The 2018 WPIAL football season has come to a close and many local players have already earned a scholarship and signed on the line to play Division I college football.
After covering the WPIAL all season, Pittsburgh Sports Now’s Steve Brenner and Parker Hurley, along with assistance from college writer Alan Saunders and input from coaches and talent evaluators, PSN has put together our list of the Top 10 prospects from the WPIAL in 2018.
This isn’t a list of the most productive players in the WPIAL or the ones that had the best seasons. Others, such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Fabulous 22, do that already and do it well.
As a site that focuses on college recruiting, what we’re looking to capture is the players that we think are most likely to have an impact at the next level.
To be eligible, a player had to be a high school senior in 2018 that had at least one Division I scholarship offer. All rankings and star ratings are from 247 Sports composite ranking. Players are listed in alphabetical order.
M.J. DEVONSHIRE, Jr.
College: Undecided, 10 offers including Ohio State, Pitt and West Virginia
Info: 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, ⭐⭐⭐
Ranking: No. 9 player in Pa., No. 50 cornerback in the country
Nothing to see here, just another Aliquippa star heading to a collegiate defensive backfield near you. Whether it’s Beaver County as a whole (Dane Jackson, Jordan Whitehead) or just Aliquippa (Dravon Askew-Henry, Jassir Jordan, Kwantel Raines and Malik Shegog) the area has become a hotbed for defensive talent. Devonshire’s measurables bring in the Jordan Whitehead comparisons – maybe a little undersized, can put on some good weight, but an undeniably strong athlete with loads of potential – and he could be used in a similar way. Whitehead played both offense and defense at Pitt and once the coaching staff gave him a chance on offense, they couldn’t keep him off the field.
Devonshire finished with 600-plus yards of offense his senior season and returned eight punts for touchdowns. The national record is nine in one season which he would have accomplished in the WPIAL Championship game against Derry, but he stepped out of bounds at the 10-yard line (MJ will tell you he didn’t). As a cornerback, Devonshire is a true ballhawk and has a knack for high-pointing a pass and does a good job, once he gets two hands on the ball, of securing an interception. He plays the deep ball well and finds the ball after he gets his head turned around.
Wide receiver, Aliquippa
Info: 6-foot-3, 175 pounds, ⭐⭐⭐
Ranking: No. 23 player in Pa., No. 92 athlete in the country
Gipson is one of the most explosive athletes to come from this year’s senior class, and he finally had a chance to prove it. A new coaching staff at Aliquippa brought a new offensive philosophy and gave Gipson a chance to shine. After playing several different offensive positions last season (including quarterback), Gipson was a pure receiver under first-year coach Mike Warfield. The Quips aired it out with quarterback Eli Kosanovich and Gipson is finished with 1,494 yards – first in the WPIAL – on 53 receptions and 20 touchdowns. Gipson has been working tirelessly with receivers coach Derek Moye, learning the nuances of the position including pad level, coming out of breaks and being as efficient as possible when coming off the line.
Gipson is still a little raw as a route runner, but the Quips took full advantage of his playmaking ability throughout the season. Gipson routinely turned swing passes and short slants – passes that traveled less than five yards in the air – into 70 or 80-yard scores. His size plays well at the next level as he has the speed and toughness to go across the middle and the size to line up on the outside and go after a deep ball.
And, if you need any extra convincing how good he will be at the next level, listen to his video commitment to Pitt. The excitement and emotion almost brings him to tears a few times as he says out loud that he will be playing for a school he’s dreamed of playing for his entire life.
Cornerback, Penn Hills
Info: 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, ⭐⭐⭐
Ranking: No. 38 in Pa., No. 180 cornerback in the country
Daequan Hardy was a shut-down outside cornerback in the WPIAL and a stud as a wide receiver and gadget player on offense. While he is a bit undersized, his skills should translate into college as a reliable slot cornerback.
Hardy has excellent foot quickness and agility. This can be seen when he eludes tackles and takes jet sweeps to the house. It can also be shown when flipping his hips and when he breaks on the football. Hardy has the quicks to match up with quicker receivers and has no fear to stick his nose in to defend the run. With such an emphasis on spread football taking over, having a reliable slot cornerback who can hold up against the run is a valued commodity.
His ability as an athlete should give Hardy a higher floor at the next level than would typically be expected out of a player his size.
RAHMON HART, Jr.
Receiver, Imani Christian
College: Ball State
Info: 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, ⭐⭐⭐
Ranking: No. 28 player in Pa., No. 167 wide receiver in the country
Fast … and quick
I mean, what else is there to look for in a receiver coming out of high school?
Rahmon Hart, Jr., lines up in the slot and on the outside, he plants his foot in the ground and comes back hard on curl routes, wins jump balls and makes catches in traffic. Hart isn’t an athlete that is trying the whole square peg in a round hole thing because there’s nowhere else to put him, he has been a receiver since day one and it shows. Hart finished second in the WPIAL with 1,380 yards and second with 62 catches. Hart scored 16 touchdowns on the season to go along with 63 catches for 978 yards and 11 touchdowns his junior season.
While not facing the best competition in Class 1A, Hart had one of his best games against Clairton in Week Seven. Facing man coverage with safety help most of the night, Hart pulled in seven receptions on 13 targets for 175 yards and a touchdown. There were a few big plays sprinkled in there, but Hart fought for every catch and was a bright spot in the loss. Hart hand fights well at the line of scrimmage and his frame makes him tough to push off of a route. He also has the speed to make cornerbacks pay for missing a jam.
Wide receiver, Gateway
5-foot-11, 160 pounds, ⭐⭐⭐
Ranking: No. 24 in Pa., No. 99 athlete in the country
Courtney Jackson has the skills to advance his career in all three phases of football. While he is a bit undersized, Jackson was a shutdown, press cornerback who has the quick feet and understanding to move inside and outside. However, those quick feet transfer to the offensive side of the ball, where he jukes and eludes defenders in space to create with the ball in his hands.
Jackson also has the breakaway speed to finish runs, and this speed shows in the return game as well. Jackson could become a legitimate punt return threat at Syracuse with his broken tackle ability and speed. Jackson has put up many highlight-worthy punt returns in his career and has the vision to see and use the whole field.
The Orange have listed Jackson as a wide receiver, and he projects to fit as a slot receiver in Dino Babers’ spread, up-tempo attack which should put him in line for some crucial mismatches.
College: Notre Dame
Info: 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ranking: No. 1 player in Pa., No. 21 offensive tackle in country
Go ahead and appreciate Kristofic’s tenure at Pine-Richland now, because soon we’re all going to blink and he will have already been in the NFL for five years. Kristofic checks off all the boxes physically to be a great lineman at the next level, and he’s more athletic than he looks (he has two WPIAL Championships in basketball). Kristofic will not be playing basketball this season however, as he plans to enroll early at Notre Dame.
Stats are hard to come by for high school offensive linemen, but Kristofic shined in the team’s Week Zero game against IMG Academy. Facing five-star defensive end Nolan Smith (No. 1 ranked player in the country), Kristofic won more times than he lost as Smith was moved from side to side in an effort to get him away from Kristofic. He is a relentless blocker who has the hands and base to take on defenders one-on-one and he has the athleticism to pull and get out and block downfield on screen passes.
Quarterback, Penn Hills
College: William & Mary
Info: 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, ⭐⭐
Ranking: No. 63 in Pa., No. 134 Quarterback in the country
Hollis Mathis may not have the ceiling of some others on the list. However, no player may impact his program at the next level like the Penn Hills signal caller will. Mathis has been underrated nationally due to having so many talented skill players around him and also may not have the electric arm, as some of his deeper passes float more than zip to their destination. However, Mathis is the perfect quarterback to build around at the next level.
Mathis is a dual-threat quarterback who looks to pass first. His ability to flip his body and set his feet when throwing outside of the pocket is one his more impressive qualities. He can get the ball out of his hands quickly and accurately as a rhythm thrower, and when he gets uptempo and into a rhythm, Mathis can start to pick teams apart. Of course, he also adds the extra dimension of running the football when the play breaks down. Options, motions, and other fakes can help him read the defense pre and post snap and he takes advantage.
The best quality of Mathis is his decision making. He is smart when given these option situations, takes care of the football, and showed poise in leading Penn Hills to their first WPIAL championship since 1995.
Cornerback, Shady Side Academy
College: Western Michigan
Info: 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, ⭐⭐⭐
Ranking: No. 44 player in Pa., No. 216 cornerback in the country
Moore missed most of his sophomore year with an ankle injury and missed the end of his senior year with a fractured ankle. On the field, Moore was dynamic on the offensive side of the ball but will play his college football at Western Michigan on the defensive side of the ball, where he is a much more technically sound player with a high level of athleticism.
Moore lacks significant height, but when watching him play, his physicality in run defense is not going to be an issue. He has the smarts of a former quarterback to anticipate routes and has the quick feet and speed to catch up with shifty slot wide receivers.
Darius Phillips was an unknown recruit heading to Western Michigan and standing at 5-foot-9. Last season Philips was drafted in the fifth round by the Cincinnati Bengals and played in ten games as a rookie. The Broncos probably see the mold of a similar player with Skyy Moore. If Moore can fill those shoes, he will provide a significant impact for a rejuvenated program.
JOEY PORTER, Jr.
Cornerback, North Allegheny
College: Penn State
Info: 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ranking: No. 4 player in Pa., No. 34 ranked cornerback in the country
Joey Porter, Jr. may be the unicorn from this year’s group of WPIAL seniors. He’s all of 6-foot-2 and has the potential to be a standout corner at the next level and beyond. Cornerbacks in college and the NFL are starting to push through the six-foot barrier (think Jalen Ramsey, Richard Sherman and Aqib Talib), and Porter has that kind of makeup. While Sherman was recruited as a receiver to Stanford and Ramsey was a five-star receiving prospect, Porter will come into State College day one as a cornerback. In two seasons, Porter recorded 10 interceptions, seven passes defended and 48 tackles.
Porter loves to use his long arms to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and has the foot speed to keep up with receivers down the field. He keeps an eye on the quarterback and isn’t afraid to leave his man or jump a route to make a play on the ball. You would love to see his top-end speed get a little better, but he is deceptively fast and quick and his length allows him to make plays others can’t.
Especially in the Big Ten, being stout against the run is an important factor for corners, and Porter’s size should allow him to do that, as well.
Wide Receiver, Shady Side Academy
Info: 6-foot, 165 pounds, ⭐⭐⭐
Ranking: No. 25 in PA, No. 159 wide receiver in the country
Dino Tomlin prides himself on being a big play breaker and a game-changer. He can change games on one play with his deep ball abilities. Tomlin averaged 35 yards per catch this season and scored 18 touchdowns combined as a senior. Being the son of an NFL head coach that has produced endless talents at wide receiver, Tomlin has some of the nuances of being a receiver understood at a young age.
Tomlin excels in creating separation at the second level, ball tracking and hauling in contested catches. When you combine that with the track-star speed of a PIAA 300 meters hurdle champion, you have a player who can take the top off, flip field position and change games. He may not be quite Desean Jackson in speed, but as he grows at the next level, he will similarly look to impact games like Jackson.
We considered dozens of players before ultimately settling on a Top 10. Here are the other players that we found worth of serious consideration: Penn Hills WR Dante Cephas, Steel Valley RB/LB Todd Hill, Latrobe C Trent Holler, Pine-Richland OL Michael Katic, Pine-Richland LB Tyler King, Penn Hills RB Terry Smith and South Fayette WR Mike Trimbur.