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B.J. McBryde

B.J. McBryde (Steve Slade/UConn Athletics)

BEAVER FALLS, PA — When Beaver Falls High School Football Coach Ryan Matsook learned that two of his former players recently inked free agent deals to play in the National Football League, the 10-year head coach said he felt like a proud papa – knowing that two of his prized pupils had

made it to the holy grail of professional football – the NFL.

B.J. McBryde, of the University of Connecticut and Todd Thomas, a University of Pittsburgh standout, both signed contracts to enter the NFL ranks just one day after the annual 2015 NFL Draft (April 30) had concluded. Although both players hoped to be drafted as one of the 256 players selected during the four-day draft session, the free agency signing is still a very significant measure of attaining superior talent to sign onto the illustrious professional association. McBryde signed as a defensive lineman with the Philadelphia Eagles and Thomas, a linebacker, signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. McBryde is listed as 6-5, 304 and Thomas is 6-2, 240.

Both McBryde (whose real name is Ronald) and Thomas played youth sports together in the competitive Beaver Falls youth programs, AAU sports, and were successful basketball players who played on the 2010 team that knocked-off perennial WPIAL power Jeannette High School, a year after being upstaged by Jeannette teams in football and basketball — teams that featured former Ohio State blue chipper Terrelle Pryor who was later drafted as a quarterback by the Oakland Raiders.

In addition to his football exploits, Thomas was a standout track star and an All-State basketball player. He was named Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Male Athlete of the Year for 2008-09.

Todd Thomas

Todd Thomas (Photo courtesy of University of Pittsburgh)

According to Matsook, the signings of McBryde and Thomas is a major boon for a small town with a dwindling population – like so many Western Pa. cities void of steel-mill industry pay checks once so prevalent, prior to the early 1980s.

“We’re very proud of both of them. For “Toddy” (Thomas’ nickname) we kind of figured he was destined for this level of success,” said the coach. “He’s always been a very successful athlete, even as a youngster,” said Matsook. Barry Cox, a star WPIAL running back at Center High School now Central Valley High School, and Eastern Kentucky University, served as an assistant coach in the Beaver Falls program from 2005-2010. He observed both prospects during their formative years in the middle school ranks. Like Matsook, Cox recalls Thomas as a bonafide “stud” and McBryde as more of a “sleeper success story.”

“BJ always had the frame, but since going to college, his whole physique has developed tremendously,” said Matsook. “They’ve both worked really hard and deserve this honor,” said the coach. Both players remain connected with Matsook, and train at Beaver Falls high school facilities said the coach. Matsook also noted Chris Elkins, another Beaver Falls player who signed with the Steelers last year. Elkins, a guard, played college ball at Youngstown State University and was a member of teams with McBryde and Thomas.

Cox, a candidate for both the Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame and WPIAL Sports Hall of Fame, said he was courted by the Canadian Football League following a collegiate career shortened by injuries. He played professionally with armed services leagues, he said. “These signings are quite significant for Beaver Falls and the entire Beaver County,” said Cox. “I recall working with the guys over at the Joe Namath Practice Complex at 15th Street Playground. It’s rewarding to see how their hard work has paid off. It’s very timely to hear positive stories about young black men – they are certainly good examples.”

McBryde, 23, is the son of Ronald and Brenda McBryde, while Thomas, 24 is the son of Jodie Thomas-Brown and Lionel Craft, according to University of Pittsburgh athletic department records.

While Aliquippa has enjoyed continued success in sending players to the NFL, from Mike Ditka to current Super Bowl champion defensive back Darrelle Revis, Matsook said his new signees are following the long legacy of Beaver Falls Tigers like Joe Willie Namath (New York Jets), Dwight Collins (Minnesota Vikings), Mike Langston Sr. (Dallas Cowboys), Glenn Dennison (New York Jets) and the late Jim “Bucky” Mutscheller, a wide receiver who played in the NFL’s legendary “Greatest Game” with the Baltimore Colts in 1958. Mutscheller died on April 10 at age 85 in Towson, Maryland, in suburban Baltimore.

Langston Sr. noted that he too recently worked with both prospects and “feels they have necessary potential” to make the grade. “I wish them both success,” said Langston Sr., a former Arizona State University defensive lineman drafted in the second round of the 1983 NFL Draft. A motorcycle accident upended Langston’s pro career. He now owns Next Level Training, Inc. – a conditioning and training developmental program to prepare youth athletes for college and professional football ranks. In high school, Langston Sr. played for a star-laden 1978 squad that featured Collins, Dennison and halfback Jeramie “BB” Moye. Moye’s son, Derek Moye, starred at Penn State before earning a wide receiver role for the Steelers in 2013. He’s currently on the Tennessee Titans practice squad.

Other Beaver Falls products who played in the NFL, according to the databasefootball.com website, are Arthur Haley, 1921-23 (Akron Pros), Raymond Carnelly, 1939 (Brooklyn Dodgers), Henry DePaul, 1945 (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Doug Dressler, 1970-75 (Cincinnati Bengals).

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Reginald “Reggie” Williams was an exceptional wide receiver at Beaver Falls High School (1985), before starring at the University of Pittsburgh and signing free agent contracts with the Indianapolis Colts (1990) and the New Orleans Saints (1991). Injuries hampered Williams’ NFL career. Last month he was inducted into the Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame.)

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