ALIQUIPPA, Pa. — The city of Aliquippa is a place that has a storied football history. From Mike Ditka and Sean Gilbert to Ty Law and Darrell Revis, talented athletes have been the hallmark of this former steel town that sits alongside the Ohio River.
The next one down the pipeline might just be rising senior Kwantel Raines. The two-way star starts at both quarterback and safety for the Quips, and he’s rated as a four-star prospect and the fifth-best player in all of Pennsylvania, according to 247 Sports.
If there’s a way to honor the heritage of the greats that have come before him, becoming one of the most sought-after recruits in the country is a good way to do it. Raines has been blessed with a ton of athletic talent, but he’s also worked hard to become a more well-rounded player, a leader on his team and an even better athlete. That’s the thing that he thinks of when he’s reminded of the Aliquippa greats — not just the talent, but the effort that is required to walk in those shoes.
“There’s a lot of great of athletes that have come out of Aliquippa,” Raines said in an exclusive interview at Aliquippa High School this week. “I just want to be the next one to come out. It’s just the way you grew up. If you grew up in Aliquippa, you didn’t have any choice but to work hard to get to the next level.”
To get to that next level, Raines is spending extra gym sessions with 2/10ths Speed and Agility in Pittsburgh in addition to his regular team workouts. He wants to get even faster and be more explosive with the ball in his hands in his senior season. It’s meant a lot of work, but that’s not something that scares him.
Of course, the extra preparation won’t just help him in high school, but at the next level, as well, and he feels that if he can get a jump start on the speed of the game, he’ll be able to set himself apart even sooner once he gets to a college campus.
“I think it’s going to be a more fast-paced game,” he said. “I know the players are going to be a lot faster. I’m just want to get prepared for the game speed first and then mixing school with workouts and practices is probably going to be the hardest thing.
Raines spent his junior season adjusting to the role of quarterback on the offensive side of the ball. There is plenty that goes into the position that he had to learn, like reading defenses and calling plays.
One of the things that came easy to him, though, was the leadership aspect of the job. Raines said that he’s always been a leader and that two years of following behind some talented Quips players prepared him for the role.
“Coach [Marlin] Devonshire told me that I had to follow before I could lead,” Raines said. “So when I was a freshman, I had to look up to players like Darrien Fields and all of them. I saw what they did and now that it’s my turn to do it, I’m doing it for the younger guys, too.”
The last few years, Pitt has gotten an early commit from a big-name player and used that player to help recruiting efforts in the area. A few years ago, it was Jordan Whitehead. With this year’s class, it was Paris Ford. Could Raines be that player for next season? Between the leadership he’s shown on the field and the connection he’s made by playing 7-on-7 and attending recruiting camps, Raines thinks he could be.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people,” he said. “I’ve talked to Paris Ford, Lamont Wade, all of them. Donovan Jeter enrolled early in college, so I’ve seen everything he posted on Instagram and Snapchat about that. Kazeon Pugh just went to college last year. He’s been telling me everything about Pitt.”
RAINES THE RECRUIT
Raines’ recruiting really took off during his junior season and he’s now up to about 20 collegiate offers. Many are from the heavy hitters in the region, with the likes of Michigan State, Pitt, Penn State, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Wisconsin having thrown in their hats.
Most recruiting services have the 6-foot-3, 190-pound athlete listed as a safety. When I stopped by Aliquippa High School this week to chat with Raines, one of the first things I asked him was where he wanted to play.
“I’m a defensive guy,” he said. “I like to be the one hitting instead of being hit.”
That clears that up, and it seems that most coaches agree. Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi was the first man on the line when the recent period for communication with 2018 prospects opened. In fact, Narduzzi called Raines just a few ticks after midnight.
“He’s energetic about the game,” Raines said. “You can really tell he loves the game.”
The Pitt offer was a big one for Raines, who called the Panthers his “hometown team.” He also called the West Virginia offer he received a “big deal.” The Mountaineers were the first to extend him a scholarship.
“I was stressing about who was going to offer me first or if I was even going to get one,” he said.
Instead, Penn State quickly jumped on the bandwagon and many, many more followed. It’s to the point that Raines has had trouble finding time to take every phone call.
“I enjoy it, but it’s a lot of work,” he said. “You try to get out to the schools that you want to see, but some of them are really far away.”
Raines has said he doesn’t know when he wants to make a decision, but he’d like to have his list narrowed down before the start of the season. At this point, Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia have all stood out to him as potential destinations, along with Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
“I just want to go to the best school and fit for me,” Raines said.