McDONALD – Brett Brumbaugh walks into a meeting room at South Fayette Stadium wearing a gray Under Armour T-shirt and black athletic shorts.
Though his 6-4 frame is anything but ordinary, the record-setting quarterback is looking like every other senior preparing for his final high school football camp. He bounces a blue rubber ball on the carpeted floor and takes a seat.
Conversations about recruiting attention are deflected toward his new goal: keeping the PIAA Class AA title at South Fayette High School.
Being the only quarterback to lead South Fayette to a state football title has not changed his relaxed demeanor and personable nature. He talks about the attention he received when returning from Hershey with the state championship, but reiterates those days are in the past.
Brumbaugh has done everything in his power to move forward. The state title ring is nowhere to be seen. It only makes public appearances for photo shoots with local newspapers or team banquets. The highlight reel for the 2013 season is over.
His goal is to avoid the attention and outside pressure. While his wide smile became distinguished around the community with good wishes and daily compliments, Brumbaugh did not avoid the public eye. The Division I recruit stocked produce and bagged groceries at Shop ’n Save and Giant Eagle this summer.
He was forced to quit the part-time gig for the job he has been working toward the past four years: winning football games in the classic green and white South Fayette uniforms on Friday nights.
Though his two top receivers are gone, Brumbaugh has no intentions of slowing down as he approaches the WPIAL’s all-time passing mark.
“It’s exciting because we get to come back after last year’s great season, and it’s exciting because there are a lot of new faces who are going to be out on the field this season,” Brumbaugh said. “It’s like starting over almost. Instead of all the chemistry we built up last year, we have to start over with all the new players who come in. That makes it more fun and more exciting to get back out there.”
The rise of South Fayette football in 2013 was one for the history books. Brumbaugh completed 69 percent of his passes for a WPIAL-record 3,897 yards and 41 touchdowns. His top target, receiver Justin Watson, broke the WPIAL single-season receiving mark and the Lions went on a perfect 16-0 run through Class AA.
The offense averaged almost 45 points per game and was the most prolific the WPIAL has seen in years. Brumbaugh was named the Class AA Player of the Year by the Pennsylvania Football Writers and also was honored as the Observer-Reporter Player of the Year and O-R Male Athlete of the Year.
For someone who would not have played quarterback if it weren’t for an injury to Watson in eighth grade, Brumbaugh’s plight might have been different. Lions head coach Joe Rossi lauds Brumbaugh for his football acumen and ability to motivate each member of the South Fayette team.
“When you have No. 7 back there, you know you have a chance to win every game,” Rossi said. “There were a lot of leaders on the team, but leadership on an offense starts with the quarterback. When he comes into the huddle, he demands respect. Obviously, he has proven to his teammates and earned their respect.”
Brumbaugh admits that his biggest flaw as an underclassman was his inability to shake off the frustrating nature of the quarterback position. The success of the team rests on a quarterback’s ability to put points on the scoreboard. Turnovers are magnified. While he used to throw his helmet in frustration, he now maintains his composure with the swagger of a college veteran.
His teammates have noticed. Though the Lions’ offense shattered record books, their defense was the heart and soul of a team that rolled through the competition. The group allowed just over eight points per game and opposing quarterbacks averaged just 4.2 yards per completion.
The leader of the defense, senior J.J. Walker, led the team with 159 tackles and doubled as a tailback with Brumbaugh in the backfield. After South Fayette’s defense stopped its opponent to give Brumbaugh the ball back, it did not take long for Walker to become accustomed to a quick touchdown pass from No. 7.
“At the beginning, I was surprised seeing him make the plays he did,” Walker said. “But after that, I expected it to happen. You’d stop the other offense and ours would score pretty fast. Every play seemed to be a long touchdown.”
He threw a first quarter interception against Aliquippa in the WPIAL Class AA title game and bounced back to execute a fourth-quarter game-winning drive. Against Karns City in the PIAA quarterfinals, a pick-six in the first quarter led to a three-touchdown assault that began minutes later.
“Starting my freshman year, when I’d make a mistake, I’d think it was the end of the world,” Brumbaugh said. “I’d throw my helmet and get pouty like a little baby. As the season went on, I got older and realized mistakes are going to happen. You can’t get too down on yourself or your teammates will see that.”
His 818 passing yards and eight touchdown passes during the PIAA playoffs were capped by a 41-0 state title victory over heavily favored Imhotep Charter of Philadelphia. With countless records in tow, many predicted Pitt and West Virginia coaches to be staking out the Brumbaugh residence to grab the WPIAL’s latest big-armed quarterback.
Both went in another direction. Instead, Brumbaugh has scholarship offers from Akron, Temple and Albany. As college football evolves from a game of pocket passing quarterbacks modeled after Peyton Manning to a spread-happy system in the mold of Robert Griffin III, statistics and wins haven’t been enough to earn Brumbaugh a shot at the BCS level, yet.
“You try to tell college coaches that he’s a winner,” Rossi said. “He’s only lost two games in his career and has a tremendous amount of wins. That’s his forte. He has a big, strong arm. College football is tough right now. Everyone wants a kid who can run, but he’s going to find himself a place and we’ll figure it out from there.”
He is not giving up on his dream of playing big time college football.
Brumbaugh believes that proving he can repeat his video game-like passing numbers with a new, unproven group of receivers will draw the attention of coaches who had their doubts. His and South Fayette’s bid for a repeat begins Friday at home against East Allegheny.
The top new target will be senior Roman Denson, who sealed the Lions’ win over Aliquippa with a fourth-quarter interception. Coming off an ankle injury, Denson is excited about filling Watson’s shoes. Having Brumbaugh throwing precise back-shoulder throws in summer workouts is only the beginning.
“It’s definitely fun working with him,” Denson said. “He knows how to command the huddle and execute. His level of intelligence on the field and talent make you better. He knows how to get serious and is a fun guy to be around. He makes it fun, and it’s incredible what he can do.”
Brumbaugh has been counting down to the start of his final season since the Lions left Hershey with gold medals around their necks and a championship trophy to take back home. Brumbaugh recalls being a young kid watching Lions players of the past capture the attention of a community starved for a football championship.
“Friday nights are one of those feelings you can’t describe,” Brumbaugh said. “You see the entire community. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, the place is packed. It’s something I never want to lose.”
As college recruiting websites break down his flaws, such as lack of mobility, Brumbaugh did not just spend the offseason making sure Giant Eagle’s customers were satisfied. He broke down his mechanics and worked on quickening his release of the football.
Brumbaugh will do anything to continue silencing the critics, who thought he’d never live up to his brother Christian’s accomplishment as the quarterback who won the program’s first WPIAL Class AA title in 2010. SF won a WPIAL Class A championship in 1964.
“It’s motivating. You look at it and think that you did something better than they thought, but at the same time, you can’t really read into it too much because you have to worry about getting ready for the season,” Brumbaugh said. “I’m still focused on getting recruited and get noticed, but with the season starting, all I want to do is win and get back to Hershey.”
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Brumbaugh by the numbers
Height: 6-4Weight: 200Position: QB2013 statistics:Passing yards – 3,917Attempts – 379Completions – 260Passing TD – 41Yards per attempt – 10.9Completion percentage – 69Scholarship offers – Akron, Temple, Albany