The Wins List: Post-2019 Update

Just in the nick of time (hopefully), the statewide all-time wins list has been updated. Right off the bat, I want to make it clear how these totals have been tabulated. The Saylor Football Records Collection includes all known game scores – and, thus, win totals – for every Pennsylvania high school team since 1885. Those records ceased being updated after the 2010 season, a few years before Dr. Roger Saylor’s death in 2013. This site has tried to pick up where Saylor’s records left off to produce a yearly update to the all-time program wins list, which is linked below. Team records from 2011 to the present have been found via MaxPreps, CalPreps.com, EasternPAFootball.com and various news articles as needed.

NOTE: Because various sources of team records have been used and because Dr. Saylor did not include results against opponents who did not represent an educational institution, there may be inconsistencies between the numbers seen here and elsewhere. If you notice a discrepancy and have sources to offer, please contact me at pafbhistory at gmail dot com or on Twitter @pa_fb_history. The utmost care has been taken to compile the most accurate team records as possible, but I’m a human and humans are capable of mistakes at times.

Before we get to the link for the entire spreadsheet documenting all-time records for 1,149 programs, let’s take a look at some highlights of this year’s list:

The Ten Winningest Programs in State History

  1. Mount Carmel – 866
  2. Easton – 844
  3. Berwick – 825
  4. Jeannette – 756
  5. Steelton-Highspire – 754
  6. New Castle – 744
  7. Aliquippa – 734
  8. Coatesville – 721
  9. Williamsport – 717
  10. Washington – 710

In all, 13 schools have reached 700 all-time wins. Central [Philadelphia] (709), Penn Charter (706) and Huntingdon (700) join those listed above.

The Winningest Program by PIAA District

District 1: Coatesville (721)

District 2: Berwick (825)

District 3: Steelton-Highspire (754)

District 4: Mount Carmel (866)

District 5: Windber (637)

District 6: Huntingdon (700)

District 7: Jeannette (756)

District 8: Westinghouse (572)

District 9: DuBois (622)

District 10: Sharon (675)

District 11: Easton (844)

District 12: Central [Philadelphia] (709)

Independent: Penn Charter (706)

Winningest Teams by Decade of the Program’s Debut

1880s: Berwick (825)

1890s: Mount Carmel (866)

1900s: Jeannette (756)

1910s: Aliquippa (734)

1920s: Tyrone (648)

1930s: Ridley (694)

1940s: Wilson [West Lawn] (570)

1950s: Cumberland Valley (523)

1960s: Southern Columbia (527)

1970s: Harrisburg (324)

1980s: Strath Haven (287)

1990s: Delaware Valley (157)

2000s: Imhotep Charter (147)

2010s: Central Valley (98)

Winningest Defunct Programs

  • 1. Wilkes-Barre Coughlin – 656 (last played in 2018)
  • 2. (tie) Lock Haven (last played in 1998) & Wilkes-Barre GAR (last played in 2018) – 516
  • 4. Wilkes-Barre Meyers – 512 (last played in 2018)
  • 5. Wilkinsburg – 509 (last played in 2015)
  • 6. Scotland School – 489 (last played in 2008)
  • 7. Duquesne – 488 (last played in 2006)
  • 8. Millersburg – 476 (last played in 2019)
  • 9. Monaca – 475 (last played in 2009)
  • 10. Johnsonburg – 441 (last played in 2012)

Most Wins By a Team With a Sub-.500 All-Time Record:

Chester: 540-586-89 (.481 winning percentage)

Fewest Games Played By a Team With __ Wins:

Fewest games by a team with 800+ wins: Berwick (1,208 games)

Fewest games by a team with 700+ wins: Aliquippa (1,101 games)

Fewest games by a team with 600+ wins: Ridley (911 games)

Fewest games by a team with 500+ wins: Southern Columbia (725 games)

Number of Schools with __ Wins

Schools with 800+ wins: 3

Schools with 700+ wins: 13

Schools with 600+ wins: 45

Schools with 500+ wins: 137

Schools with 400+ wins: 266

Most Games Played, All-Time

When you play a lot of games, you are likely to rack up lots of wins and also a good number of losses over time. With four more wins in 2020, Pottsville would become the state’s first member of the 700 Win, 500 Loss club.

  • 1. Pottsville – 1,272
  • 2. (tie) Easton & Mount Carmel – 1,256
  • 4. Williamsport – 1,253
  • 5. Steelton-Highspire – 1,248
  • 6. New Castle – 1,223
  • 7. West Chester Henderson – 1,222
  • 8. Chester – 1,215
  • 9. Central [Philadelphia] – 1,210
  • 10. (tie) Berwick & Wilkes-Barre Coughlin – 1,208

Most Ties, All-Time

Chester will hold this record forever because ties in high school football are now exceptionally rare, only occurring in unusual circumstances like games being cancelled part-way through for weather.

  1. Chester – 89
  2. Scranton Central – 70
  3. New Castle – 69
  4. Northeast [Philadelphia] – 66
  5. West Philadelphia – 64
  6. Central [Philadelphia] – 61
  7. Charleroi – 60
  8. (tie) Mount Carmel, New Brighton, West Chester Henderson & Connellsville – 59

Most Losses, All-Time

This list isn’t meant to be disparaging in any way. In fact, it’s more of a testament to the longevity of the programs that comprise it. Reading, Roman Catholic and Chester have all won more than 500 games and Lebanon, Pottstown and Radnor aren’t far from reaching that milestone themselves. The youngest program on this list is Scranton, which has fielded a team since 1909; six of these schools have had football since the 1800s.

  1. Lebanon – 661
  2. Reading – 625
  3. Roman Catholic – 602
  4. Union City – 595
  5. South Philadelphia – 591
  6. Pottstown – 589
  7. Chester – 586
  8. Scranton – 583
  9. Norwin – 577
  10. Radnor – 573

The “99 Club”

These schools currently sit just one win away from their next milestone:

699 Wins: Greensburg-Salem & Dunmore

499 Wins: North Hills

399 Wins: Mount Union & Wyoming Area

299 Wins: Allderdice, Hughesville, Great Valley & Penns Manor

Highest Winning Percentage, All-Time

It’s only fair to show the teams with the highest winning percentage after playing a certain number of games; Berks Catholic currently has the highest winning percentage of any program in the database, but was founded in 2011 and has only played 116 games. At the 200 and 300 game levels, former northeastern Pennsylvania power Blakely takes the top spot. Blakely played from 1936 to 1968 and is now part of Valley View. Legendary Dunmore head coach Jack Henzes played for his father, “Papa Bear” Henzes, at Blakely in the 1950s. From 400 games through 900 games, Ridley takes the top spot and only relinquishes it to Mount Carmel at 1,000 games because the Raiders have (so far) only played 911 games all-time. Ridley is almost assured to take the lead in each of the successive milestones barring a massive downturn in the program’s historic success.

Min. 100 games: Berks Catholic (.828, 96-20-0)

Min. 200 games: Blakely (.817, 252-51-14)

Min. 300 games: Blakely (.817)

Min. 400 games: Ridley (.776, 694-191-26)

Min. 500 games: Ridley (.776)

Min. 600 games: Ridley (.776)

Min. 700 games: Ridley (.776)

Min. 800 games: Ridley (.776)

Min. 900 games: Ridley (.776)

Min. 1,000 games: Mount Carmel (.713, 866-331-59)

Min. 1,100 games: Mount Carmel (.713)

Min. 1,200 games: Mount Carmel (.713)

 

I’ll stop there, although I could go on for quite a while longer. I’ll let you give the entire list a look. As an aside, you’ll see 32 schools in the spreadsheet with no data; I’m still tracking them down, but I left them in the database for now.

The Wins List (Post-2019 Season)

The Brief but Fascinating Life of Harrisburg Tech

It shouldn’t be surprising that historical research often opens a window into what life was like decades – or even centuries – ago. But sometimes the most entertaining history involves how little things have changed and, even more importantly, how things in the past seemed to mimic or predict the current day. For example, if I told you I had a story about strife between PIAA members regarding school boundaries and the use of players who live outside of those lines, you’d probably assume it was from 2020. But in at least one case, you’d be wrong; this particular debate has existed for a century. The school in question even played teams from a number of different states and had some hurdles to clear pertaining to academic eligibility. All are dry kindling waiting to be ignited by the arguments, debates, baseless accusations and internet hot takes of the present, but they were in fact played out in this situation on the dusty fields of the post World War I era. Sometimes, as the cliché goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Continue reading “The Brief but Fascinating Life of Harrisburg Tech”

Pennsylvania High School Alums on the FWAA’s All-American Teams

The Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) has been naming All-American football teams since 1944. I recently stumbled upon this guide featuring every team from that year through the 2019 selections. Naturally, I looked for any Pennsylvania connections and found our state well-represented throughout history. The FWAA selection is a long-standing All-American team, but is certainly not the only organization that chooses one.

  • Depending on whether you consider Eddie George an alumnus of a Pennsylvania high school, either 112 or 113 Keystone State grads have been named to the team from 1944-2019. George (Abington) spent the majority of his high school career at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. Not counted is defensive end Patrick Kerney, who was a native of Newtown but attended prep schools in both New Jersey and Connecticut.
  • No Pennsylvanians made the inaugural team in 1944. The first All-American named to the FWAA team was John Mastrangelo of Vandergrift High in 1945. A guard at Notre Dame, Mastrangelo made the second team in 1945 and the third team in 1946. These were some of the few years throughout the FWAA’s history where more than a first team were selected. Vandergrift is now part of Kiski Area.
  • After having seven total selections in the first four years of the team, Pennsylvania had 10 selections in 1948 alone. Other than that year, however, the state has produced a fairly consistent number of selections on an annual basis:All-Americans from Pennsylvania High Schools by Year
  • Two high schools have had four selections: New Castle and Bethlehem Liberty.
    • New Castle: Albert Tate (DT, Illinois – 1950), Bruce Clark (DL, Penn State – 1978 & 1979), and Malik Hooker (DB, Ohio State – 2016).
    • Bethlehem Liberty: Chuck Bednarik (C, Penn – 1947 & 1948), John “Bull” Schweder (G, Penn – 1949), and Mike Hartenstine (DL, Penn State – 1974).
  • In addition, six other schools – four of which are located in the WPIAL – have had three selections apiece.
    • Turtle Creek (now part of Woodland Hills): Leon Hart (E/T, Notre Dame – 1947, 1948 & 1949).
    • Northampton: Bob Novogratz (G, Army – 1958) and Dennis Onkotz (LB, Penn State – 1968 & 1969).
    • McKeesport: Bill Miller (E, Miami – 1960 & 1961) and Brandon Short (LB, Penn State – 1999).
    • Hopewell: Tony Dorsett (RB, Pitt – 1975 & 1976) and Paul Posluszny (LB, Penn State – 2005).
    • Penn Hills: Bill Fralic (OL, Pitt – 1983 & 1984) and Aaron Donald (DL, Pitt – 2013).
    • Wilkes-Barre Meyers (now part of Wilkes-Barre Area): Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (KR, Notre Dame – 1989 & 1990) and Qadry Ismail (KR, Syracuse – 1991).
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, Penn State (30 selections) is the most common college for Pennsylvania high school alums named to the FWAA teams. Notre Dame (16) and Pitt (15) round out the top-three. After that, there is a large drop-off to fourth-place Army (5).
    • Penn (3 selections, all of which came from Bethlehem Liberty grads) is the only other Pennsylvania university represented.
    • Schools with just one Pennsylvania native named to the FWAA teams: Dartmouth, North Carolina, Illinois, Purdue, Tennessee, Kansas, Kentucky, Florida, Rutgers, Minnesota, Florida State, California, SMU, Tulsa, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin.
  • Thirty-five of the selections played on the offensive line. The next most popular position is running back, with 21 selections. There have been 12 linebackers chosen.
  • Thirteen players have been chosen for multiple FWAA All-American teams:
    • Arnold Galiffa (B, Army – 1948 & 1949)
    • Fralic
    • Miller
    • Clark
    • Bednarik
    • Onkotz
    • Mastrangelo
    • Johnny Lujack (B, Notre Dame – 1946 & 1947)
    • Keith Dorney (OL, Penn State – 1977 & 1978)
    • Hart
    • Raghib Ismail
    • Tom Skladany (P, Ohio State – 1974 & 1975)
    • Dorsett
  • For the full list of FWAA All-American selections, click here.

Fights and Forfeit: The 1928 Minersville-Shamokin Football Game

Note: This post was written by friend of the blog Shayne Schafer. Follow Shayne on Twitter for more Schuylkill County football history: @shayne_schafer. If you have an article you’d like to contribute to this site, send an email to pafbhistory@gmail.com.


On Saturday, October 28th, 1928, the Shamokin Greyhounds traveled to Minersville for an early-season clash. Minersville (2-1) had picked up shutout wins over St. Patrick’s and Pottstown. The Miners had multiple starters out after a rough Week 2 loss to Hazelton. Shamokin (0-2) hoped to take advantage and get back on the right track after two close losses to Mauch Chunk and Wyoming Seminary. Spirits were high and the Shamokin-Dispatch reported on the festive attitude of those supporters making the trek to Minersville.

M. A. A. Park
The setting for the matchup, M. A. A. Park was the home of Minersville High School athletics until 1935. Now Kings Village Plaza, Minersville Park was also the home of the Pottsville Maroons. | Photo courtesy of Ronald M. Coleman and Joseph E. Szeliga

Things didn’t go as planned; Shamokin forfeited with less than two minutes left in the game. The reports of this game would be wild, with stories of fans rushing the field, fights, cheating, dirty play, and inhospitable conditions created by Minersville and its supporters. Interestingly, depending on whose town’s newspaper you read, you would get a completely different account of what occurred.

Continue reading “Fights and Forfeit: The 1928 Minersville-Shamokin Football Game”

The Best Helmet in Pennsylvania High School Football: State Tournament Preview

Over the past couple of weeks, 563 teams have battled through 198 polls to determine who has the best helmet in Pennsylvania high school football. Now – following more than 72,000 votes – only 12 remain. It’s now time for the state tournament to decide who has bragging rights over the rest of the state.

How It’ll Work:

Instead of getting into the messy business of giving byes for a 12-team bracket, @thesteelersnat, @END2008 and I chose to have the state tournament decided via four regions of three teams apiece. The district champions will be grouped roughly by geography into the following pods:

Western PA Pod

  • Maplewood (D10 Champ)
  • Albert Gallatin (D7 Champ)
  • Carrick (D8 Champ)

Central PA Pod

  • St. Marys (D9 Champ)
  • Bishop Guilfoyle (D6 Champ)
  • Conemaugh Township (D5 Champ)

Northeastern PA Pod

  • Williamsport (D4 Champ)
  • Wyoming Area (D2 Champ)
  • East Stroudsburg South (D11 Champ)

Southeastern PA Pod

  • Marple Newtown (D1 Champ)
  • Wilson West Lawn (D3 Champ)
  • St. Joseph’s Prep (D12 Champ)

The Western and Central pods will be posted Saturday and the Northeastern and Southeastern pods will be posted Sunday. On Tuesday, the Western/Central semifinal and the Northeastern/Southeastern semifinal will be posted. Finally, the state championship poll will be posted Thursday and will be the only poll to remain open for 48 hours instead of 24.

I reached out via Twitter to each of the district champions to get a little more insight to their helmet design and its story. Let’s meet the contenders:

WESTERN PA POD

Maplewood

The Helmet

District 10 Champion Helmet

Helmet History (from the PA High School Helmet Project)

How They Got Here

  • Round 1: earned 44.5% of the vote, beating out Farrell and Sharpsville
  • District 10 Semis: earned 44.2%, beating out Fairview, Slippery Rock & Franklin
  • District 10 Final: earned 52.3%, beating out Grove City and Kennedy Catholic

The Story Behind the Helmet

From Head Coach Bryan Borkovich, who said each helmet takes 10-15 minutes to stripe:

Albert Gallatin

The Helmet

District 7 Champion Helmet

Helmet History (from the PA High School Helmet Project)

 They Got Here

  • Round 1: earned 46.2%, beating out Bentworth, Apollo-Ridge & Beth-Center
  • District 7 Quarterfinals: earned 41.8%, beating out Beaver Area and Avonworth
  • District 7 Semifinals: earned 42.3%, beating out Belle Vernon and Canon-McMillan
  • District 7 Final: earned 38.8%, beating out Pine-Richland and Woodland Hills

The Story Behind the Helmet

From Head Coach Drew Dindl:

Carrick

The Helmet

District 8 Champion Helmet

Helmet History (from the PA High School Helmet Project)

How They Got Here

  • District 8 Semifinals: earned 58.2%, beating out Allderdice and Westinghouse
  • District 8 Final: earned 51.8%, beating Brashear

CENTRAL PA POD

St. Marys

The Helmet

District 9 Champion Helmet (1)

Helmet History (from the PA High School Helmet Project)

How They Got Here

  • District 9 First Round: earned 61.1%, beating out Brockway, Curwensville & Moniteau
  • District 9 Semifinals: earned 40.7%, beating out Bradford and Brookville
  • District 9 Final: earned 51.6%, beating Cameron County

The Story Behind the Helmet

From Head Coach Chris Dworek:

Our helmet design was an idea from one of our coaches, Coach Mike Kunes.  He’s from St. Marys, played for them and has coached for them for a while now.  He’s been using that logo for the last few years on other, small things.  [The helmet has an] anchor chain down the middle (the players came up with that idea) and the other side of the helmet (it’s the players number which is a tribute to some old St. Marys helmets back in the day).  They’re pretty sharp.  The kids liked the entire helmet look and voted on it last Spring.  Some of the Brookville guys and my guys have become friends and each group has commented about how sweet each schools’ helmets look.

Coach Kunes also designed the Cameron County helmet, which means he is the creator of both finalists for District 9’s best helmet.

Bishop Guilfoyle

The Helmet

District 6 Champion Helmet

Helmet History (from the PA High School Helmet Project)

How They Got Here

  • District 6 First Round: earned 46.3%, beating out Glendale, Penn Cambria & West Branch
  • District 6 Semifinals: earned 31.3%, beating out Forest Hills, Johnstown & Hollidaysburg
  • District 6 Final: earned 38.1%, beating out Richland and State College

The Story Behind the Helmet

From the team’s Twitter account:

Conemaugh Township

The Helmet

District 5 Champion Helmet

Helmet History (from the PA High School Helmet Project)

How They Got Here

  • District 5 Semifinals: earned 74.5%, beating out Bedford, North Star & Somerset
  • District 5 Final: earned 65.3%, beating out Berlin-Brothersvalley and Meyersdale

The Story Behind the Helmet

From Conemaugh Township coach Wayne Adams:

Adams said that the decals are put on each year by Sportsman’s Sporting Goods in Johnstown and that parts of the helmet assembly must be removed and then reattached to add the design.

NORTHEASTERN PA POD

Williamsport

The Helmet

District 4 Champion Helmet

Williamsport has the chance to pull off a pretty remarkable feat. Last summer, I ran a similar tournament that named the Millionaires as the best nickname in the state. For that tournament, I removed duplicate nicknames (Tigers, Lions, etc.) and only included unique nicknames, which totaled a little over 100. If Williamsport manages to win the helmet bracket, they would take the crown over 562 competitors.

Helmet History (from the PA High School Helmet Project)

How They Got Here

  • District 4 First Round: earned 36.2%, beating out Central Columbia, Midd-West & Selinsgrove
  • District 4 Semifinals: earned 52.9%, beating out Loyalsock Township and Shamokin
  • District 4 Final: earned 42.0%, beating out Lewisburg and Danville

The Story Behind the Helmet

From Assistant Coach Keith McCabe:

The logo (top hat, cane, gloves, carnation) was designed back in the early 1960s (1961-63 era) by Thomas Mikan. Thomas was a student in the sign-painting program at Williamsport Technical Institute, predecessor of Pennsylvania College of Technology. As you may know the in the late 1800s, Williamsport had more Millionaires per Capita than any other city in the world, and was known as the “Lumber Capital of the World.” Many became rich due to trade and Susquehanna River. To this day, there still sits “Millionaires Row” on W fourth St, with all the Victorian homes that the millionaires lived in.

Helmet Facts:

  • We did not display the Top Hat & Cane logo on the helmet until 2013. Prior to that our helmets were blank, or used various “W’s” over the years. Most frequently the Wisconsin “W”.
  • The CURRENT helmet design was debuted in 2016. Coach Crews second season with the team. For the first time in our school history we changed our helmet color to black. Our school colors are Cherry & White and remained our helmet colors for all the years prior. Black has been a secondary color but goes with the black top hat appeal in our opinion. The diamond stripes running down the center of the helmet, pay homage to our old stadium (prior to turf) that displayed cherry & White Diamond endzones, along with yardage numbers.

Wyoming Area

The Helmet

District 2 Champion Helmet (1)

Helmet History (from the PA High School Helmet Project)

How They Got Here

  • District 2 First Round: earned 32.4%, beating out Delaware Valley, Lake-Lehman & Scranton
  • District 2 Semifinals: earned 44.3%, beating out Crestwood and Dallas
  • District 2 Final: earned 46.4%, beating out Old Forge and Lakeland

The Story Behind the Helmet

From Wyoming Area broadcast team member Frank D. (@wascoreboard):

The Warrior helmet has undergone many designs and redesigns in the fifty plus years of the program. The current version is based off of the Wyoming Area School seal and is a redesign of the version used in the late 70s and early 80s. It was developed by PA State Hall of Fame Coach Paul Marranca and current Asst Head Coach Mike Fanti. Given our recent history; it’s likely to be around for a while.

As far as interesting things about the helmet…the program started in 1967 with what was essentially a plain gold helmet…..at the annual Unico games each summer; the kids wear stickers from teams on their side of the Susquehanna River on their own helmets for the contest. The Warrior sticker is always one of the most sought after.

Wyoming Area’s helmet features a depiction of the Wyoming Monument, built to memorialize the victims of the Wyoming Massacre in the late 1700s.

East Stroudsburg South

The Helmet

District 11 Champion Helmet (1)

Helmet History (from the PA High School Helmet Project)

How They Got Here

  • District 11 First Round: earned 33.8%, beating out Northampton, Pocono Mountain West & Williams Valley
  • District 11 Semifinals: earned 34.8%, beating out Pottsville, Emmaus & Notre Dame
  • District 11 Final: earned 36.8%, beating out Nazareth and Shenandoah Valley

The Story Behind the Helmet

From Head Coach Matt Walters:

Prior to Ed Christian becoming head coach at East Stroudsburg, the Cavalier helmet was purple and the logo was a block “E”. In 1981, Ed Christian replaced Dick Merring as head coach. Ed and his staff took a trip down to the University of North Carolina for a coaches clinic, and liked the look of interlocking letters on the Tarheels helmet. The interlocking ES was put onto the purple helmet that fall and has been on Cavalier helmets ever since.

In 2004, Head Coach Ed Christian, assistant coach Tony Rose, and longtime program friend Ted Monica added the Cavalier swords to the interlocking ES logo, inspired by the University of Virginia swords under their “V” logo. For the past 16 seasons, the logo and purple helmet have remained the same. There have been a few additions and deletions of different stripes and add-ons, but the tradition of the interlocking ES with swords (with a little inspiration from two college football programs) have been a staple of East Stroudsburg football.

*As long as I’m here at East Stroudsburg South, that Logo and helmet will never change! Who am I to change the tradition and history of our high school?*

SOUTHEASTERN PA POD

Marple Newtown

The Helmet

District 1 Champion Helmet MN

Helmet History (from the PA High School Helmet Project)

How They Got Here

  • District 1 First Round: earned 41.3%, beating out Chichester, Pottstown & West Chester Henderson
  • District 1 Quarterfinals: earned 48.8%, beating out Coatesville and Radnor
  • District 1 Semifinals: earned 43.2%, beating out Pope John Paul II and Neshaminy
  • District 1 Final: earned 51.5%, beating Perkiomen Valley

The Story Behind the Helmet

From the Marple Newtown Athletics Twitter account (@MNAthletics):

The Tiger design is the district Tiger that we all use. We started wearing this helmet in 2015.

Before that was a black helmet with an orange paw. Before that (basically the 90’s) black helmet with Tigers in orange written in cursive. Before that (some of 80’s) black helmet with Tigers in white cursive. Before that we did have a orange helmet with MN in black on it. Legendary Coach Jim Smith was famous for coming up with cool designs. He coached from 1987-1997 and he was also the AD for a number of years.

Wilson (West Lawn)

The Helmet

District-3 Champion Helmet

Helmet History (from the PA High School Helmet Project)

How They Got Here

  • District 3 First Round: earned 54.1%, beating out Conrad Weiser, Hempfield (3) & Palmyra
  • District 3 Quarterfinals: earned 46.6%, beating out Northern York, Harrisburg & Wyomissing
  • District 3 Semifinals: earned 46.9%, beating out Warwick and Daniel Boone
  • District 3 Final: earned 50.6%, beating Red Lion

The Story Behind the Helmet

From Coach Joe Mays:

I know the exact same helmet design was used from 2000-2007 (white helmet, red facemask, single red stripe, red bulldog) and 2008-2015 (same as 2000-2007 but white facemask), and 2016-2018 (same as 2008-2015 but the red was now chrome red – a big deal for Dahms.

St. Joseph’s Prep

The Helmet

District 12 Champion Helmet

Helmet History (from the PA High School Helmet Project)

How They Got Here

  • District 12 First Round: earned 65.0%, beating out Academy of Palumbo, Father Judge & Neumann-Goretti
  • District 12 Semifinals: earned 50.0%, beating out Mastery North, Northeast & Archbishop Ryan
  • District 12 Final: earned 53.2%, beating out Imhotep Charter and LaSalle

So there you have it – all twelve finalists. The polls may not open until Saturday, but let the debate begin now!

The “Best Helmet in Pennsylvania High School Football” Tournament

Last summer, I found myself with a little down-time and chose to spend it by putting up a bunch of Twitter polls to find the coolest high school football nickname in Pennsylvania. I limited it to unique nicknames (so no Tigers, Lions, etc.), but it still meant whittling down a list of about 115 schools to find our champion (which ended up being the Williamsport Millionaires).

Well, thanks to the current state we all find ourselves in, down-time has once again become more prevalent. I had an idea yesterday and, with an enormous amount of help from the awesome @thesteelersnat and @END2008, it’s coming to life. This will be another tournament because we need some competition in our lives right now and Twitter polls are easy to run. But this will be even bigger than the nickname tournament from last summer. Much bigger.

The goal here is to find the best high school football helmet in Pennsylvania. It is up to you to determine what qualifies as “best.” Coolest looking? A classic look from a traditional power? Your alma mater’s helmet? Go for it – any reason you can come up with is good enough for a vote. Unlike the nickname tournament, however, we won’t be limiting choices to a certain number of entries. Every helmet of a current PIAA program is eligible to win and will be included in the tournament. That’s 563 helmets from all 12 districts (sorry, Inter-Ac and other independent schools).

All-Helmets

Here’s How It’ll Work:

  1. @thesteelersnat, @END2008 and I spent much of today building the brackets and graphics that will be used for voting.
  2. I will be sending out a graphic that shows every helmet in a particular district. In the attached thread below that graphic, I’ll post all of the Twitter polls involving teams from that district. So, for example, I’ll send out a tweet with @END2008’s District 1 helmet graphic. Threaded underneath that tweet will be the polls that will include all District 1 teams. If you need to refer to the graphic for a helmet you haven’t seen, just scroll up to the top of the thread.
  3. Districts have been divided into 3 or 4 team “pods” to simplify voting. Some districts are very big and others only contain a few schools; the WPIAL has 120 programs while District 8 only has 6. The polls will ask you to vote for your favorite out of the three or four choices for that pod. After 24 hours, the helmet with the highest vote percentage will move on to the next round until a “District Champion” has been named.
    1. A few important notes: We made a couple of executive decisions regarding the placement of certain teams.
      1. Butler (while still a member of the WPIAL in all other sports) will compete out of District 10, which is where it will be competing in football starting this fall. This was done to simplify the bracketing process for the WPIAL, which is enormous.
      2. Ligonier Valley, however, WILL compete through the WPIAL because the school is moving all sports there starting this fall. Think of it as LV’s first chance to win a WPIAL title – and they aren’t even in the district yet!
      3. We didn’t have an image of the new Central Clarion co-op team from District 9, so you’ll see the Clarion HS helmet instead. Apologies to Clarion-Limestone and North Clarion fans, but it’s the best we could do.
      4. Finally, we were unsure whether Vaux or Strawberry Mansion should have their helmet used in their proposed co-op for the fall, so we chose Strawberry Mansion because they’ve had an established program already.
  4. At the end, all 12 District Champions will be put into a Final Bracket to decide the best overall helmet in the state.

Sound simple enough? This is of course meant to be a fun way to pass the time in this sports-less abyss we find ourselves in currently. Make it competitive, share it and enjoy it. This will involve a lot of Twitter polls being sent out by me, but I’ll try to batch them in a way that isn’t obnoxious. However, it’s tough to do a project of this scale without it seeming overwhelming. If you don’t want to participate or see the polls, just skim past my tweets for the next week or two – you won’t hurt my feelings.

I’m planning to begin posting polls tomorrow (Thursday, April 2) around noon. Let’s get to votin’, everyone.

Pennsylvania Football Recruiting History, 2000-2020

Recruiting has come a really long way over the past 21 years. In 2000, the website Scout.com ranked the top high school recruits in Pennsylvania – well, at least the top four recruits in the state. Before that, die-hards need to subscribe to newsletters or (if you can believe it) call recruiting hotlines for the latest information. Today, you can find recruiting profiles for tons of players all the way through the class of 2024. I don’t follow recruiting closely because it has never really engaged me. However, there’s no denying the widespread popularity of following one’s favorite college program’s recruiting efforts or the importance the process can play for the athletes themselves.

What I wanted to do was find if there were any trends, notable statistics or other interesting facts in the world of recruiting as it pertains to Pennsylvania football players. The 2000 class is the first one that can be found in the 247Sports archives today and the 2020 class signed early last month. During that time period, 1,471 players have been included in the 247Sports rankings of top players in Pennsylvania. Of those, I’ve found at least eight chose to play another sport in college. That leaves us with 1,463 graduates of Pennsylvania high schools who signed letters-of-intent to play football following their senior year. A small handful of those players went to prep school and then reappeared in the rankings the following year, but this is a negligible amount.

Now, before we get too far, I want to lay out a few basic points:

  • I chose to use the 247Sports Composite rankings for each year because it covers the entire span of 2000-present. As I said earlier, I’m not a recruiting nut, but I do know that 247Sports is widely held as the best site in the business, so that made the decision even easier. 247Sports was founded in 2010 and bought Scout.com in 2017, allowing them to display the backdated rankings online.
  • That being said, rating and evaluating thousands of athletes does leave room for errors and I’ve found several on the 247Sports pages. I’ve fixed all of the ones that I’ve found, but more certainly remain. If you find an error, please let me know. The most common errors are misidentified high schools, typos in player names and duplicating a player so he appears twice in the same year’s rankings.
  • The data I gathered contains where the player signed, not necessarily where he played or where he ended up spending his whole career. For example, you’ll see that in 2006 LeSean McCoy is listed as signing with Miami; he later chose to attend prep school and enrolled at Pitt the following year.
  • Other players choose to attend prep schools or junior colleges before signing day. Because my focus was on which four-year colleges players signed with, I chose not to include the name of the prep school or junior college the player went with; this would have added a significant amount of time to an already lengthy research project. Instead, you’ll just see “Prep School” or “JUCO” as where that player signed.
  • Despite researching for quite a while, there are still 12 players whose whereabouts I couldn’t find. These players are listed with a question mark in the “Signed With…” column. If you can fill me in, let me know. I also found evidence of four additional players not playing football or another sport collegiately after high school. Their signing column says “none.”
  • Finally, I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will: Nothing written in this post is meant to be disparaging in any way. There are tons of athletes across the state who go on to play college football who exceed their rankings and there are some who aren’t able to live up to them. Getting a D1 offer is not the end all, be all for an athlete and nothing in this post suggests that other levels of football are inferior – I just don’t have complete data for FCS, DII, DIII, etc.

The entire list of recruits can be found here. Let’s get started.

Recruits by Year

The total number of Pennsylvania football players ranked by 247Sports has varied quite a bit over the years, peaking at a high of 111 in 2012. The average is about 70 athletes per year:

Ranked Pennsylvania High School Football Players by YearPerhaps more interesting than the total number of ranked recruits each year is the number of recruits by star rating. Every fan wants their college team to scoop up as many “blue chip” recruits as possible, but there has been a sentiment in some recent years that Pennsylvania is not producing these players in the volume it used to. I wanted to see if the rates of four-and-five star recruits from Pennsylvania had changed over time:

5-Star and 4-Star Players from Pennsylvania by Year

As you can see, Pennsylvania has produced a pretty stable number of blue-chip football players each year for the past two-plus decades. There has been a dip in the past two recruiting classes, but it’s too soon to tell if that will develop into a long-term trend. I was surprised to see how consistent the data was for this question, particularly from 2006-2018. Overall, Pennsylvania has produced a total of 22 five-stars and 170 four-stars since 2000. The five-stars are listed below:

Player School Year
Jeff Smoker Manheim Central 2000
Kevin Jones Cardinal O’Hara 2001
Cecil Howard McKeesport 2001
Marlin Jackson Sharon 2001
Dan Connor Strath Haven 2004
Anthony Morelli Penn Hills 2004
Chad Henne Wilson (West Lawn) 2004
Justin King Gateway 2005
Callahan Bright Harriton 2005
Marques Slocum West Catholic 2005
LeSean McCoy Bishop McDevitt 2006
Terrelle Pryor Jeannette 2008
Jonathan Baldwin Aliquippa 2008
Dorian Bell Gateway 2009
Sharrif Floyd George Washington 2010
Noah Spence Bishop McDevitt 2012
Rushel Shell Hopewell 2012
Robert Foster Central Valley 2013
Miles Sanders Woodland Hills 2016
D’Andre Swift St. Joseph’s Prep 2017
Micah Parsons Harrisburg 2018
Julian Fleming Southern Columbia 2020

There is a final way we can evaluate the quality of each class. By averaging the national rank of each year’s top five recruits in the state, we can get a more detailed look at how Pennsylvania classes stack up to the rest of the country on a year-by-year basis. Selecting the top five is certainly somewhat arbitrary, but it also gives an idea of how strong that year’s elite recruits are (lower is better in this chart):

Average Rank vs. Year

Of course, it’s important to remember that all recruiting rankings are based largely on subjective opinions and some states may be overrated or underrated based on the amount of talent they have historically produced. However, this method suggests that while Pennsylvania’s rate of producing blue-chip players has been fairly stable, the average ranking of those blue chips has been lower on average in recent years. This method also highlighted the fact that since 2000, Pennsylvania has produced just six players ranked in the top ten nationally:

  1. Kevin Jones, RB, Cardinal O’Hara – the state’s only top-ranked player (2001)
  2. Terrelle Pryor, QB, Jeannette – #2 (2008)
  3. Sharrif Floyd, DL, George Washington – #6 (2010)
  4. Noah Spence, DL, Bishop McDevitt – #5 (2012)
  5. Micah Parsons, DL, Harrisburg – #5 (2018)
  6. Julian Fleming, WR, Southern Columbia – #3 (2020)

The chart shows evidence of the cyclical nature of talent production; you can clearly see ups and downs from year-to-year. But the trend line that I added is telling, too – and it’s not headed in the direction we’d all hope it would. Again, this is all just based on signing day rankings and lots of players over-perform low ratings (more on them later).

Recruits by High School

Twelve schools in Pennsylvania have produced at least 20 ranked recruits from 2000-2020. The chart shown below clipped some of the school names; Pittsburgh Central Catholic is first, Bishop McDevitt is fourth, Valley Forge Military Academy is ninth and Archbishop Wood is 11th. Only two schools statewide have produced two five-star players:

  • Gateway (Justin King and Dorian Bell)
  • Bishop McDevitt (LeSean McCoy and Noah Spence)

Interestingly, despite leading the state in ranked players (41), Pittsburgh Central Catholic has never had a five-star recruit according to 247Sports. Central Valley, on the other hand, has had only two ranked recruits in its brief history, but they were a five-star (Robert Foster) and a four-star (Jordan Whitehead). Both players were rated as the best in Pennsylvania during their respective senior seasons.

Schools with the Most Ranked Recruits, 2000-2020

In all, 346 different high schools have had a player ranked by 247Sports since 2000, including defunct programs like Schenley, Duquesne, Cardinal Dougherty, Delaware Valley Charter, Strong Vincent and all three former Wilkes-Barre high schools, among others.

When we narrow our focus to five-star and four-star recruits, the graph changes a bit:

Blue Chip Recruits by School, 2000-2020

(Again, the chart clipped some names. Bishop McDevitt is 2nd, North Allegheny is 6th, Pittsburgh Central Catholic is 7th, Archbishop Wood is 8th, Cardinal O’Hara is 9th, Downingtown East is 10th, and Thomas Jefferson is 14th. I apologize for my lack of technical skills.)

Not surprisingly, this chart (and the one before it) double as a roll call for blue-blood programs in the state. Perhaps the most notable omission is St. Joe’s Prep, which just missed the cutoff by having three blue chips.

Recruits by College Choice

Over the past two decades, coaches from the three FBS programs in Pennsylvania have made concerted efforts – and attached slogans – to keeping the best in-state recruits within the state’s borders. From “Dominate the State” to “building a wall around western Pennsylvania,” coaches at Penn State, Pitt and Temple have worked hard to keep local talent, well, local. If you’re a fan of one of the three in-state FBS programs, you may want to skip over this next table; it’s a little tough to look at. The college choices of the top-five recruits in Pennsylvania since 2000:

Screen Shot 2020-03-23 at 8.50.50 PM

With Pennsylvania’s long history of producing talent, it’s no surprise to see a variety of different programs fill this chart; after all, any program worth its salt will recruit nationally and pursue the best players no matter where they are. But it’s still a little disconcerting for fans of our state’s three programs to see an invasion of out-of-state teams in this chart, especially in the column listing the top recruit each year. Penn State has snagged the state’s top recruit just four times in 21 recruiting classes (the same as Ohio State). Pitt has done it twice and Temple has only gotten one top-five player ever (Karamo Dioubate in 2016).

As it does in nearly every state, Notre Dame has made inroads during this timeframe, particularly since 2017. Michigan was a strong threat in the early 2000s and various southern schools have garnered commitments over the years. Top-ranked recruits aside, Penn State has held its ground pretty well in the James Franklin era, managing to grab the 2nd-through-5th ranked player pretty frequently. Pat Narduzzi has had a tougher time at Pitt, receiving commitments from four top-five recruits since taking over in 2015.

A total of 136 different collegiate programs have gotten commitments from ranked Pennsylvania recruits since 2000. The top ten are:

SCHOOL RECRUITS
Pittsburgh 161
Penn State 119
Temple 119
West Virginia 60
Akron 55
Connecticut 45
Syracuse 40
Rutgers 39
Toledo 34
Buffalo 31

While it’s no surprise to see the three in-state programs at the top of the list, Pitt leads all college programs by a wide margin. In fact, 11% of all ranked Pennsylvania recruits from 2000-2020 committed to Pitt. West Virginia is the most common out-of-state destination, which shouldn’t be surprising. What did surprise me was the fact that Rutgers ranked just 8th by this measure. I had assumed it would be in the top five based on geographic location and the fact that its home state gets raided for talent by out-of-state programs on an annual basis.

Pennsylvania’s 22 five-star recruits have gone to Penn State five times, Ohio State four times, Michigan three times and Pitt twice. Schools that nabbed one five-star apiece are Syracuse, Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Florida, Miami, Florida State, Alabama and Georgia. For four-stars, Penn State has gotten 52 while Pitt has 27. Notre Dame has signed 18 and Michigan got 11.

When we narrow our focus to the in-state universities, we can see how they stack up against one another in terms of getting Pennsylvania recruits. Let’s look at another graph!

Commitments by Star Rating, 2000-2020 (1)

Of Pitt’s 161 in-state commits, 112 of them are three-stars. Penn State and Temple each have a total of 119 in-state commitments during the same period. Penn State is evenly balanced between three-stars and four-stars, while Temple’s commits historically have mostly been rated as two-stars or, less frequently, three-stars. It’s important to note that the program Temple is today is a far cry from the program it was in the early 2000s, so the long-term nature of this study doesn’t clearly reflect the strides Temple has made in the past several years.

Nationally, there are 130 FBS programs and 39 have failed to sign a Pennsylvania recruit over the past 21 years. You likely won’t be surprised by many schools on this list; many of them are geographically distant and others have been Division I programs for only a short time. Remember, this doesn’t mean these schools have zero Pennsylvanians on their rosters – they just haven’t signed any state-ranked ones out of high school since 2000. Think of this list as the bingo card we can use for future recruiting classes:

Appalachian State Louisiana-Lafayette Oregon State Tulsa
Arkansas Louisiana-Monroe Rice UNLV
Arkansas State Louisiana Tech San Jose State UTSA
Auburn Memphis SMU Utah
Boise State Middle Tennessee South Alabama Utah State
California Nebraska Southern Miss Washington
Charlotte Nevada TCU Washington State
Florida Atlantic Northern Illinois Texas Western Kentucky
Fresno State Oklahoma State Texas State Wyoming
Houston Ole Miss Troy

Finally, many of the 1,463 ranked recruits have signed with FCS or Division II programs over the years. The most common non-FBS destinations are Villanova (24 recruits), Delaware (17), Duquesne (10) and Towson, IUP and Bucknell with 6 each.

Recruits by Position

Would it surprise you if I told you that linebacker is the most common position for ranked players from Pennsylvania? Well, I guess it probably shouldn’t, given the state’s history of producing pretty good ones. Of the 1,471 recruits listed (remember, we removed 8 guys who pursued other sports in college for the previous analyses), 172 – or 11.7% – were linebackers. The least common positions were long-snappers (3) and punters (5); center (13) had the fewest representatives from either offense or defense.

The full list:

Linebackers 172 11.7%
Offensive Tackles 146 9.9%
Wide Receivers 144 9.8%
Running Backs 122 8.3%
Defensive Ends 122 8.3%
Quarterbacks 113 7.7%
Guards 108 7.3%
Athletes 108 7.3%
Safeties 101 6.9%
Defensive Tackles 95 6.5%
Cornerbacks 95 6.5%
Tight Ends 91 6.2%
Fullbacks 18 1.2%
Kickers 15 1.0%
Centers 13 0.9%
Punters 5 0.3%
Long-Snappers 3 0.2%

Odds and Ends

  • Ranking and evaluating high school prospects is far from an exact science, so there are bound to be misses here and there. Remember, hindsight is always 20/20, so it’s easy to pick and choose misses after the fact. That being said, some of the guys I was surprised to see ranked so low coming out of high school are listed below. These are just a few of the ones I found notable – there are others to be discovered in the spreadsheet, I’m sure.
    • Way back in 2002, Larry Fitzgerald was ranked as the 11th-best player in Pennsylvania after spending a year at Valley Forge Military Academy. He turned out to be…pretty good.
    • The following year, Matt Ryan was considered the 23rd best prospect in the state.
    • Darrelle Revis – Before he became a 7-time Pro Bowler and 4-time First-Team All-Pro, Revis was considered just a three-star prospect coming out of Aliquippa. Perhaps more surprising was the fact that Revis ranked just 27th out of all Pennsylvania recruits in the class of 2004 despite a heralded high school career for a football power. Nationally, he was considered just the 42nd best cornerback recruit in his class.
    • Sean Lee – A year after Revis’ class, Lee placed 28th among all Pennsylvania recruits in 2005. Despite an injury-riddled career, Lee has been among the better linebackers in football when healthy. The 2005 class also had several other notable omissions from its statewide top-ten: Steve Slaton (15th), LaRod Stephens-Howling (27th), Daryll Clark (32nd), Tommie Campbell (41st) and Pat McAfee (47th – although that’s not a bad ranking for a kicker/punter).
    • Vincent Rey – While not truly a Pennsylvania recruit, Rey is one of the lowest-ranked players to have a substantial NFL career. Originally from New York, Rey played as a post-graduate at Mercersburg Academy, which placed him in the Pennsylvania class of 2006. He was ranked 57th overall in the state that year. Rey went on to Duke and then played nine years for the Cincinnati Bengals.
    • The Nassib Brothers – Ryan was rated as the 62nd-best player in the class of 2008; Carl wasn’t ranked at all in the class of 2011. Ryan went on to a strong career as a quarterback at Syracuse and played as a backup for two years in the NFL after being a fourth-round pick. Carl became a consensus All-America defensive end at Penn State who won the Lombardi Award in 2015. After being selected in the third round of the 2016 draft, he has accumulated 18 sacks in four NFL seasons.
    • The 2009 Class had several notable players receive low rankings: Jordan Hill (36th), Devin Street (37th), Bernard Pierce (47th), Justin Pugh (49th) and Brandon McManus (66th).
    • Although it’s still too early to tell for many guys, the rankings seem to have fewer big misses over the past six to eight years. Perhaps 247Sports’ evaluation system is better than the one Scout used (because all of the pre-2010 rankings shown on 247Sports are the old Scout ones, more or less).
  • There was one strange case I found during my research and it led to the only time in which I chose to omit a player from the rankings. In the class of 2014, Marcus Johnson, a wide receiver from University Prep, was ranked as the top player in the state and as a four-star prospect. When I investigated the “N/A” under where his college choice should have been listed, I found that Johnson spent his freshman year at Thiel before transferring to Slippery Rock. Johnson was a very good player who had a terrific career at Slippery Rock, but I found it difficult to believe that a player whose recruiting profile said he was the 99th best prospect in America went to a Division III school after high school. Additionally, the fact that Johnson’s 247Sports profile had a composite ranking but no individual ranking provided by 247Sports was strange for a guy with such a high rating. In the end, I came to the conclusion that Johnson’s profile or information was somehow confused with another athlete’s or had other errors, so I chose to remove him from the data I collected. However, he was clearly still a very good football player and I wanted to describe his story here.
  • I discussed the prevalence of five-star recruits earlier, but here is the data showing how many players from Pennsylvania since 2000 earned each star rating. The percent column shows the share of that rating out of all 1,471 ranked players:
    • 5-Stars 22 1.5%
      4-Stars 170 11.6%
      3-Stars 672 45.7%
      2-Stars 582 39.6%
      1-Stars 25 1.7%
    • One-star athletes were only recognized from 2014-2016 in this dataset, which helps to explain the low number of them overall.
    • Over the past 21 recruiting classes, about 13% of ranked recruits earned four or five stars. Keep in mind that ranked recruits constitute just a sliver of the players statewide who will end up playing college football at some level. If all players statewide were ranked, that percentage would be much, much lower.

It’s easy to see why recruiting rankings have such a passionate (rabid?) following. Everyone wants their college team to do well and it’s exciting to hear an expert say that the incoming crop of players is outstanding. Family, friends, teammates, coaches and community members love seeing their guy highly ranked and given the recognition he worked for. And, let’s be honest – there are many among us who like the entire process because it “proves” that (insert hated rival) is cheating. But beyond that, it’s clear that these rankings hold some value. There’s plenty of analysis out there saying that recruiting rankings do matter. I don’t disagree with any of that; following it closely is just not my cup of tea. But it sure can make the basis for some great discussions and stories, and I’m definitely here for that.

A Groundhog Day Appreciation Post

I took Meteorology 003 at Penn State as an undergrad for a science credit, so I’m essentially an expert on all things weather. Just don’t ask me to prove that. Now, I spent quite a few Thursdays at the Darkhorse (RIP), so those Friday morning lectures don’t stick in my memory as well as they should. But I’m almost certain that they didn’t say anything about shadows or small rodents, so I’m a bit skeptical of the whole Groundhog Day thing. But it’s also a great piece of Pennsylvania culture and it’s fun to revel in all of its weirdness, so let’s get started.

Three Notable Punxsutawney Chucks Football Players

Lloyd Jordan

Lloyd Jordan. Photo from College Football Hall of Fame.

A College Football Hall of Famer, Jordan was a player, coach, athletic director and conference commissioner. I’ve included him without knowing for certain whether he played high school football; his brief biography in the Punxsutawney Sports Hall of Fame only mentions a high school basketball career. He won 100 of his 175 games as a head coach at both Amherst and Harvard before becoming the commissioner of the Southern Conference from 1960-1973.

John Mizerock

Tue, Nov 16, 1976 – Page 18 · The Indiana Gazette (Indiana, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com
Mizerock, commonly called “Sarge” while an athlete at Punxsutawney, made his name as a Major League Baseball player and long-time coach. He also served as the manager of the Kansas City Royals in 2002. But Mizerock was also an outstanding football and basketball player for the Chucks. In 1978, he was named a second-team all-state defensive back by the Associated Press and finished his career as a quarterback with more than 2,500 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards.

Devin Mesoraco

Wed, Dec 3, 2003 – Page 54 · Indiana Gazette (Indiana, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com
Picked 15th overall by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2007 Major League draft, Mesoraco (like Mizerock) achieved his greatest success as a catcher. Named to the 2014 National League All-Star Team, Mesoraco saw his career hampered by injuries by the time he turned 30. At Punxsutawney, Mesoraco ran for 345 yards as a freshman in 2003 while also starting at safety and handling punting duties. After playing football again as a sophomore, he gave up the sport to concentrate on baseball.

The Legend of Earle Mundell

Football in the twenty-first century means (among other things) becoming increasingly numb to astronomical offensive statistics. A quarterback surpassing 300 yards in a game? Commonplace. Teams having multiple 1,000-yard backs? Nice, but not nearly unheard of. A running back going for two-hundred plus? Buddy, our great state has seen a guy rush for well over a third of a mile.

Wide-open offensive systems, hurry-up approaches and teams playing up to 15 or 16 games in a season have warped our sense of numerical significance and seriously upped the ante for any athlete hoping to blow fans away with statistics. Even so, there are certain thresholds that still hold meaning. We could debate which milestones are still important or not, but most people would agree that rushing for 2,000 yards in a season is one of them. In 2019, only eight players statewide reached this mark, and only one (Northern’s Kyle Swartz) played fewer than 12 games.

If I told you a player once ran for 2,455 yards in a season, you’d likely be impressed; after all, only Ben Jackson of West Greene and Lenny Kelley of Dallas surpassed that total this past season. You may be more impressed to learn that this player did so in just 10 games, beating Swartz’s superlative 237.7 yards-per-game average from 2019.

But what if I told you this player did so in 1947, when everyone played both ways on grass fields and without facemasks? That he did so for a high school that no longer exists? That he played against opponents determined to knock him out of the game? And that he stood just 5-foot-4 and weighed 147 pounds? This is the story of Earle Mundell, a tiny back from Ambler High School with blazing speed that led him to additional fame on the track. A player who ran for more yards than anyone in Pennsylvania history up to that point, yet whose name has largely faded into history.


Sun, Oct 16, 1949 – 28 · Sunday News (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

Mundell – whose name was often misspelled in print as “Earl” – would go on to be the smallest man on the 1950 Penn State football roster. He played for the Nittany Lions from 1949-1951 and was recognized as one of – if not the – fastest players on the team. As a high school senior, Mundell could run 50 yards in 5.5 seconds, roughly equivalent to a 4.4 forty yard dash.

Mundell’s legend was born in Ambler, which today is part of the Wissahickon School District. In 1955, eight years after he had last played high school football, the Delaware County Daily Times described him this way:

A scatback, Mundell was very deceptive and could stop on a dime while travelling (sic) at top speed. He was recalled as having tremendous speed and at times would reverse his field three and four times while on his way to a touchdown.

At the end of the season, Mundell became the first player in Bux-Mont Conference history to be named to the all-district team. During this era, Ambler won 33 games in a row, matching the number of touchdowns Mundell scored in 1947. He also earned a player-of-the-week award from the Maxwell Club, receiving high praise from then-Eagles owner Bert Bell at the ceremony. Following his final game, Mundell had scored 311 career points, which at the time was considered to be a national record. He also kicked and served as Ambler’s primary passer (remember, this is in the days of the single-wing).

Unfortunately, game-by-game recaps of Mundell’s terrific senior season have been difficult to come by online. Against Springfield (Montco), he had 31 carries for 243 yards and both touchdowns in a 12-0 win. Sadly, this is one of the few examples of game stories giving detailed statistics for Mundell’s exploits. Boxscores in the 1940s were basic at best and many newspapers only published statistics for scoring, not yardage totals. Many games were recapped with a simple blurb that gave only sparse descriptions of what had happened:

Mundell was a truly dominant force in suburban Philadelphia football. While he saw action at Penn State, he never shone as brilliantly as he did at Ambler. Some newspaper articles in the early 1950s asserted that Mundell’s lack of overwhelming success in college was due to his small stature. The fact that the game inflicted a punishing physical toll on him came up in more than one clipping that I found. While it is true that Mundell lacked ideal size to put up with the rough nature of football, one local journalist named Jim Hackett proposed that he took a beating because opponents were aiming to knock him out of the game. This tactic, while frowned upon by some, has always been a part of the game of football. The game in question, a 50-6 Ambler win over Jenkintown, had led some fans to claim that Ambler coach Johnny Meyer had run up the score. However, Hackett also alluded to another reason why Mundell had to withstand such rough play by his opponents:

“…For in the first quarter, Earl (sic) Mundell, the Black Knight of the Bux-Mont Conference was batted ruefully to the ground, immobilized… A crescendo of cheers shook the Jenkintown rooting section, they had ‘Got Mundell’…

“…as long as other teams insist on beating down a boy because he is great – or horrors, because he is Negro – Johnny Meyers will run up the markers for he has a right to do so…”

At another point in the season, Hackett described Springfield taking a similar approach when it came to roughing up Mundell:

“Another buddy reports that never in high school football has he seen a boy take the pounding Earl (sic) “Jinks” Mundell absorbed from Springfield on Saturday. Fists were flying into the lithe Trojan’s face on every play. His lips were swollen, his nose was gashed, his eyes were pinpoints when the game was over… But the kid showed [Springfield coach] Gockley his ability, his sheer guts, that all the rough tactics employed by a coach who has little respect for decency in sport – other than winning – could not stop him […] Futhermore, the hardened observer says he found himself leaping into the air as Mundell went on to score – not because Ambler won, but because this run was in direct repudiation of unsportsmanlike, rough football.”

Playing football as a black man in 1947 – the same year Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier – was exceptionally difficult. Even if you were given the opportunity to see the field, you were almost certain to face extremely physical play from your opponents that could easily cross the line into physical attacks. And while Mundell had the chance to attend a major university to play football, most college teams in the 1940s had very few black players on their rosters. Of course, for every school south of the Mason-Dixon Line during this era, the number of black players on college football teams was exactly zero. Northern teams often weren’t much more diverse. During his senior year of high school, Mundell was given a scholarship to Penn and, had he attended, would have been the first black athlete in the school’s history. And nearly every news article written about his athletic achievements referenced his race, sometimes going so far as to call him “The Black Knight.” All of this is not to assume that players from Jenkintown and Springfield were aggressive with Mundell solely because of his race, but it does serve as a chance to think about how discrimination played a role in the game as a whole during the time before the Civil Rights Era.

Mundell went on to graduate from Penn State and then earn a graduate degree from Xavier. He spent his career in education at schools in Ohio, serving as a teacher, a principal and a superintendent. He died in 2017 at the age of 87.


Legends are born by extraordinary performances in difficult circumstances, but they remain legends because of the haze and lack of clarity surrounding them. If we knew every single detail about Mundell’s season or had film of it, it would lose some of this luster. Today, we can watch games live from anywhere and endlessly review highlights; the impact technology has had on football is undeniable and overwhelmingly positive. Even so, there’s something alluring about the unknown, especially when our present world feels as if nothing is left undocumented. Reading seventy-year-old game recaps allows us to imagine how awesome Earle Mundell must have been, twisting and weaving his way around and through bewildered (and sometimes hostile) defenses. As nice as film is, I think I prefer it that way.

Pennsylvania High School Alumni Coaching FBS Programs

Last week, I took a look at Pennsylvania high school graduates who have led NFL teams as head coaches. This week’s post will focus on those who currently serve as head coaches in the NCAA, specifically at the FBS level. In stark contrast to the 28% of NFL jobs held by Pennsylvanians, only three of the 130 FBS positions (or 2.3%) belong to Keystone State grads. Those three coaches are James Franklin (Neshaminy → Penn State), Kirk Ferentz (Upper St. Clair → Iowa) and Randy Edsall (Susquehannock → UConn).

jfranklinnesh
James Franklin as a quarterback at Neshaminy. Image from PennLive.com: https://www.pennlive.com/pennstatefootball/2016/12/how_james_franklins_playing_pa.html

Here’s a clipping of Edsall’s high school days from 1975. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a picture of Ferentz playing for Upper St. Clair’s football team. However, I did come across an unexpected article that mentions him playing hockey and scoring a goal against the old Armstrong High School in 1973.

As of the end of the 2019 season, Franklin (including his time at Vanderbilt) holds a career record of 80-38 (.678). In 21 years at Iowa (plus three at Maine), Ferentz has gone 174-125 (.582). Edsall, who has coached a pair of stints at UConn and one at Maryland, is 98-127 (.436).

We could probably spend a lot of time discussing why there is such a disparity between the number of Pennsylvanians serving as coaches at football’s two highest levels, but I think it’s likely just a statistical blip, if anything. I can’t think of many logical reasons why the NFL has three times as many coaches from our high schools as the FBS despite having a quarter as many teams, so I think it’s just an oddity without a real explanation or reason as to why it exists. Perhaps you could follow the line of thinking that Pennsylvania produces a lot of high-quality coaches and they view coaching in the NFL as the ultimate goal, leading many of them to take the professional route. I’m not certain that I’m sold on that theory, though.

A more wide-ranging post on Pennsylvania grads coaching at major college programs throughout history will be coming at a later time. Instead, I wanted to take time to briefly point out some trends in FBS coaching backgrounds as they stand today, now that Hawaii’s vacancy has been filled by Todd Graham and his Garth Brooks-style headset microphone.

  • Pennsylvania’s three current head coaches are tied for 12th among all states. The other states with three are Wisconsin, Utah, New Hampshire, Kansas and Arkansas. When comparing the historical clout of high school football in each of these states, it becomes more clear how low Pennsylvania’s number currently sits as opposed to what one may expect.
  • The state that can claim the most graduates as FBS head coaches? Ohio, with 13 (or exactly 10 percent of all coaches at that level). California (11) is second and Texas (10) is third.
  • Ten states do not have a current representative at the FBS level. These fall into two camps: the not-surprising and the fairly-surprising, at least to me. Vermont, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Maine, Delaware, Nevada and Alaska? Sure, those make sense. But Maryland, Michigan and (especially) Virginia? I don’t think I would’ve guessed that those three states would’ve been skunked by this survey.
  • Another surprise for me is the fact that the three teams tied for 8th are Georgia (not shocking) along with West Virginia and Indiana (more shocking). West (enter your chosen expletive) Virginia has some pretty good firepower, too, with a roster of Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher and the solid but lesser known Doc Holliday joining newcomer Shawn Clark of Appalachian State. Indiana can’t match that lineup, but Kevin Sumlin, Tom Allen, Thomas Hammock and Mike Neu still represent more Hoosiers than I would’ve guessed.
  • The full table can be seen below:
BY STATE
OH 13
CA 11
TX 10
FL 8
OK 7
IL 6
TN 5
AL 5
WV 4
IN 4
GA 4
WI 3
UT 3
PA 3
NH 3
KS 3
AR 3
SD 2
SC 2
OR 2
NJ 2
NE 2
NC 2
MS 2
MN 2
LA 2
KY 2
IA 2
WY 1
WA 1
NY 1
NM 1
MT 1
MO 1
MA 1
ID 1
HI 1
DC 1
CT 1
CO 1
AZ 1
VT 0
VA 0
RI 0
NV 0
ND 0
MI 0
ME 0
MD 0
DE 0
AK 0

Take a look at these and feel free to drop any other observations in the comments.