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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Ranking the Dynasty: Where do the ’23 Rollers stack up in the long and storied winning legacy at Steel-High?

Alex Erby has been around the block a round or two. He knows how to answer a less-than-stellar postgame question.

The Steel-High record-setting quarterback had just completed an undefeated season Thursday afternoon with a commanding individual performance as part of a complete domination across the board of WPIAL champion Fort Cherry.

It was the Rollers’ second consecutive PIAA Class 1A title and third in four years with Erby as the signal caller.

Erby, a United States Naval Academy commit, was asked – unfairly, because the premise of the question is flawed – where this team stacks up in the long and storied winning legacy at Steel-High.

Essentially, is this team the best ever?

First, the answer is an emphatic no! If you were around 30-40 years ago and remember when Steel-High played football as part of the Mid-Penn Conference Division I starting in 1982 when the conference formed with 27 schools for football, there are several teams from that era that stood above the rest.

Those Mid-Penn I teams competed against the big dogs, including Harrisburg and Cumberland Valley. And the Rollers not only held their own, they were one of the teams at the top of the food chain on a fairly consistent basis.

That was a different era. Times have changed dramatically in the tiny hamlets of Steelton and Highspire.

The real question to answer: is this the best Steel-High team in the modern football era, competing as a Class 1A school?

Erby, smarter and more savvy than most, knew exactly what to say.

“This puts (our team) in the conversation with guys like Jordan Hill and Jordan Smith, all those guys right there. They won in ‘07 and ‘08 … to put our names with the likes of those guys is great,” Erby said. “It’s truly amazing. Those guys are legends at Steel-High.”

He is 100% right.

This does put them in that conversation, and history will remember him as one of those legends, as well.

Going back 15 years, and for argument’s sake, let’s call this the modern era of Steel-High football, the Rollers have won five state titles at the PIAA Class 1A level since 2007.

Which one of these five championship teams is the best in the modern era?

Let’s narrow it down to the 2008 and 2023 Rollers squads for starters. The second state title victory for each team was built on elite talent and veteran savvy blending to form an unstoppable machine.

Both finished 16-0 and featured a plethora of high-end players who for the most part went both ways.

The late Rob Deibler’s 2008 squad had a quartet of uber elite players, Jordan Hill, Jordan Smith, Andre Campbell and Jeremiah Young. Andrew Erby’s 2023 version had a similar quartet in Alex Erby, Jaeion Perry, Ronald Burnette and Amari Williams.

In that respect the team are eerily similar in how they won two in a row.

In my 30-plus years of covering high school football in Pennsylvania, all I know is Alex Erby is one of the 10 best quarterbacks I have ever seen. Jeremiah Young was one of the Top 10 running backs I watched play, and Jordan Hill is inside my Top 10 of most complete two-way interior players.

This is all classifications over 30-plus years. They are each one of the best of the best at their positions.

A big difference for me between the 2008 and 2023 team was the level of competition. The 2007-2008 champions were part of the four PIAA classifications era. The playing field was simply deeper at the state level back then. It was a harder minefield to navigate in those days.

Having said that, I would have enjoyed watching this 2023 team navigate its way through the Class 1A field in that era. They’d stack up pretty darn good.

Because let’s be honest, what this 2023 Rollers team did during this state playoff run was show they were of a completely different class than the rest of the field. And that’s a testament to the players and their coaches.

One final point of parliamentary procedure in a debate where any answer isn’t necessarily the right or wrong one: I would dearly love to see the 2023 Steel-High offense play four quarters against the 2008 Steel-High defense. That, folks, is modern Rollers football nirvana right there.

Your reward for sticking with me until the end is the 2008 Rollers are the modern era kingpin in my book. I contemplated the co-champions route, but you deserve my honest answer – backed into a corner I might add.

My reason is a tougher and more level Class 1A playing field made the month-long grind to a perfect season for that 2008 squad somewhat of a minor miracle. The 2008 squad beat the likes of Susquehanna Township, CD East and the Camp Hill Lions twice to complete a perfect regular season and win the District 3 title.

Then they had to overcome Bishop McCort, Schuylkill Haven and Clairton in the state playoffs to run it back for the second year in a row. The only loss for each of those teams was Steel-High.

And comparing apples to apples, I think the 2023 team would have matched up well against all three of those teams from the 2008 state playoff run. Winning was very difficult for the ‘08 squad, and this 2023 team would have faced the same long odds but with the tools and pieces to make it happen.

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