For Courtney Dunn and Keith Spell, it was a most special Christmas this year.

Sure, the two loved some of the gifts they received — Dunn’s haul included a pair of Balenciaga shoes, while Spell was gifted AirPods and custom Nike shoes — but it was something they both gave that made the holiday so memorable.

Dunn and Spell, McKeesport football standouts and good friends, made their commitments to California (Pa.) on Christmas Day. The pair, each of whom were named all-conference their senior season, were both recruited to play defensive end.

“We both like the school very much,” Spell said. “They gave us a full ride, and we wanted to do something special and give everyone a present, so we committed on Christmas. It felt great.”

So, after exchanging gifts with their families, the two moved to X (formerly Twitter) to make their decisions public. Spell’s commitment post came at 12:01 p.m. and Dunn followed with his two minutes later.

California put its time in, as Spell said the school was recruiting them both for two years. After taking official visits there Dec. 15, they both decided it was the place to be.

“When I went on the visit, it just felt like home,” Spell said. “It’s easy to get home, I like the atmosphere, and I feel like we can win the PSAC.”

As seniors at McKeesport, the two helped the Tigers win the Big Seven Conference title and reach the WPIAL Class 4A title game. Dunn (6 feet 3, 260 pounds) collected 76 tackles and five sacks defensively while also dishing out 27 pancakes from his offensive guard position. Dunn was named all-state and won the Bill Fralic Memorial Award, given to the top senior interior lineman in the WPIAL. 

“[Winning the Fralic Award] meant a lot because I work really hard and it showed that it’s paid off,” said Dunn, whose father (also Courtney) and uncle (Layton) were star players at old Duquesne High School.

McKeesport’s Keith Spell (6) made a huge impact offensively and defensively his senior season. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Spell (6-2, 255) also produced an outstanding senior season, one that saw him rack up 73 tackles and eight sacks. He was a force running the ball, too, as he used his big body to roll over defenders to the tune of 727 yards and 11 touchdowns on 106 carries. Spell had a marvelous all-around performance in a WPIAL semifinal win against Montour, rushing for 171 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries while also hammering out five sacks.

“Big dogs. Real big dogs,” Spell said when asked what kind of players California is getting in he and Dunn. “We’re basically the same. He’s just faster.”

Dunn’s other offers included Duquesne (the first school to offer him), and Spell’s included Clarion (the first school to offer him).

Dunn and Spell committing to California came a year after another McKeesport star did the same. Bobbie Boyd had a monster season as a senior at McKeesport in 2022. Boyd was then an instant hit at California, as the running back ranked second on the team in rushing his freshman season after running for 582 yards and three touchdowns.

It turns out Boyd put in some work recruiting Dunn and Spell, too.

“Of course,” Dunn said with a laugh, “Bobbie was texting me every day.”

Spell said he is looking forward to continuing playing with Dunn while also reuniting with Boyd.

“We don’t plan on being roommates because we want to make new friends in the new environment,” Spell said, “but it’s really cool since I’ll have someone to talk to. Plus Bobbie’s up there.”

Central Catholic players run through the end zone led by Xxavier Thomas, right, after he scored a touchdown against North Allegheny in the WPIAL Class 6A championship Saturday, Nov. 18, at Norwin High School. North Allegheny won 44-41. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Thomas to Penn State

X marks the spot. And for one X in particular, that spot is Penn State.

Central Catholic junior cornerback Xxavier Thomas made a verbal commitment to Penn State last week. The commitment came on the same day that Thomas received an offer from the Nittany Lions.

Thomas (5-11, 170) is a two-time all-conference pick who led Central Catholic with four interceptions in 2023. He doubles as a fantastic kick returner who returned a pair of kicks for touchdowns this past season.

A pair of Central Catholic seniors are headed to play at Penn State — wide receiver Peter Gonzalez and linebacker Anthony Speca.

Thomas’ brother, Rodney, is a former Central Catholic standout who starred at Yale and now plays safety in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts.

Baseball commitments

Hempfield’s Dylan Firmstone (Penn State); Seneca Valley’s Luke Anderton (Slippery Rock).

Football commitments

Neshannock’s Jaxon Mozzocio (Kenyon); Penn Hills’ Carter Lance (Duquesne); Penn Hills’ Andin McCoy (Geneva); South Park’s Kaden Kostelnik (Grove City).

Lacrosse commitment

Mars’ Cole Yoshioka (Wagner).

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at