Through the worn black doors and metal detectors is a rotunda-style lobby with team photos — some faded, others new — covering the red brick walls.
To the right, a brown and gold bear statue commands the room, guarding a trophy case that covers the entire wall. Above the middle archway, an unassuming sign reads: “Between these columns pass some of the finest men, women and children in America.”
Welcome to Clairton Middle/High School, where the legend of Lamont Wade was born.
Wade, an early enrollee, five-star cornerback eyeing serious minutes in his first season at Penn State, has the game — and confidence — to back up the hype. His high school record-breaking talent will be on display at Saturday’s Blue-White Game, but Wade’s former coaches and teammates grew up with it.
They know it better than anyone.
“He doesn’t strive to just be a part of it all,” Clairton assistant coach John DeMarco said. “He wants to be great.”
Wade was an influence on the field and a friend when it mattered most — and the Bears of Clairton don’t see that changing any time soon.
Winning, at anything, seems to be a theme with Wade.
The Friday night before youth football games, Kijafi Fukua stayed at his cousin Wade’s house. The two would stay up late, snack heavily and play Madden until their fingers hurt.
Fukua always picked the Steelers, and Wade — for unknown reasons — chose the Texans. But Wade’s pick always worked.
“I could never beat Lamont,” Fukua said, grinning and rolling his eyes. “It’s always something. He always has a step on somebody.”
A kid with incredible capacity to learn, Wade was obsessed with football at a young age. At 4 years old, Wade separated Legos by color into two teams and mimicked the game, and a year later, he actually started to play.
And he was good right away.
“He was always the cream of the crop, whether it was the 5-year-old twerp or 7- and 8-year-old termite league,” said Remondo Williams, an assistant at Clairton since 2003. “He’s always been noticeable.”
Wade played Pee-Wee football with Fukua and many more future teammates since the youth football program in Clairton feeds into the middle school and eventually high school teams.
That consistency has helped breed success for Clairton, a program that’s won the WPIAL title nine times since 2006. The Bears also won the PIAA Championship four years in a row from 2009-12 thanks to a 66-game winning streak — at the time, the longest active run in American high school football.
The streak lasted 1,471 days, and was snapped in Wade’s freshman season.
After players like current Cincinnati Bengals wideout Tyler Boyd moved on, there were plenty skeptical that the Bears could rebound.
“A lot of people said, ‘There’s not much left at Clairton. They’re not going to do that again,’” said Wayne Wade, Lamont’s cousin and Clairton’s head coach. “But guys like Lamont said otherwise, and then proved it.”
Wade, a ball boy for the 2008 team, eventually did his part, leading the Bears to a 51-5 record over his four years with three consecutive WPIAL championships — as a sophomore, junior and senior. The two-time captain finished his career with 7,079 rushing yards (third in WPIAL history), 117 touchdowns (WPIAL record) and 14 interceptions.
In short, Wade was fun to cheer for — and a nightmare to watch.
“Anytime he touches the ball,” Wayne Wade said, “it can change the game.”
No game better exemplified that uncanny trait than Clairton’s historic matchup with Aliquippa last season.
A “clash of titans,” as Wayne Wade called it, the game was between WPIAL’s finest. Aliquippa has the most wins and titles in conference history, and Clairton is second in both categories.
However, the schools faced off only twice before — Aliquippa won in 1930 and Clairton was victorious in 1931. The eight-decade hiatus was because the teams were in different classes but, after the PIAA moved from four to six football classifications in August, the chance to face each other became a possibility.
Now, it was about winning.
On Sept. 30, after routing Imani Christian Academy 48-6, the Bears celebrated for a few minutes in the visitors’ locker room — until Lamont spoke up.
“Y’all know who we’ve got now,” Lamont said, according to his teammates, with Aliquippa next on the schedule. “It’s game time. We’ve got to focus up because we’re not losing. We cannot lose this game.”
That night, Lamont and a handful of teammates went to their home locker room at Neil C. Brown Stadium. Wade cued up film on Hudl, broke it down for each guy there, and led the meeting.
He did that every night leading up to their matchup with the Quips.
“He was telling every position what to do in order for us to win,” junior wide receiver Devlin Clifford said. “The player-coach. That’s Lamont.”
All that week, Wade fulfilled the “coach” end of that title — and on Friday, Oct. 1, he had no problem holding up the other end of it.
Wade had six touchdowns (four rushing and two passing) and a pair of interceptions. He tallied 259 yards on the ground — his scoring runs went 73, 60, 70, and 46 yards — and the first interception was a one-handed grab that shifted the momentum of the game.
Clairton demolished Aliquippa 52-16, and Wade was the primary reason why.
“He just went crazy,” Clifford recalled. “He won us the game.”
Wade still had to follow through on one more thing. He promised his starting offensive linemen that if Clairton beat Aliquippa, he’d take them out to eat.
IHop it was.
“He didn’t have to do that,” junior offensive tackle Justin Davenport said. “Not everyone’s like that.”
But that’s the way it was with Lamont; he had those values instilled in him by a large, supportive family. His parents both graduated from college, and so did most of his uncles and aunts.
Unfortunately in Clairton, that’s not the norm. The former steel-mill town is ravaged by unemployment, crime and poverty.
“Some of the kids falter in a city like Clairton,” Wayne Wade said. “They don’t have that support. They may be growing up in a single-parent home, or they might only have a grandma.”
Added DeMarco: “The key around here is keeping them involved.”
And in his time at Clairton, Lamont did his part to help out.
Within his family, Wade was a mentor to Fukua. Wade’s cousin said just watching him work was enough to convince someone to follow what he was doing.
“It was real inspirational because he’s my bigger cousin and he’s doing big things,” Fukua said. “He’s on the right path, and a lot of people in our family don’t go down the right path.”
Davenport felt the same kinship. He’s not blood-related, but the offensive lineman considers Wade a key part of his family.
Davenport recalled one day his sophomore year when he he felt the pangs of hunger and thirst and put his head in his hands. Wade spotted the scene, and then bought him food.
In the words of Davenport, Wade “took me under his wing.”
“I still look up to him as a big brother,” he said. “That hit me, that he would do that for me.”
Today, Davenport, Fukua and Clifford are trying to repay Wade in their own way. He taught the trio to be leaders, and that’s what they’re doing.
Wade racked up yards, touchdowns and interceptions in his time at Clairton. He earned the accolades, took down Aliquippa, and ultimately, landed at Penn State.
Wayne Wade believes in a year or two the Big Ten will recognize Lamont Wade.
But, in Clairton, everyone already knows who he is.