Some 16-year-olds are awkward, immature and just hoping to get through high school. Others, like Phil Jurkovec, of Pine-Richland High School, are fielding full-ride collegiate offers from Pitt, Penn State, Ohio State (sorry THE Ohio State), Notre Dame, Michigan State, UCLA, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Temple. OK, so it won’t be Temple. But most other kids aren’t like Jurkovec. Right now the Gibsonia teen is in 10th grade, but in 2018, he will be on the national stage.
He is the most highly sought football recruit in Western Pennsylvania since Jeannette’s Terrell Pryor (who went to, and was later kicked out of, THE Ohio State University for swapping autographs for tattoos).
Just imagine that many people being interested in you. At 16, I had only two offers. One was a job mowing the neighbor’s lawn for 10 dollars in beer money. The other was to find another job if I refused the first offer. But I wasn’t a high school quarterback who threw for 2,560 yards and 20 touchdowns. Jurkovec also ran for 1,250 yards and 10 more touchdowns. He now has sleazy college recruiters hanging all over him trying to out-scheme their rivals for a piece of him. He is already 6’5” and 195 pounds and, presumably, still growing. Plus he’s a pretty good power forward on the Pine-Richland Rams hoops team. I bet he’s also smart, funny, handsome and a good dancer.
Talent, hard work and environment also contribute to this phenomenon. Pine-Richland is a breeding ground for success. The school is just one of those institutions that is good at everything. In 2006, it won state titles in women’s soccer, volleyball and gymnastics. The men chipped in with state titles in baseball and doubles tennis. The 2006 women’s soccer team featured a junior named Meghan Klingenberg. She went on to play at the University of North Carolina and was drafted straight into the pros. In 2015, she was a key member of the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team that won the World Cup. Klingenberg played every game in the tournament. Eight years after eating her lunch in the school cafeteria, she was in New York City riding in a ticker-tape parade. The women’s team broke the tradition of having big parades only for men’s teams. After that, the former Ram found herself being honored with her teammates at the White House and meeting President Obama.
Two superstars would be enough acclaim for Pine-Richland, but as you probably know, Neil Walker went there too — the good “Pittsburgh Kid,” as opposed to the other one, Paul Spadafora. Unlike Spadafora, Walker has never been caught on camera allegedly throwing a 63-year-old woman to the ground. The former Pirate and current Met is making almost $11 million this year to play a game. Walker is a solid major-league player and is rapidly closing in on 100 career home runs. I know, it still hurts; we all miss him.
Pine-Richland also has produced a Tony Award-winning choreographer in Jeff Calhoun, and sent a man into space. Stephen Frick, a 1982 graduate, is the Howard Wolowitz of Pine-Richland. If I were him, I’d mention being in space every opportunity I got. Besides being a captain in the U.S. Navy, Frick was an F/A-18 Fighter pilot (that sounds so cool) and has flown two space-shuttle missions. Thanks to Frick, Pine-Richland has even been represented on the International Space Station.
Even Lord Stanley himself has a connection to the school. Brandon Saad has had his name on the Stanley Cup twice. Saad played a key role in two Cup-winning teams with the Chicago Blackhawks. He recently participated in his first NHL All-Star game, and now plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He is currently experiencing culture shock going from Chicago to the center of Ohio. But his big fat contract probably eases the pain.
The nation’s top football recruit, a world-champion soccer player, a Silver Slugger, a Tony-award winner, an astronaut and a hockey all-star. Even more impressive, there are 77 other high schools in Pennsylvania with more students than Pine-Richland. Check out any of Pine-Richland’s sporting events currently going on now. I don’t know what they are, but I’m sure they are good.