When Jackson Pons was just a year old, he was the ring bearer at his parents wedding, a ceremony that had a big Pittsburgh celebrity in the crowd — Ben Roethlisberger. The star quarterback was fresh off helping the Steelers defeat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
“He was dating a girl my wife went to high school with and we both went to college with, but she never told us she was bringing him,” explained Jackson’s father, Jon, once an outstanding football player at South Allegheny and Washington & Jefferson. “So we are down on our knees on the altar and father leans down and whispers to me, ‘Is that Ben Roethlisberger?’ Low and behold, he was at my wedding.”
Years later, Jackson Pons became a football star himself. And wouldn’t you know, this standout junior at Norwin has decided to attend Big Ben’s alma mater.
Last weekend, Pons, one of the WPIAL’s top juniors, verbally committed to Miami (Ohio). Pons (6 feet 2, 185 pounds) was recruited to play safety and plans on enrolling next spring. Pons had more than a dozen Division I offers and said his other finalists were fellow MAC schools Toledo and Ohio.
Pons was too young to remember his parents’ wedding, but obviously not too young to have watched Roethlisberger play.
“Ben was one of my favorite players growing up, so it’s pretty cool I’ll be going to the same school as him,” said Pons, a 4.0 student who plans on majoring in business.
That said, the Big Ben connection had nothing to do with Pons deciding on Miami, which last year went 6-7 and lost to UAB in the Bahamas Bowl. Chuck Martin is entering his 10th season as the team’s head coach and has guided the Redhawks to bowl games three years in a row.
“They have a great school, first of all,” Pons said. “They have a great business school that is ranked one of the top in the country. The coaches said I fit in well in their defense and have a chance to play as a freshman and make an impact as an early enrollee. They went the extra mile to make me and my family feel like it was a home away from home.”
As a junior, Pons was named to the Class 5A Big East all-conference team as both a wide receiver and defensive back.
Pons had a Power Five offer from Mississippi State and said Pitt, Penn State, Duke and Wisconsin were among the schools keeping tabs on him. Waiting to commit this summer or his senior season was something Pons thought about, he said. But Pons felt like Miami (Ohio) was the perfect fit, so he figured there was no reason to wait.
“There was definitely some thought about waiting because I do believe I’d be able to pull Power Five offers and I know I’m good enough, but I really felt like this was a great spot,” Pons said. “I love the coaches, and I love the way they look at me. The relationships I have there were key.”
Parham to announce
One of the WPIAL’s top basketball players will announce his college decision Wednesday. North Hills junior Royce Parham will decide among Marquette, Penn State, Pitt and Xavier. A 6-foot-8 forward, Parham poured in 28 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots his junior season while leading North Hills to a second consecutive section title and the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals. A PUP all-star selection, Parham is rated by Rivals as the No. 82 junior in the country. He will enter his senior season with just over 1,500 career points.
WPIAL to UNLV?
It has been many years since a WPIAL or City League kid played football at UNLV, but a Western Pa. native is hoping to soon bring some local flavor to the Las Vegas Strip. Brennan Marion, a Greensburg Salem graduate and former wide receivers coach at Pitt, was named offensive coordinator at UNLV in January after spending last season as the wide receivers coach at Texas. And as Marion has shown over the past few weeks, UNLV plans on recruiting Western Pa. heavily. Among the local players receiving offers from UNLV were Aliquippa’s Tikey Hayes and Cam Lindsey, Central Catholic’s Bradley Gompers, Pine-Richland’s Ryan Cory, Steel Valley’s Da’Ron Barksdale and Woodland Hills’ Steven Jenkins. It was the first Division I offer for Gompers, Barksdale and Jenkins. The Rebels also extended an offer to a local eighth grader. Khalil Taylor attends LIFE Male STEAM Academy in Penn Hills. Taylor said he will attend Neighborhood Academy next school year and will play football for Shady Side Academy.
Boys basketball commitments
Beaver’s Sawyer Butler (Franciscan); Beaver’s Aiden Townsend (Franciscan); Peters Township’s Gavin Cote (Clarion); St. Joseph’s Jimmy Giannetta (Carlow); Upper St. Clair’s Matt Gaither (Grove City); Upper St. Clair’s Nick Sukernek (Washington & Jefferson).
Girls basketball commitments
Baldwin’s Katie Lucarelli (West Liberty); Our Lady of the Sacred Heart’s Kyleigh Nagy (Point Park).
Bishop Canevin’s Xavier Nelson (Waynesburg); East Allegheny’s Amaryeh Lucky (Independence Community College); Elizabeth Forward’s Ricky Prokop (Washington & Jefferson); Peters Township’s Richie Woods (Saint Vincent).