The overall level of talent in the WPIAL may not be at the massive levels of years and years past, but with Rodney Gallagher and Ta’Mere Robinson in 2023 and now Quinton Martin, Cameron Lindsey, Lamont Payne and Anthony Speca in 2024, there is top-tier talent in the area still.
Martin, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound athlete from Belle Vernon, is one of the most physically imposing players in the WPIAL already, and he’s been ranked as the 12th overall player in the class of 2024 by Rivals. And 247Sports officially rated him as a five-star recruit, checking in as the 14th-ranked recruit in the class.
A lot of top-ranked recruits have emerged from the WPIAL since 2000, which to make everyone feel old, is well before the current recruits were born, so let’s see where Martin’s early rating stacks up with the five-stars of years past in Western Pennsylvania. This list is comprised of former recruits that were ranked as five-star players by 247Sports or Rivals.
Lamont Wade — 2017 five-star cornerback from Clairton
247Sports: 43rd nationally, fifth-ranked cornerback and second-ranked recruit from Pennsylvania
Rivals: 11th nationally, top-ranked cornerback and recruit from Pennsylvania
Former Clairton star Lamont Wade headlined a strong 2017 recruiting class in the WPIAL that included fellow defensive back Paris Ford. Ford may have chosen Pitt, but Wade took his talents out to Penn State to continue his academic and athletic career.
In 47 games (22 starts) at Penn State, Wade recorded 153 tackles (83 solo), 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, an interception, 11 passes defended and four forced fumbles with three recoveries, but he was unable to live up to his lofty high school expectations. Wade signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent following the 2021 NFL Draft, but he was unable to make the 53-man roster in August.
While Wade put together a respectable college career, he was unable to live up to his top-recruit rating.
Miles Sanders — 2016 five-star running back from Woodland Hills
247Sports: 21st nationally, top-ranked running back and recruit from Pennsylvania
Rivals: 39th nationally, top-ranked running back and recruit from Pennsylvania
The consensus top-ranked recruit in Pennsylvania, Sanders sat behind fellow in-state prep star Saquon Barkley after making the jump from Woodland Hills to Penn State.
After playing sparingly through his first two seasons in State College, Sanders emerged as one of the top running backs in the 2019 NFL Draft following a 1,274-yard, nine touchdown season as a junior. The Philadelphia Eagles snapped Sanders up in the second round, and while it’s been a turbulent early portion of his NFL career, it hasn’t been because of a lack of talent.
In three seasons with the Eagles, Sanders has rushed for 2,439 yards and nine touchdowns on 480 attempts and hauled in 864 yards and three touchdowns on 104 receptions — while fighting injuries and a full-time workload.
Robert Foster — 2013 five-star wide receiver from Central Valley
247Sports: 23rd nationally, second-ranked wide receiver and top-ranked recruit from Pennsylvania
Rivals: 46th nationally, fourth-ranked wide receiver and third-ranked recruit from Pennsylvania
Robert Foster spurned both Pitt and Penn State in order to commit to Nick Saban’s Alabama squad in 2013. However, the jump from Monaca to Tuscaloosa didn’t go exactly according to plan.
In three seasons playing at Alabama, Foster recorded 35 receptions for 389 yards and three touchdowns while fighting for playing time with the likes of Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, O.J. Howard. A season-ending injury early in his sophomore season ended a promising start to his career, and he was never able to get back into the lineup.
However, he did win two College Football Playoff national championships, and he made it to the NFL.
In 30 games between 2018-20, Foster caught 32 balls for 642 yards and three touchdowns — including 541 yards and three touchdowns on 27 receptions as a rookie in 2018. He signed a deal with the New York Giants earlier this month.
Dorian Johnson — 2013 five-star offensive tackle from Belle Vernon
247Sports: 44th nationally, fourth-ranked offensive tackle and third-ranked recruit from Pennsylvania
Rivals: 31st nationally, second-ranked offensive tackle and second-ranked recruit from Pennsylvania
The most recent five-star to stay in Pittsburgh, Dorian Johnson committed to Pitt out of Belle Vernon and developed into one of the best offensive linemen in college football during his career.
Johnson made an impact immediately as a true freshman in 2013, and he started every game between 2014-16 as Pitt’s starting left guard. He earned All-ACC honors in 2015 and All-ACC and All-American honors in 2016 — Pitt’s first first-team All-American center since Ruben Brown in 1994.
The Arizona Cardinals selected Johnson in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but after stints with the Cardinals, Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers, he tested his luck in the XFL in 2020.
Johnson is currently a free agent.
Rushel Shell — 2012 five-star running back from Hopewell
247Sports: 32nd nationally, third-ranked running back and second-ranked recruit from the state of Pennsylvania
Rivals: 55th-ranked nationally, sixth-ranked running back and the second-ranked recruit from the state of Pennsylvania
With 9,078 yards and 110 touchdowns at Hopewell, Rushel Shell put together one of the most prolific high school careers ever.
Shell originally committed to Pitt, but after a solid freshman campaign, he transferred to rival West Virginia in an uncommon move between the two schools — which came after a whirlwind transfer process in which head coach Paul Chryst didn’t want Shell back.
Shell ran for 641 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman at Pitt, and after sitting out the 2013 season, he played three seasons in Morgantown. But Shell was never able to take the reins during his time as a Mountaineer.
With 2,010 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground and 341 yards through the air, Shell made an impact in WVU’s backfield, but he wasn’t able to reach the peaks of his high-flying prep career.
After going undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft, Shell signed with the Steelers but didn’t stick. Shell signed with the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL the next year, but his time in Calgary was short.
Dorian Bell — 2009 five-star linebacker from Gateway
247Sports: 20th nationally, second-ranked linebacker and the top-ranked recruit in Pennsylvania
Rivals: 33rd nationally, third-ranked linebacker and the second-ranked recruit in Pennsylvania
To say Dorian Bell’s Ohio State career was turbulent would be an understatement. In the midst of a scandal surrounding selling memorabilia and receiving improper benefits, Bell was suspended the entire 2011 season for multiple reasons.
The former five-star recruit out of Gateway decided to exit Ohio State and return to Pittsburgh, transferring to Duquesne. And it was one of the best decisions he could’ve made.
After redshirting in 2009 and playing very sparingly in 2010, Bell transferred to Duquesne and immediately made an impact. After serving his suspension to begin the 2011 season, Bell served as a key cog in the Dukes’ defense.
In three seasons, he racked up 147 tackles (99 solo), 16 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks — including a 92 tackle (54 solo), 12 tackles for loss, 6.5 sack, three forced fumbles junior season in which he earned FCS All-American honors.
While Bell’s Ohio State career didn’t work out, his Duquesne career was successful. But as a five-star recruit, his potential largely went unfulfilled during his college career.
Terrelle Pryor — 2008 five-star quarterback from Jeannette
247Sports: Second nationally, top-ranked quarterback and recruit from Pennsylvania; 12th overall recruit in site history
Rivals: Top-ranked recruit nationally
Terrelle Pryor originally committed to Pitt… to play basketball under Jamie Dixon. The one-time top-ranked recruit in the country was a two-way star, but he backed off basketball to pursue a football career.
Pryor, who threw for 4,000 yards and ran for 4,000 yards in leading Jeannette to football and basketball state titles, is perhaps the highest-touted recruit to emerge from western Pennsylvania ever, and his eventual decision to commit to Ohio State was one of the most anticipated ever.
Pryor’s subsequent time at Ohio State, while successful personally, is marred by scandal. In three seasons, he threw for 6,177 yards and 57 touchdowns to 26 interceptions while adding 2,164 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground as a premier dual-threat quarterback in college football. Ohio State frequented Big Ten titles and BCS bowls, but a memorabilia scandal led to Jim Tressel’s firing and Pryor’s suspension.
He would leave Ohio State, drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the third round of the 2011 NFL Supplemental Draft, and his NFL career featured many highlights.
In seven NFL seasons, Pryor threw for 1,994 yards and nine touchdowns to 12 interceptions as a starting quarterback, but he emerged as a strong wide receiver later in his career. With the Cleveland Browns in 2016, Pryor caught 77 balls for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns — finishing with 1,563 yards and seven touchdowns on 115 receptions.
He added 646 yards and four touchdowns on the ground — including a 93-yard rush as the Raiders quarterback in 2013 to set an NFL record.
It was an up-and-down career for Pryor, but the former five-star recruit thrived at all levels of football in his playing career.
Jonathan Baldwin — 2008 five-star wide receiver from Aliquippa
247Sports: 13th nationally, fourth-ranked wide receiver and the second-ranked recruit from Pennsylvania
Rivals: 26th nationally, fifth-ranked wide receiver and the second-ranked recruit from Pennsylvania
Jonathan Baldwin put together a solid freshman campaign at Pitt, but it took the arrival of then-Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. (funny how things come full circle) to truly unlock his elite potential.
The five-star recruit out of Aliquippa emerged as Bill Stull’s favorite target in 2009, hauling in 57 passes for 1,111 yards and eight touchdowns. Cignetti and Pitt’s 2009 offense — with Baldwin fueling the passing attack — led Pitt to its first 10 win season in decades.
Despite a junior season that wasn’t quite as dynamic (822 yards and five touchdowns on 53 catches), Baldwin was still selected with the 26th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs.
In three NFL seasons, playing in 33 games with the Chiefs and San Fransisco 49ers, Baldwin caught 44 balls for 607 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite his football success, Baldwin thrived as a three-sport athlete at Aliquippa. He earned Division I offers in basketball and was a star sprinter (breaking the 11-second barrier in the 100-meter dash).
Justin King — 2005 five-star cornerback from Gateway
247Sports: 15th nationally, second-ranked cornerback and the top-ranked recruit from Pennsylvania
Rivals: 19th nationally, top-ranked cornerback and recruit from the state of Pennsylvania
Another former Gateway star, Justin King committed to Penn State and immediately emerged as a two-way player for the Nittany Lions.
As a true freshman, he ran for 227 yards on 18 carries and added 126 yards and two touchdowns on 10 receptions, to go along with 11 tackles as a defensive back. Penn State moved King to a full-time cornerback thereafter, and he racked up 79 tackles (58 solo) and three interceptions over his sophomore and junior seasons.
As a sophomore in 2006, King broke Heisman-winner Troy Smith’s streak of 153 pass attempts without an interception.
After his career at Penn State, King was selected by the St. Louis Rams with a fourth round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. In 40 games with the Rams, Indianapolis Colts and Steelers, he recorded 116 tackles (99 solo), seven tackles for loss, an interception, 11 passes defended and a forced fumble and recovery.
King’s step-father, Terry Smith, is currently an associate head coach at Penn State under James Franklin.
Anthony Morelli — 2004 five-star quarterback from Penn Hills
247Sports: 15th nationally, second-ranked pro-style quarterback and recruit from Pennsylvania
Rivals: 12th nationally, second-ranked pro-style quarterback and top-ranked recruit from Pennsylvania
Anthony Morelli may be a quarterbacks coach now, but at one point, he was one of the most highly-regarded recruits in the country.
After winning the NFL’s Punt, Pass and Kick Competition in 1995, Morelli would go on to star at Penn Hills in the early 2000s. The five-star quarterback originally committed to Pitt, but he flipped his decision and enrolled at Penn State.
After sitting for two seasons in a backup role, he started for the Nittany Lions as a junior and season. He threw for 5,075 yards and 30 touchdowns to 18 interceptions.
Morelli went undrafted in the 2008 NFL Draft, but he signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent. He was cut after the preseason, and his next stint in professional football came with the Milwaukee Iron in the AFL. He also played with the Pittsburgh Iron in the AFL to conclude his playing career.
Cecil Howard — 2001 five-star quarterback from McKeesport
247Sports: 23rd nationally, second-ranked dual-threat quarterback and second-ranked recruit from Pennsylvania
Cecil Howard enrolled at Syracuse as a top-ranked quarterback in the class of 2021, but after redshirting as a freshman, he found himself looking for a new home once again.
Howard spent a week at Youngstown State before deciding to transfer again, this time to Northeastern in Boston. However, he wouldn’t last long at Northeastern either and found himself at Division II California University (Pa.).
Marlin Jackson — 2001 five-star cornerback from Sharon
247Sports: 33rd nationally, third-ranked cornerback and recruit from Pennsylvania
Marlin Jackson committed to Michigan as a five-star defensive back out of Sharon, and he developed into a premier cornerback in college football.
Jackson racked up 195 tackles (147 solo), 13 tackles for loss, two sacks, nine interceptions, 34 passes defended, five forced fumbles and two recoveries and two blocked kicks. As a senior, he earned All-American honors.
Following four seasons at Michigan, Jackson was selected with the 29th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts.
In 56 games with the Colts, Jackson racked up 291 tackles (224 solo), seven tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, four interceptions, 15 passes defended, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Honorable mentions, by decade:
Aliquippa’s Cameron Lindsey, Laurel Highland’s Rodney Gallagher, Brashear’s Ta’Mere Robinson, Gateway’s Derrick Davis Jr., Central Catholic’s Elliot Donald, Mars Area’s Michael Carmody
Pine-Richland’s Phil Jurkovec, Central Catholic’s CJ Thorpe, Steel Valley’s Paris Ford, North Allegheny’s Josh Lugg, Central Catholic’s Damar Hamlin, Central Valley’s Jordan Whitehead, University Prep’s Marcus Johnson, Aliquippa’s Dravon Askew-Henry, North Allegheny’s Patrick Kugler, Clairton’s Tyler Boyd, Oil City’s Ben Koyack, McKeesport’s Delvon Simmons, Woodland Hills’ Lafayette Pitts, Fox Chapel’s Miles Dieffenbach, Penn Hills’ Cullen Christian, Sto-Rox’s Paul Jones
Gateway’s Corey Brown, Thomas Jefferson’s Lucas Nix, Gateway’s Shayne Hale, Trinity’s Andrew Sweat, Montour’s Christian Wilson, Coatesville Area’s Derrick Morgan, Central Catholic’s Stefen Wisniewski, Woodland Hills’ Rob Gronkowski, Valley’s Toney Clemons, West Allegheny’s Dorin Dickerson, Woodland Hills’ Darrin Walls, Franklin’s Nate Byham, Vincentian’s Elijah Fields, McDowell’s Kyle Mitchum, Valley’s Greg Harrison, North Hills’ Andrew Johnson, Beaver Area’s Rory Nicol, Cornell’s A.Q. Shipley, Woodland Hills’ Ryan Mundy, Valley’s Greg Harrison, North Hills’ Andrew Johnson, West Allegheny’s Tyler Palko, Woodland Hills’ Brian Borgoyn, Cathedral Prep’s Charles Rush, Thomas Jefferson’s Tyler Reed and Belle Vernon’s Scott McClintock