season wasn’t any of its Eastern Conference rivals.
It was finding enough players.
‘Last year, we had our troubles as far as kids playing,’ coach Bill McClung said.
When Wilkinsburg left the field after a 35-0 loss at Riverview last September, it had 15 healthy players. At the end of the season, the Tigers had 20 healthy bodies.
Still, the team managed to post a 4-6 record, which included an upset win over eventual Eastern Conference champion Greensburg Central Catholic.
McClung doesn’t expect numbers to be as big of an issue in 2000. Thanks to some athletes moving into the district, and students who were hesitant in joining the team last season, Wilkinsburg will begin 2001 with more than 30 players.
‘We’ve been preaching to the kids about the benefits of playing football,’ McClung said. ‘The kids are genuinely excited about playing football this season.’
Excitement should be one thing the Tigers offense won’t lack. Not many Class A teams will have the speed and ability the Tigers will feature at the skill positions.
Senior running back Aaron Jones returns after establishing himself as one of the top players in the Eastern Conference last season. Jones finished 2000 with 1,011 yards on 147 carries.
‘When he runs, he has very good vision,’ McClung said. ‘He sees openings that most running backs can’t see.’
Wilkinsburg’s other big-play threat on offense will come from a player who use to be in the backfield with Jones.
Junior Lorenzo King played slotback last season, but he was moved to wide receiver this summer. McClung said the 5-11, 185-pound King has the speed and hands to make an immediate impact at his new position.
‘He catches everything in sight,’ McClung said.
Clearing the way for Jones will be Jason Jackson, a 6-1, 241-pound junior fullback. Joining Jones and Jackson in the backfield will be junior quarterback Jarell Stenhouse.
Wilkinsburg’s strengths and experience on defense will be at linebacker and defensive back.
Linebacker Al Gunter was an all-conference selection last season, and he was one of the three freshman to start for the Tigers. King and Jones return in the defensive backfield, and bring the same big-play abilities they have on offense to the Tigers defense.
The biggest holes to plug are on the offensive and defensive lines, where the Tigers will be starting mostly inexperienced players.
‘If we get good line play, we will be a playoff team,’ McClung said.
Despite its struggle with numbers, Wilkinsburg finished in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings, two games behind second-place finishers Riverview, Duquesne and Clairton.
‘Every week is going to be a challenge from the best team to the worst,’ McClung said. ‘Nothing is a given. You have to work for everything you get.’