Last WPIAL title-winning team following Prexies closely
There’s a 10-year reunion for the Washington High School Class of 2002 at Jose’s Sports Bar & Party Center Friday that might not be all that crowded, especially for its 7 p.m. start.
That’s because the current Wash High football team will be playing Aliquippa at 5 p.m. the same day for the WPIAL Class AA title at Heinz Field, and several members of the school’s last championship team will be ditching the reunion to travel to Pittsburgh to watch their beloved Prexies.
“It says it starts at 7, so I’ll probably be late to it, I’m sure. But I’d rather see the game,” said 2002 graduate P.J. Hughes, who was a senior lineman on that 2001 team that beat Beaver Falls for the WPIAL title and Pen Argyl to finish 15-0 and win PIAA gold.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Hughes said only 18 people had RSVP’d for the event, hardly a shocking total given the Prexie Pride flowing through Washington these days.
“It’s a Washington thing,” said Dale Calloway, a wide receiver and defensive back for the 2001 team. “Everyone who graduated from Wash High supports the team. I like that about our town.”
Much of that pride, former players contacted for this story said, comes from how much they invested into their own careers.
“Football was our life in high school for most of the guys I know,” former guard Coury Miles said. “We worked hard. And we pretty much did it year-round. We’re excited to see them putting in that same effort.”
For Calloway, who has attended seven games this season, including all three so far in the playoffs, that has meant leaving his job as a laborer at Ensinger Inc., a plastic factory in the Meadow Lands, early before stopping home to eat and heading to the game.
Calloway even works a second job at the Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store at Tanger Outlets, but he specifically requests to have Friday nights off so he can watch Wash High.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had a team this good,” Calloway said. “Honestly, 2001. It’s really got the town excited. Everyone is getting behind them. It’s what we do in Washington.”
Former players watching this year’s team can’t help but gush about running back Shai McKenzie, who’s the WPIAL’s top rusher with 2,656 yards and 41 touchdowns, but giving one back so many carries wasn’t what Wash High did back then under head coach Guy Montecalvo.
The Prexies’ double-slot, multi-motion offense put the ball in several backs’ hands in 2001, most notably Travis Thomas, Vontey Johnson, J.R. Ward, Bryan Cherry and Javon Washington.
“That 2001 team was one that was very much running-back-by-committee,” Montecalvo said. “And it wasn’t just two or three; it was five.”
One similarity that Montecalvo noticed when he watched Wash High beat South Fayette, 26-14, this past Friday in the WPIAL Class AA semifinals was the Prexies’ offensive line play.
And he was impressed.
“I watched the interior line play, and I was very impressed with the way they were moving people up front, the diversity of their schemes. They’re coming off the ball with flat backs and rolling their hips, the way they run their feet, all the essential, fundamental elements of good offensive line play,” Montecalvo said. “Those kids up front have a lot to be proud of.”
Ward deals poker at The Meadows and watched the Prexies beat Jeannette, 18-15, in Week 5. Count him among the believers in Wash High’s defense, led by linebacker Jaylin Kelly.
“Jeannette was a team that even back when I played, they were able to put up a lot of points,” Ward said. “Everybody talks about McKenzie and how great of a back he is, but nobody talks about how good their defense is.
“Jaylin Kelly, man, he’s a beast.”
Former quarterback Justin Gregula, who recently transitioned from pharmaceutical sales to the oil/natural gas industry, has listened to every game this season on the radio with his dad, Joseph.
After a few down years, it’s been nice for Gregula to see – and hear – the Prexies competing for what would be their seventh WPIAL title.
“This team has earned their trip to Heinz,” Gregula said. “Not that we didn’t, but I think this team has gone through some adversity. They certainly deserve to be there.
“It’s like a breath of fresh air, to be honest with you. Wash High has always had a good tradition, and we’ve been waiting to see that next team that would make a name for itself.”