THE STO-ROX VIKINGS storm onto the field prior to the start of their game against Union, Sept. 6. (Photos by Courier photographer Will McBride)
by Smokin’ Jim Frazier, For New Pittsburgh Courier
“The Greatest Show On Turf” was a nickname for the high-flying, record-breaking offense of the St. Louis Rams during the 1999, 2000 and 2001 NFL seasons, one of which culminating in a Super Bowl win.
The high-scoring Sto-Rox Vikings certainly qualifies for this nickname.
The Vikings led the WPIAL last year by averaging 41 points a game, but that was on a slow, natural grass home field.
To the surprise of some, the decision to replace the grass at Sto-Rox’s Memorial Stadium with artificial turf was met with little resistance.
With the help of the community, a group of alumni and the Pittsburgh Steelers, enough money was raised for the brand new synthetic playing surface.
The total cost of the new field was $720,000, raised in about three years. What took the fundraising over the top was a $250,000 grant provided to the Sto-Rox School District by the Steelers, approved in late February. The state of Pennsylvania also pitched in with $100,000 towards the new field, which hadn’t been resurfaced in more than 40 years.
“It’s more than just a field,” second-year Vikings head coach LaRoi Johnson told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “It’s more than just some lines and some numbers on it. I think it represents hope to the community and where this community plans on going.”
Johnson was a former football and basketball star at Peabody High School and California University of Pennsylvania. A 2003 Peabody graduate, he had an eight-year professional football career in the Indoor/Arena League. He is considered an offensive genius and a quarterback guru.
Prior to being named head coach at Sto-Rox on Feb. 22, 2018, Johnson was the impressive offensive coordinator at Imani Christian Academy in East Hills.
Johnson has coached and developed five different quarterbacks that all passed for over 2,000 yards in a single season: Akill Young, University Prep (2012); Ronald Brown, University Prep (2013-2014); Shawn Rutherford, University Prep (2015); Tawan Wesley Imani, Christian Academy (2017); Eric Wilson, Sto-Rox (2018).
To develop a team, Johnson says he relies on good assistant coaches, parents, community and a deep network that includes former Steeler and Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes.
“We brought Santonio in and he understands where the kids are coming from. He speaks the language. He can explain it in a way that’s advantageous for the kids,” Johnson said. “When you coach, it’s about trying to get guys opportunities and I say it all the time. They don’t pay me to coach because coaching is easy; they pay me to get guys into college and that’s my number one goal.”
While recent history hasn’t been as successful, the Sto-Rox program has produced plenty of talented quarterbacks over the years, such as Chuck Fusina (Penn State); Jody Dickerson (Michigan State); Adam DiMichael (Temple); Paul Jones (Penn State); and Lenny Williams (Temple).
Wilson was the first quarterback in WPIAL history to pass for more than 3,000 yards in the regular season when he threw for 3,003 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2018. He has as much potential as any player in the WPIAL. The senior quarterback earned a bevy of preseason acclaim.
“Coach Fran (LaRoi Johnson) came in last year and he built the foundation. He changed the culture around and got us to really believing in ourselves and got us to believe in his system,” Wilson told the Courier. “I took on the role to lead my team and now that we got it going in the right direction, so now there’s no excuses to go and win the WPIAL championship and the state championship.”
Amahd Pack has not been recruited heavily by major colleges, but you’ll have trouble finding a better high school player in the WPIAL. Despite being double-teamed frequently, he still caught 59 passes for 1,352 yards and scored 22 touchdowns. He and Wilson, the Sto-Rox quarterback, make for one of the best pass-catch combinations in the WPIAL.
“I’m hoping to go to college, a good college and I have worked on getting bigger and faster,” Pack said. “My mom has always been there for me. She don’t let me slack and makes sure I get up and go to practice.”
It’s only been three games so far this year, but Pack is emerging as a possible star on the Vikings football squad.
Heck, the entire Vikings team is on the rise. Sto-Rox finished the 2017 season at 3-8, and averaging 17 points per game, to Johnson’s arrival as head coach last season and boosting the team’s record to 6-4 and a WPIAL-best 41 points per contest. Thus far in 2019, the Vikings are undefeated (3-0), defeating South Side Beaver (32-21), Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (34-6), and Union (43-8) in its most recent contest, Friday, Sept. 6.
Sto-Rox will play at Cornell this Friday, Sept. 13, then host Chartiers-Houston on Sept. 20. Their remaining opponents are Northgate, Rochester, Bishop Canevin, Laurel and Imani Christian on Sto-Rox’s new home turf, Oct. 25.
Sto-Rox’s plethora of speedy returning players and early season success has the community thinking championship. Their seniors know too well how difficult it is to make the playoffs and how challenging it is to stay there. “The change was different from last year to this year,” said up-and-coming player and senior Jaidon Berry. “New coach, new playbook, couple new players. But during the offseason, we got together and got some chemistry and took it a long way, we expect to be good this year.”
A dream WPIAL Class 1A championship matchup would be Sto-Rox vs. historic powerhouse Clairton. Now that would be the “Greatest Show On Turf.”
Follow @NewPghCourier on Twitter https://twitter.com/NewPghCourier