UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It was in the shadows of Heinz Field where Penn State’s Miles Sanders and Lamont Wade grew up and starred before becoming Nittany Lions.
A relationship started when the two were in high school and returns to a stadium that has served as a place full of memories, both good and bad, Saturday night when Penn State takes on Pitt.
The duo never played against each other, as their schools were in different classifications, but both earned substantial time playing at Heinz Field during their high school careers in WPIAL championship games.
Sanders appeared in the 2013 Class AAAA championship for Woodland Hills, which lost 27-7 to Pittsburgh Central Catholic. Wade, meanwhile, guided Clairton to three consecutive Class A championships from 2014-16.
“I grew up playing on Heinz Field, championship games on Heinz Field. I’m familiar with the environment. It’s just going to be real good to get back out there and play the game,” Wade said.
Wade and Sanders met when the former was a freshman and the latter was a sophomore in high school, and their relationship has blossomed into a friendship that has followed them to Happy Valley, where they are both budding stars.
“I’ve known Miles since his sophomore, my freshman year, of high school,” Wade said. “We’ve been pretty good, traveling on 707’s (7-on-7 competitions) and doing all these, when Clairton played Woodland Hills for 707’s and stuff like that. We go back for a minute.”
Their relationship carried over when Sanders arrived at Penn State and later played a big part for Wade on his official visit with the Nittany Lions, where they instantly clicked.
“I was his host on his official visit. I know him pretty well,” Sanders said. “He’s my roommate now, and he’s just got that dog mentality since he’s been here. That’s just the way we grew up over there.”
That dog mentality has allowed the two to grow closer and develop a stronger bond as they’ve waited for their time in the limelight with Penn State, something Sanders waited two years for.
Sanders, stuck behind All-American Saquon Barkley prior to this season, is now the feature back and ran for 91 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns, one of which ultimately won the game for the Nittany Lions in overtime last Saturday against Appalachian State.
“It felt good just being the guy for the offense, being the running back, but I was just doing whatever I could to help my team win. That’s all that matters every week.” Sanders said.
That touchdown and the subsequent celebration landed Sanders on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which will hit shelves Sept. 10. Sanders being on the cover has Wade excited for his roommate, and the cover ultimately will be a new decoration for their apartment when they get a copy of the magazine.
“Just to see how patient he’s been for these two years, controlling what he could control, and now it’s finally his time. That’s amazing to see,” Wade said of Sanders.
Wade and Sanders are only two of the five players on the Penn State roster who played high school football at a school within the confines of Allegheny County joining C.J. Thorpe (Central Catholic), John Petrishen (Central Catholic) and Sterling Jenkins (Baldwin).
The Steel City connection isn’t limited to just the players, as the coaching and support staff boasts three members from the Pittsburgh area in offensive line coach Matt Limegrover (Pittsburgh), cornerbacks coach Terry Smith (Monroeville), and assistant recruiting coordinator Justin King (Monroeville), who played for Smith at Gateway High School.
Saturday night will be a homecoming for many people, Wade and Sanders included, but now it’s their time to emerge from the shadows of they grew up if they are to lead Penn State to their first-ever victory at Heinz Field.