WHEELING, W.Va. — The trophy case on 14th Street in downtown Wheeling holds a dozen football state championship plaques. The 2019 title run may have featured a higher degree of difficulty than most of the previous eleven. Wheeling Central Catholic entered the Class A playoffs as a No. 10 seed and won three playoff road games without their Division 1 quarterback and safety Curtis McGhee, who suffered a torn ACL midseason.
“To vary our defense a little bit, to vary our offense a little bit because of losing Curtis, it says a lot about the adversity you overcame and the adjustments you made to do it,” said Wheeling Central head coach Mike Young. “I am very happy for the kids.”
“It made it a lot more sweeter,” said Wheeling Central senior Payton Marling. “Coming in as a ten-seed and getting that win over Tolsia in a nail biter, it made it a lot more rewarding.”
As the Knights put the pieces in place for 2020, they must replace a decorated senior class led by multiple state defensive player of the year Adam Murray, Jacob Rine, McGhee and Jalen Creighton.
“I am just pleased with the overall attitude of these kids coming in,” Young said. “They saw what we overcame last year, and now it is their turn.”
As Mike Young enters his 50th season in coaching, most of his front line will be made up of new starters.
“Andrew Burkle and Spencer Helms are both back up front,” Young said. “The rest are all going to be young and green but we are looking forward to these younger guys that got in the weight room over the offseason getting bigger and stronger. We are looking for them to step in and do the job.”
The quarterback competition is ongoing. Last year’s backup Michael Toepfer and senior Payton Marling are in the mix. Marling scored seven touchdowns in a variety of roles on offense in 2019. Senior Jordan Waterhouse returns to the backfield after rushing for 1,345 yards and a dozen touchdowns. His productivity increased late in the season a year ago.
“Once Curtis went down, that’s when everybody knew they had to step up and that’s when I stepped up,” said Waterhouse. “I got more comfortable in my position, getting the ball more.”
The Knights’ second-leading tackler Vinnie High is back after averaging eleven stops a game last fall. If Central can become the first Class A team to four-peat since they accomplished the feat thirteen years ago, young players will need to step into the limelight.
“There is some pressure inside and outside,” Helms said. “There is a target on our back at all times. It just keeps getting bigger so it is another year, another run.”