Southwest Pennsylvania Is a Breeding Ground for the NCAA and NFL

John BaranowskiCorrespondent IAugust 27, 2011

19 Dec 1992:  Quarterback Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule Jr.  /Allsport
19 Dec 1992: Quarterback Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule Jr. /Allsport

For a region not as heavily populated as some areas of the country, Southwest Pennsylvania has turned out a large number of college and pro-football greats over the years.  Not only does Southwest Pennsylvania lay claim to the birthplace of professional football, but throughout the years, the region has also served as a fertile breeding ground for college and professional football.  

The list of great players from Southwest Pennsylvania reads like a who’s who of college and pro football.  In breaking it down by position, the Southwest PA team might look something like this: 

No part of the country has produced more great quarterbacks and no position is as deep on this squad as quarterback.  The starting signal caller would be Joe Montana, the greatest quarterback in NFL history, and the backups aren’t too shabby, either. One would be Johnny Unitas, the greatest quarterback in NFL history before Joe Montana. The other backup quarterback is none other than Dan Marino, and Marino retired as the NFL’s all-time leading passer in yards thrown, touchdowns and completions and may have been the best pure passer ever.     

Quarterbacks who earn honorable mention would include  NFL Hall of Famers Joe Namath and Jim Kelly; Gus Frerotte, who was selected to one Pro Bowl in a 15-year career in the NFL; Johnny Lujack, a Heisman trophy winner at Notre Dame; Sandy Stephens, an All-American quarterback at Minnesota and Big 10 Conference MVP who led the Golden Gophers to a national championship and is in the College Football Hall of Fame; Chuck Fusina and Richie Lucas, who both went to Penn State and both were runner-up for the Heisman trophy (Lucas has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame) and Terrelle Pryor, who led Ohio State to two BCS bowl victories and was MVP of this year’s Sugar Bowl and the 2010 Rose Bowl. 

As for the starting running backs, this lineup has two of the NFL’s all-time greats: Tony Dorsett, a Heisman Trophy winner at Pitt and NFL Hall of Famer, and another NFL Hall of Famer in Curtis Martin.  Few backs were as good as Dorsett in college football history. Dorsett held the record for most rushing yards in NCAA history, and upon his retirement from pro football, he was second all time in NFL history in career rushing yards with 12,739.  Martin is the fourth leading rusher all time with 14,101 yards.  

Running backs who earn honorable mention include  Larry Brown, the NFL’s leading rusher in 1972 who rushed for over 1,000 yards twice and was selected to four Pro Bowls; Chuck Muncie, who was selected to three Pro Bowls and rushed for 1,000 yards twice in his NFL career; Cookie Gilchrist, an AFL leading rusher and first AFL player to rush for over 1,000 yards and was league MVP; Mercury Morris, a 1,000-yard rusher in the NFL; Dick Hoak, who played 10 years in the NFL and was named to a Pro Bowl; Fran Rogel, who played eight years in the NFL and was also named to a Pro Bowl and Ed Modzelewski, an All-American for Maryland and a Sugar Bowl MVP who was a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1952, and the sixth pick overall in the NFL draft.  

One would think having so many great quarterbacks from Southwest Pennsylvania there would also be a lot of great wide receivers as well, but that’s not the case.  The best would be Steve Breaston, a 1,000-yard receiver in the NFL; Brian Baschnagel, a nine-year NFL veteran and Greg Garrity, a seven-year NFL veteran. The Kansas City Chiefs this year invested a first-round draft pick in Jonathan Baldwin, who has the tools to be a great NFL wide receiver.   

With Southwestern Pennsylvania having been known for steel mills and hard-working, blue collar jobs, one would think the offensive line would be very good, and it is. The starting offensive line would be Russ Grimm, NFL Hall of Famer; Rich Saul, a six-time Pro Bowler in the NFL; Bill Fralic, a four-time NFL Pro Bowler, an All-American at Pitt and one of college football’s all-time greatest offensive lineman and the second overall pick of the 1985 NFL draft; Jeff Christy, a three-time Pro Bowler and Jimbo Covert, a two-time NFL Pro Bowler.  

The offensive linemen who earn honorable mention would include: Ron Saul, who played 12 years in the NFL; Al DeMao, who played in the ‘40s and ‘50s and was voted one of the greatest 70 Washington Redskins; Steve August, a first-round draft choice in 1977 picked 14th overall in the draft and played eight years in the NFL; A.Q. Shipley, a Rimington Award winner at Penn State; Dan Mozes, a Rimington Award winner at West Virginia; Jim Wilson, an All-American tackle at Georgia in 1964 and Stefan Wisniewski, an All-American at Penn State and second-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders in this year’s NFL draft.   

If any position on the football field on this team symbolizes western Pennsylvania’s hard work ethic, it would be tight end. Two players stand out above all the rest:  Mike Ditka, a Pitt. All-American and NFL Hall of Famer, and Ted Kwalick, a Penn State All-American and a three-time Pro Bowler in the NFL.  Both Ditka and Kwalick were voted to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA All-Century Team.  New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski earns honorable mention. 

The kicker would have to be the ageless one, Hall of Famer George Blanda. When Blanda retired at the age of 48, he was the NFL’s all-time leading scorer and also a very good quarterback in the AFL. The backup kicker would be Fred Cox, who played at Pitt and was the Minnesota Vikings placekicker in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Cox was selected to one Pro Bowl in his 15-year career with the Vikings and was one of the last of the straight-on kickers. 

Handling the punting duties would be Ohio State great Tom Skladany. Skladany was a two-time All-American in college and a Pro Bowler in the NFL. His backup would be Pat McAfee, an All-American at West Virginia, who currently is with the Indianapolis Colts.  

In turning to the defense and beginning with the defensive Line: Jason Taylor, a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time AFC defensive player of the year, Taylor was also named to the NFL 2000's All-Decade team and has recorded over 100 sacks in his career; Dick Modzelewski, an All-American at Maryland and the Outland Trophy winner in 1952. Modzelewski played on the great New York Giants teams in the ‘50s and set a then-NFL record for durability, playing in 180 consecutive games; Leon Hart, a Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame and the last lineman to win the Heisman Trophy (Hart also won the Maxwell Award while at Notre Dame and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame and was an NFL Pro Bowler) and Sean Gilbert, an NFL Pro Bowler who played 11 years in the NFL.

Honorable mention:  Bruce Clark, a Lombardi Award winner at Penn State who played in one Pro Bowl in the NFL; Greg Meisner, who played on some of the University of Pittsburgh’s greatest teams and played 11 seasons in the NFL and Leo Wisniewski, who played three years in the NFL.  

Linebackers: Joe Schmidt, NFL Hall of Famer for the Detroit Lions and was named to the 1950's NFL All-Decade team and was a 10-time Pro Bowl selection. In 1999, Schmidt was ranked No. 65 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. Schmidt played for Pitt and was also inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame. Bill George, an NFL Hall-of-Famer for the Chicago Bears and an eight-time first-team All-Pro Selection, he was named to the 1950’s All-Decade Team. In 1999 The Sporting News ranked Schmidt No. 49 of the 100 Greatest Football Players. Lavar Arrington would round out this position as Butkus and Bednarik award winner at Penn State and a three-time Pro Bowler.  

Honorable mention: Myron Pottios, a three-time Pro Bowl selection; Paul Posluszny, a two-time Bednarik award winner at Penn State; Brandon Short, an All-American at Penn State; Mike Lucci, named to one Pro Bowl in his 12-year NFL career; Jim Laslavic, who played 10 years in the NFL; Rich Milot, who played nine years in the NFL; John Skorupan, an All-American at Penn State and had an eight-year career in the NFL; Eric Ravotti, who played three years in the NFL and Sean Lee, who currently plays for the Dallas Cowboys.

At defensive back we have Darrell Revis, the best cornerback in the NFL currently, and at the other corner spot we have Ty Law, a five-time Pro Bowler with 53 career interceptions. The two safeties would be Tom Flynn, who had a five-year NFL career, and Mark Kelso, who played eight seasons in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills.  

As for the coaching staff,  we have Bill Cowher, former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers who coached them to victory in Super Bowl XL; Marty Schottenheimer, who won 205 regular season games and his teams qualified for the postseason 13 times and Chuck Knox, who amassed 193 wins in the NFL with his teams qualifying for the playoffs 11 times.                    

It’s doubtful any part of the country, no matter how heavily populated, could match this lineup of football greats from Southwest PA. So the next time you hear about Southwest Pennsylvania as being one the high school hotbeds for recruiting, you’ll understand why.