CLAIRTON — If you travel to Clairton, Pa., a town of just under 6,800 that scales a hill alongside the Monongahela River in southern Allegheny County, you might run into one of the most sought-after college football recruits in the country.
But you’d better know who it is that you’re looking for.
At 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, Lamont Wade isn’t the kind of physical specimen that will catch your eye from across the street. Soft-spoken and humble, he doesn’t fit the stereotype of an average teenager — let alone that of a superstar athlete.
If you find him, it’ll likely be in the weight room — quaintly tucked inside the entrance to the elementary school — or on the practice field.
The football field is where it’s apparent that Wade is something special.
Speed? He’s got it.
Toughness? There’s plenty of that, too.
As far as rising high school seniors go, Wade is pretty much a complete football player. That’s why he’s rated as a five-star prospect, one of the top players in the state and one of the top defensive backs nationally.
But to hear Wade tell it, he’s just having fun playing the game that he’s been playing as long as he can remember.
“I was like five or six,” he said, recalling one of his earliest football memories. “I scored my first touchdown. I got a toss to the outside and a cut back. It was on a recorder … at first. Then, my dad starting jumping up and down. You can’t see it, the whole camera is on the ground and you can hear him yelling ‘Go Lamont! Go Lamont!’ He was so excited to see me score.”
Wade believes that his passion for the game is inherited. He was born into it. His grandfather played at Clairton, as did his father and his cousin Wayne — who is now Lamont’s head coach. Playing football wasn’t something that he learned to love. It’s something that he’s loved for longer than he can remember.
“I started playing when I was four, I think,” he said. “It’s my life. I don’t like it, I love it. It’s all I’ve known growing up. I never even thought about whether I wanted to play or not. It just became what I do.”
Thrust into the national spotlight with offers from schools like Ohio State, Pitt, Penn State, UCLA and West Virginia before he even played his junior year, Wade has taken the added attention with humility.
“It definitely has changed, but it’s what I wanted,” Wade said. “I changed myself, and adapted to that. I had to mature a lot faster than usual kids. That’s the biggest thing.”
One of the added responsibilities has been academic, as Wade has been working to graduate a semester early so that he can enroll in college in January. Again, his school preferences aren’t typical for that of a star athlete.
“Calculus was my favorite class last year,” he said. “Math is my strong point.”
But all of that added maturity and responsibility doesn’t mean that he’s become a 100 percent focused, goal-oriented adult, either. Wade’s off-the-field time can be pretty limited, especially during football season, but when he does get some free time, he enjoys listening to music and playing Xbox with his friends.
“I’m still in high school, I’m still taking classes and I still have teenage problems,” he laughed.
But the draw of football is strong, and even on a 90-degree day in July, while other kids played basketball in the street or cooled off in the air conditioning, Wade still found time to go work out and lift weights, even though he’s been bothered by a sore hamstring. Although his continuing recruitment remains on his mind, the extra effort isn’t derived of a desire for personal gain. He wants to win a state title.
“I haven’t won a state championship yet and Clairton is known for winning state championships,” he said.
Clairton won four straight Class A state titles from 2009 to 2012, and appeared in the championship game in 2008 and 2014, when Wade was a sophomore. As the best player returning for the Bears, he feels that it’s his job to lead the team back to that level of success.
“Trying to get a ring on my finger, that’s the big thing,” he said. “My senior year, going out with a boom, that would mean everything because that’s all I ever wanted, watching the Bears play since I was five. That would be huge.”
Look for part two of my interview with Lamont Wade, which focuses on his college recruitment, later this week.