Tuesday, July 31, 2012

32 Aaron Beasley

Hometown: Pottstown, PA
Career: 1992-1995
Record: 28-17-2, Bowl Record: 0-2
One of the best recruits of the Don Nehlen era was Aaron Beasley. He gave West Virginia a much needed shut-down corner to complement the stout rush defenses of the mid-1990s. After seeing duty as a nickelback his freshman season, he became a starting cornerback for the remainder of his WVU career. Beasley made quarterbacks pay for throwing to his side of the field, accumulating 19 career interception (second most in school history), taking three of them back for scores. He collected 10 of those interceptions in 1994, setting the school’s single season record for interceptions. Beasley would only collect 5 interceptions as a senior as many quarterbacks elected to not throw in his direction, leading to a well-deserved consensus All-American selection. After a successful stint in Morgantown, Beasley went on to be one of the major players for the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996, where he spent 6 of his 9 NFL seasons. Beasley was named to the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
Memorable Game: One of Beasley’s interceptions for a touchdown came in the 1994 game against Temple. The Mountaineers had begun the 1994 season with a disappointing 1-4 record. With little hope of making a bowl game, the Mountaineers were playing loose, free of expectations. They would rally around one another to win three of the next four games, bringing their record to 4-5 heading into the road match-up with the Temple Owls. The Mountaineers (as was usual in the history of this series) were heavy favorites against the Owls. West Virginia scored early and often, embarrassing the Owls in front of their empty stadium. Beasly picked off an errant pass late in the game and took it back more than 60 yards for a touchdown. The interception would be his 10th (and final) interception of his record setting 1994 campaign. WVU smashed Temple 55-17, improving their record to 5-5 on the season, keeping their bowl hopes alive.

Competition: Beasley was the best defensive back to play for the Mountaineers. He stills holds the school record for interceptions in a season and second most for his career. This selection was difficult, as there were many other well-qualified players available. I could have gone with Garrett Ford Jr., Ray Surbaugh, or current player Ryan Clarke. Ultimately, Beasley’s school record and All-America nod set him apart in this narrow race.
Teaser: Tomorrow we reflect on the great career of a WVU Sports Hall of Fame running back. His career was one for the ages, although his story if often not told with the appropriate glory. Such as with the story of Alexander the Great; a great tale can be told in a sub-par medium. Hopefully, I will do this player better justice than Oliver Stone did for Alexander.

Monday, July 30, 2012

33 Bob Gresham

Hometown: Yukon, WV

Career: 1968-1970

Record: 25-7, Bowl Record: 1-0

Bob Gresham was one of the Mountaineers leading the integration charge at West Virginia University. He came to the Mountaineers in the late 1960s, giving WVU a speedy rusher and kick return specialist. He was an instrumental piece of the 1969 Mountaineer squad that won a Peach Bowl title and finished the season 10-1. Gresham was an all-purpose contributor West Virginia from his sophomore season in 1968 through his senior season in 1970. He would pile up 2,181 yards rushing, 340 yards receiving, 691 return yards, and 21 touchdowns. His 1,000 yards rushing season in 1969 earned him an All-America selection. Following graduation, Gresham was drafted by the New Orleans Saints, playing for six seasons. Bob Gresham is now a member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.

Memorable Game: Gresham put in a career high for rushing yards with 173 yards against Richmond in 1969. The Mountaineers came into the home match against Southern Conference opponent Richmond with a 7-1 record. The Mountaineers knew they had the chance to earn a bowl bid (much harder to earn a bowl spot during the 1960s than today; they practically make up games so every 6-6 team makes a bowl now). West Virginia put the pressure on the Spiders, moving the ball well on the ground. Richmond hung in there, throwing for nearly 300 yards against the Mountaineer secondary. Ultimately, Gresham and the WVU rushing attack proved to be too much for Richmond as WVU won the game 33-21. The win kept WVU’s bowl hopes alive, as the Mountaineer would win out, including the Peach Bowl.

Competition: Once again, it is really tough to beat out a member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. This one was close though. There were a pair of great defenders available for this spot in Scott Gyorko and Barrett Green. Both players are WVU Sports Hall of Fame candidates, but Gresham’s prowess on both offense and special teams set him apart for this selection.

Teaser: Tomorrow the countdown turns its attention to one of the most talented defensive backs in Mountaineer history. This player blanketed defenders so well, it was like he was attached to the receivers at the hip. Speaking of being attached at the hip, it reminds me of the movie Stuck on You. Especially where Greg Kinnear stars as the Bease, opposite of Cher. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

34 Joe Marconi

Hometown: Fredricktown, PA
Career: 1952-1955
Record: 31-7, Bowl Record: 0-1
Joe Marconi was a punishing runner in the T formation for the Mountaineers in the 1950s. He was a bruising compliment to Bobby Moss, giving the Mountaineers a formidable rushing attack. Marconi originally came to West Virginia as a defensive back recruit, but his talent for running the ball and finding space quickly shown through his freshman season, prompting Coach Lewis to move him to fullback. While he was used predominantly in the backfield, he did see some reps as a defensive back as well, snaring 5 career interceptions. As a runner, he totaled 1,026 yards and 13 touchdowns over four seasons, impressive statistics for a fullback. Marconi left Morgantown for the NFL in the spring of 1956, joining the Los Angeles Rams. He would later end up playing with the Chicago Bears where he won an NFL Championship and earned a Pro Bowl selection. He was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
Memorable Game: Marconi saved his best performance for the last game of his Mountaineer career, on the road against the North Carolina State University Wolfpack. The Mountaineers had suffered two straight losses after a 7 game winning streak to begin the season. Marconi and the WVU seniors wanted to finish with one more win. The Mountaineers got a big win over the Wolfpack, dominating the game on both sides of the football. Marconi pounded NC State for 118 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.
Competition: As we have done with previous numbers on this countdown, when a WVU Sports Hall of Famer is available, they get the selection. Joe Marconi is a distinguished Mountaineer alumni and more than worthy of this spot on the countdown. I will give honorable mention to Corey McIntyre, who like Marconi, transitioned to a successful Mountaineer career as a fullback.
Teaser: We continue the countdown with another member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. The featured player at #33 is a native of Yukon, WV and he is a true mountain man. If he could grow an impressive beard, he would look strikingly like Yukon Cornelius or maybe the “bumble.” Yes, I am making a Christmas in July reference. It’s my birthday and I’ll reference Rudolph if I want to.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

35 Owen Schmitt

Hometown: Fairfax, VA
Career: 2005-2007
Record: 33-5, Bowl Record: 3-0 including two BCS wins
The day I have been waiting for has arrived: Owen Schmitt day. Schmitt is definitely my favorite Mountaineer player of all time. He played with reckless abandon, running through defenders and smashing a few facemasks along the way. Amazingly enough, Owen Schmitt was almost a Terrapin. Schmitt played his freshman season for Wisconsin- River Falls, a Division III school. He wanted to play FBS football and set out to find a school. He first went to College Park, to play in Coach Ralph Friedgen’s pro style offense. The Fridge, having such an eye for talent, decided to ignore Schmitt, sending him packing for Morgantown. Coach Rich Rodriguez would not let Owen leave town without signing with the Mountaineers. That decision would pay immediate dividends for the Mountaineers. Schmitt would win the starting fullback spot his sophomore season giving WVU a tough physical rusher to compliment Slaton and White. He would ultimately tally 1,003 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. Schmitt also (according to legend) recorded 10 broken facemasks. He gave everything he had to the Mountaineers, as evidenced by his reaction at the conclusion of the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.

Memorable Game: While Owen had a memorable performance in the Fiesta Bowl, his best performance came in the 2007 Gator Bowl against Georgia Tech. West Virginia came into the game against the Yellow Jackets without Steve Slaton who was out with an injured leg. Schmitt would serve as the featured running back this day. Schmitt would carry the ball 13 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Scmitt and Slaton combined to dominate the Georgia Tech defense. The Mountaineers would need to mount a late comeback. West Virginia trailed in the 3rd quarter by a score of 35-17. White and Schmitt motored WVU to a late 38-35 win.

Competition: With this author, there was no competition for #35. When you go up against my favorite Mountaineer player, there is no way to make this spot. I won’t even mention anyone else, Schmitt is just that awesome.

Teaser: Tomorrow’s athlete is an oldie but a goody. This player was a predecessor to rushers like Owen Schmitt, much like Marconi’s radio was the predecessor to today’s satellite radio. Anyways, tomorrow we honor a former “radio star.”

Friday, July 27, 2012

36 Ron Wolfley

Hometown: Orchard Park, NY
Career: 1981-1984
Record: 35-13, Bowl Record: 3-1
Ron Wolfley was one tough runner. His tough running style attracted many schools coming out of high school.  He would choose to come to Morgantown in the spring of 1981 to play for 2nd year Head Coach Don Nehlen. Wolfley would spend his freshman season playing special teams, later splitting carries his sophomore and junior seasons. He would be the featured fullback his senior season in 1984. Wolfley was a punishing inside runner, stacking up 1,328 yards and 10 touchdowns. His ability to contribute both as a rusher and special teams player earned him a draft selection by the St. Louis Cardinals in the spring of 1985. Wolfley spent 10 years in the NFL, making the Pro Bowl 4 times. Recently, Wolfley was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. It should only be a matter of time before he gets considered for the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
Memorable Game: Ron Wolfley’s most memorable performance for WVU came in the 1983 road game against the 19th ranked Boston College Eagles. The 12th ranked Mountaineers were 3-0 and had the look of a championship team. The defense was solid and the offense featured an NFL caliber quarterback, Jeff Hostetler, and two talented rushers in Tim Gray and Ron Wolfley. The game against Boston College would be a tough contest for the Mountaineers. Eagles QB Doug Flutie was looking for his first victory over the Mountaineers (Flutie never won against the Mountaineers). Wolfley saw to the Mountaineers victory by giving his personal best performance. He ran the ball for 114 yards and a touchdown. The Mountaineers made the most of their opportunities to score, edging the BC Eagles by a final score of 27-17.
Competition: Wolfley was the most recognizable name of the bunch at #36. He had a solid Mountaineer career and then went on to have a great pro career. The only other player, in my opinion, worthy of mention is Charles Donaldson. I will also mention that Ira Rodgers wore this number at the beginning of his career.

Teaser: I got to say, I'm genuinely excited about the pick at #35. This player is my all-time favorite Mountaineer player. He was a hard-nosed rusher known as much for his ability to pound the rock as much as his ability to smash facemasks. This fan favorite player was a mohawked psycho, just like Robert Deniro in Taxi Driver.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

37 Tom Keane

Hometown: Bellaire, OH
Career: 1946-1947
Record: 11-9, Bowl Record: 0-0
Tom Keane was a shining example of college football players during the World War II era. Keane originally signed on to play with Ohio State University coming out of military school in 1944. After one year with the Buckeyes, he joined the Navy. After the war had ended in 1945, Keane was free to join any school he wished, ultimately joining the Mountaineers for the 1946 season. Keane played quarterback for West Virginia, which in that era, was responsible for rushing and passing. Keane had a relatively successful 1946 campaign, but would best be remembered for his 1947 season. He led the Mountaineers in offense and led WVU to a 4-0 record to start the season. Keane would help the Mountaineers weather the storm of four straight losses to finish the season with a 6-4 record. After his time in Morgantown, he would take his talents to the NFL, playing for the Rams, Colts, and Cardinals.
Memorable Game: There is virtually nothing in the way of documented statistics for Tom Keane’s career with the Mountaineers. With that in mind, we highlight a major victory over Pitt from 1947. This game is of huge importance to the West Virginia program as it marks the first time the rivalry with Pitt is referred to as the “Backyard Brawl.” West Virginia had been beaten down pretty well in 1947 after the team had gone from 4-0 to 5-4 heading into the game against Pitt. Coach Bill Kern had told his team that he planned to quit at the end of the season and many of the war veterans on the WVU team were due to leave the program at the conclusion of the season. It seemed like the whole team was crumbling. The Mountaineers decided to make one last statement, banding together to pull out a 17-2 victory over the Panthers in Pittsburgh. WVU’s radio announcer Jack Fleming noted that the Mountaineer fans had rushed the field to tear down the goal posts, making it unclear to Fleming that Pitt had actually scored a safety in the final seconds of the game. The win was WVU’s first over Pitt in 15 seasons.
Competition: Keane was a big deal in an often forgotten era of WVU football. He got the nod over some other notable Mountaineers like Van Richardson, Scott Kozlowski, and Terry Bowden. Honestly, it came down to highlighting the 1940s, as this is the only player in the countdown from the 1940s.
Teaser: The pick at #36 is a beast of a player. He was a ferocious fullback that helped power Coach Nehlen’s teams of the early 1980s. He was so strong and hairy, I swear he must have been half wolf. Maybe he also had a pension for surfing on the roofs of vans.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

38 Phil Brady

Hometown: Fairfax, VA
Career: 2004-2005
Record: 28-17-1, Bowl Record: 1-1

Often overlooked, punters are crucial to the success of any team. Phil Brady was one of the important cogs in a well-oiled Mountaineer machine. Brady was not always a Mountaineer though, as he came to West Virginia via a transfer from East Carolina after his freshman season. He was first eligible to play for the Mountaineers in 2004, becoming the starting punter. Brady made critical punts to pin opponents deep in their end of the field and was instrumental in helping West Virginia win the field position battle. I was in attendance to witness his leg strength first-hand as he boomed a 73 yard punt against James Madison in 2004. During the 2005 season, his punting ability kept WVU in games early in the season while WVU figured out the quarterback and running back controversies. Once the Mountaineers settled in on White and Slaton, Brady got fewer and fewer punting opportunities. He would make the most of his chances, helping West Virginia reach the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2005 season.
Memorable Game: Since we were on the subject, let’s talk about the 2006 Nokia Sugar Bowl. West Virginia was ranked 11th heading into the match-up with 8th ranked Georgia. The game was a virtual home game for the Bulldogs as the game had been moved from New Orleans to Atlanta in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While New Orleans was recovering from the storm, the Georgia Bulldogs were about to have to weather a storm of their own. Nobody outside of the state of West Virginia expected what took place in the first half of this game. West Virginia jumped all-over Georgia early, getting out to an early 28-0 lead. Georgia was down, but not out. They fought their way back into the game, cutting the WVU lead to 31-28. Brady did everything he could to force Georgia to drive the field with 4 punts for 144 yards and a 41 yards per punt average. With the Mountaineers holding a narrow 38-35 lead, and unable to convert a late third down, the Mountaineers called on Brady. The Mountaineers lined up for the spread punt formation and pulled an incredible trick play. Brady ran off the left tackle for 10 yards to gain a first down for WVU to run out the clock, preserving West Virginia’s first BCS win, 38-35.

Competition: The cupboard is a little bare at #38 for impactful players. Some of the options here were solid role players like K.C. Shiller, but Phil Brady was the biggest star of the bunch. Honestly, his one play in the Sugar Bowl was enough to put him past the other players on this list. That one play was the difference between WVU winning a BCS game and being a team that choked away a huge lead. Think of the direction the program could have gone had WVU lost that game; we might not be talking about 3 BCS titles and the Big XII. We could be talking about 3 Gator Bowl losses and a rebuilding Big East.

Teaser: The athlete featured tomorrow is a player that had a keen football sense. He was an adept quarterback and later proved that he was an adept pass defender. What is remarkable is how few Mountaineer fans remember this player. Don’t worry dedicated readers, tomorrow we will talk about an athlete from a forgotten. This will be a player only we know (at least until the world has read this blog).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

39 Chris Peccon

Hometown: Uniontown, PA
Career: 1983-1986
Record: 28-17-1, Bowl Record: 2-0
Chris Peccon was not a highly touted recruit for the Mountaineers. He walked on for West Virginia in 1983 as a special teams player. Coach Nehlen was so impressed with his work ethic and dedication that he gave Peccon a scholarship in 1984. Peccon would see limited carries in 1984, serving as a backup to Ron Wolfley. After Wolfley graduated, Peccon took over as the starter in 1985. For his career, he would contribute 392 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns. He might not have been the flashiest of Mountaineer players, but his hard work helped WVU pull out some big wins in the mid-1980s.
Memorable Game: Chris Peccon had one signature performance in his career, a 1986 victory over Louisville. It was a game in which the Mountaineers were playing for pride after starting the season 3-6. WVU traveled to Louisville that day and showcased that pride by drubbing the Cardinals. Peccon was a big part of West Virginia’s win with 55 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns. This was the only time Chris Peccon rushed for touchdowns in his career, yet he did have a tremendous performance with few carries. WVU would outgain Louisville 474 to 321 yards respectively. West Virginia beat down Louisville in front of their home crowd, 42-19.
Competition: This was definitely one of the weaker numbers in WVU football history. No other real big name players have worn this number outside of Quincy Wilson wearing it as a freshman. So Peccon gets the nod by way of a lack of competition.
Teaser: Tomorrow the blog looks at the career of another WVU special teamer. This player hails from Fairfax, VA and yes, he is a punter. Again, many might disagree with placing kickers and punters in the countdown, but as long as kicking is part of the game of football, it is necessary to honor those that excel at their position on the field. I think that might have been one of the lessons I learned on the Brady Bunch?

Monday, July 23, 2012

40 Pat McAfee

Hometown: Plum, PA
Career: 2005-2008
Record: 42-9, Bowl Record: 4-0 including two BCS wins
A kicker? Yes Mountaineer fans, Pat McAfee is the first kicker of the countdown. I like many fans tend to take kickers/punters for granted. Yet they are integral to the success of any great team. Without the play of Pat McAfee, the Mountaineers would not have been able to win two BCS bowls in three seasons. When you look at his entire body of work, he was a clutch kicker and a tremendous punter. Some might point to some of his key misses, especially against Pitt in 2007, but on the whole, he was quite accurate. He was also quite adept at pinning opponents deep in their own end with precise punting (something WVU seriously lacked this past season). When McAfee finished his career in 2008, he had become West Virginia’s all-time leading scorer. That alone is worthy of a spot in this countdown. McAfee also collected All-Big East, All-America, Lou Groza Award finalist, and Ray Guy Award finalist honors for his collegiate work. He now plays for the Indianapolis Colts and was really the star performer for the Colts last season as he punted far more often than the Colts converted a third down. I think McAfee will have a long professional career, so long as he stays out of the city canal system.
Memorable Game: Before McAfee was known for his antics off the field, he was known for his precision kicking in big games for WVU. His kicking ability was showcased in the 2006 regular season finale against Rutgers. West Virginia had seen their hopes for a BCS bowl game evaporate in the loss to Louisville a few weeks earlier and now the 15th ranked Mountaineers would have to take down a very good Rutgers team without Pat White, who was sidelined with an injury. Rutgers, ranked 13th, would earn a BCS win if they could just beat the team they had lost the previous 11 match-ups. The Scarlet Knights would jump out to an early 10-6 lead, holding that margin going into half time. Jarrett Brown would lead the Mountaineers back, taking a 20-10 lead in the 3rd quarter. Mike Teel answered with some of his own fireworks, giving Rutgers a 23-20 lead late in the 4th quarter. Pat McAfee, who had already made two field goals and two extra points, was called on to tie the game with under a minute left. His 30 yard field goal sent the game into overtime. In the first overtime, he and Ito traded field goals, sending the game to double overtime. After trading touchdowns in the second overtime, the game moved to triple overtime. West Virginia scored a touchdown and two point conversion that Rutgers answered with their own touchdown. The Scarlet Knights could not complete a pass for the two point conversion, sealing a dramatic 41-39 win for the Mountaineers.

Competition: Many fans were probably hoping to see a “skill player” such as FB Ron Lee, DB Fulton Walker, or the big punishing runner Wes Ours. While all of these Mountaineer players are great in their own right, I could not consciously pass up on West Virginia’s all-time leading scorer. That is an impressive accomplishment given all the outstanding rushers and passers that WVU has seen throughout the ages.

Teaser: Tomorrow we get back into “skill players” with a talented 1980s Mountaineer from Uniontown, PA, also home to General George C. Marshall. For those Mountaineer alumni who slept off their hangovers, rather than going to their history elective: GEN Marshall is the mastermind behind the Marshall Plan, providing economic relief of European nations following the conclusion of World War II. This plan also had the aim of preventing the spread of communism. As we all know, communism (at least in the Soviet sense) has failed, and America was able to win the Cold War without having to fight an actual battle against the USSR. Thank goodness, because I would not have wanted to become a wolverine.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

41 Eric Wicks

Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Career: 2004-2007
Record: 41-9, Bowl Record: 3-1 including two BCS wins
There was probably no more versatile defensive back than Eric Wicks. He started at all three safety positions for Coach Casteel’s 3-3-5 odd stack defense from 2005-2007. As many Mountaineer fans are aware, this is no small fete. Each of the safety positions require a special set of skills that range from run support, to pass rush, to deep pass coverage. Wicks was one of the few players that could do it all. When you look at old gam footage, you’ll find Wicks making crucial sacks, timely interceptions, and taking turnovers into the endzone. His stellar play earned him All-Big East selections in 2006 and 2007. He ended his WVU career with 202 tackles, 8 interceptions, 12 sacks, and 2 touchdowns.

Memorable Game: Wicks made the most of his first opportunity to start for the Mountaineers, the 2005 season opener at Syracuse. Wicks and the rest of the Mountaineers were looking to start the season off with a victory over the Orange.  The game lacked the fireworks that would be the trademark of Mountaineers game late in the 2005 season. The game was a defensive grudge match, featuring an abundance of turnovers (5 by the Mountaineers and 2 by the Orange). West Virginia got their lone touchdown of the game from an Eric Wicks interception return for a touchdown. The Mountaineer defense would win the game while the offense was struggling to figure out its identity. West Virginia collected a sloppy first win of the season, 15-7.

Competition: The stiffest competition for this spot was Dave Lockwood. He was a great defensive back in the late 1980s and a solid defensive backs coach. Wicks got the spot based largely on personal bias. What can I say, I’m a big Eric Wicks fan. Not that his exploits don’t stand on their own merit.

Teaser: The pick at #40 is by now, known equally for his talents on the field and his public drunken stupors. On the field, he came through in the clutch. Off the field, he is a drunken idiot. What Mountaineer fan can’t relate to this? For more footage of people being drunken buffoons, take a look at the Hangover.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

42 Canute Curtis

Hometown: Amityville, NY
Career: 1993-1996
Record: 31-17, Bowl Record: 0-3
West Virginia’s own Amityville Horror (too obvious for yesterday’s teaser), Canute Curtis, terrorized quarterbacks in the Big East during the mid-1990s. Curtis earned the starting spot at rush linebacker by his sophomore season and would anchor the defense for 36 consecutive starts. Like a fine wine, Curtis only got better with age. By his senior season in 1996, Curtis had molded himself into one of the most feared pass rushers in the country. He would get to the quarterback for 16.5 sacks as a senior, second most in the nation and a WVU single season record. He led the Mountaineer defense to a #1 ranking in total defense. His monstrous performance in 1996 earned him 1st team All-Big East, consensus 1st team All-America, Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Bronko Nagurski Award finalist, and Dick Butkus Award finalist. For his career, Curtis finished with 192 tackles, 6 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, and a school record 34.5 sacks. He is now a member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. Curtis would end up playing in the NFL for the Cincinnati Bengals for six seasons, but never was able to duplicate his 1996 performance in the pros. I guess that was to be expected though, as Cincinnati is a black hole for talented athletes.
Memorable Game: The 1996 season was one that had Mountaineer fans thinking of championships. To get to that level, West Virginia would have to win some big road games like that against Purdue in Week 4 of the season. The Mountaineer defense set the tone for the afternoon, pummeling Purdue QB Dicken and forcing 4 interceptions. Canute Curtis had his best day statistically, beating down the Boilermakers with 8 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and an interception. The West Virginia defense choked out Purdue’s offense all afternoon, allowing only one score in the Mountaineers 20-6 victory.

Competition: Holding the WVU record for career sacks and sacks in a single season are more than enough to seal Curtis’ selection for the #42 slot. I will provide a few great honorable mentions though: Jay Henry and Adrian Murrell.

Teaser: Tomorrow we go with a more recent and more versatile defender. This player was known just as much for his ability to sack the quarterback as much as he was for his pass coverage. However, according to 6’6 240, he is best known for his “mean picks.”

Friday, July 20, 2012

43 Robert Walker

Hometown: Huntington, WV
Career: 1992-1995
Record: 28-17-2, Bowl Record: 0-2
Coach Don Nehlen pulled a solid running back recruit out from under the nose of Marshall in 1992: Robert Walker. He came onto a talented Mountaineer squad that featured talented tailback Adrian Murrell. He was the change of pace back in 1992, seeing limited carries. By 1993, Walker burst onto the scene, powering West Virginia to an undefeated regular season. His numbers would slow in his junior and senior season as the talent around him moved on to the NFL. While his career may have dimmed at the end, the memory of his sophomore season (and specifically his performance against Miami) shines on to this day.
Memorable Game: Obviously the game that is most memorable in Robert Walker’s career is the 1993 game between the 9th ranked West Virginia Mountaineers and the 4th ranked Miami Hurricanes. The Mountaineers needed to beat the Hurricanes to possibly earn a chance to play for the National Championship. Similarly, Miami needed to beat WVU to earn the right to play for the title. What transpired that day, in front of a record crowd of 70,222 fans at Mountaineer Field, will be remembered as one of (if not the) greatest game in West Virginia football history. The game was a tight defensive showdown early on, with neither offense able to get into rhythm. The two teams would trade scores late in the game, with Miami taking a 14-10 lead late into the 4th quarter. Walker mad the signature play of his career with a 19 yard run down the left sideline to score the winning touchdown with 6:08 left in the game. The win would set the Mountaineers up with an Orange Bowl bid. Unfortunately, WVU could not win the National Championship in 1993, but it will be remembered as one of the best seasons in school history.

Competition: Walker had the most memorable performance of any of the players to wear #43. While his stats might not have been as impressive as Boo McLee, but when people think of the 1993 team, they think of his run vs Miami. No one really thinks of McLee’s performances for the great 2005 team.

Teaser: The weather is hot, and the countdown is just heating up as we get closer and closer to Mountaineer football. Tomorrow’s featured player is the preeminent pass rusher to have ever played in Morgantown. He put the heat on every quarterback he faced. All this talk of heat brings me back to Tony Curtis and the movie Some Like it Hot.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

44 Jim Braxton

Hometown: Vanderbilt, PA
Career: 1968-1970
Record: 25-7, Bowl Record: 1-0
Jim Braxton was an all-purpose athlete for the West Virginia football team. He was a beast of a running back, earning playing time his sophomore season. He would become a featured runner during the 1969 season. That season, he would also serve as the kicker for the Mountaineers making three field goals and converting 26 of 30 extra points. With the emergence of Bob Gresham in the running game during 1969, Braxton moved out to play tight end for his senior season in 1970. That year, Braxton would earn 1st team All-America honors. For his career, Braxton amassed 1,462 yards rushing, 906 yards receiving, 93 yards passing, and 25 total touchdowns. Following a successful career in Morgantown, he would go on to be drafted by the Buffalo Bills. In Buffalo, he paved the way for O.J. Simpson. He was posthumously inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.
Memorable Game: The 1969 season was a tremendous one for the Mountaineers. Coach Jim Carlen had gotten the Mountaineers to a 10-1 record, earning the team a spot in the Peach Bowl to play the South Carolina Gamecocks. One of the critical wins that season was over the Cincinnati Bearcats. West Virginia opened the 1969 campaign with a home blow out of Cincy. WVU ran all over the Bearcats, piling up 483 yards rushing. Jim Braxton had a field day, scoring virtually at will. He contributed two touchdowns on the ground, one touchdown reception, and added 4 extra points. Braxton’s 22 points alone were enough to put away Cincinnati. The Mountaineers won the game 57-11.

Competition: Braxton is the lone WVU Sports Hall of Famer at #44. He was a remarkable athlete that could do virtually anything on offense. He ran, caught, and kicked WVU to multiple wins over his Mountaineer career. Other notables include: Mortty Ivy, Tim Agee, and Reggie McLee.

Teaser: The featured player at #43 is an incredible rusher from the early 1990s. He was an intimidating player. He was like the Chuck Norris of running backs in his day. Okay, this may be an exaggeration, but I could not resist the opportunity to incorporate Walker, Texas Ranger into the countdown.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

45 Kyle Kayden

Hometown: Fremont, OH
Career: 1998-2001
Record: 22-24, Bowl Record: 1-1
Kyle Kayden was one of the shining stars for the Mountaineers during the twilight of Coach Don Nehlen’s Hall of Fame career. Kayden was such a talent that the coaching staff had to play him during his freshman season. He would rotate into the defensive lineup his freshman and sophomore seasons before assuming the starting role of middle linebacker. He was stout in the middle of the defense, compiling 422 career tackles and 10 sacks. During his senior season, Coach Rich Rodriguez’s first in Morgantown, his play earned him 2nd team All-Big East and an All-America mention.
Memorable Game: Kayden set his career mark for sacks during the 1999 season against Miami (OH). The Mountaineers had begun the season with a tough road loss to East Carolina. A home matchup with the Miami Redhawks was exactly what the Mountaineers needed. The Redhawk offense moved the ball up and down the field on the Mountaineers. The defense did an admirable job keeping Miami from scoring more than they did that day. Kyle Kayden had 2 key sacks that sputtered the Miami offense. The Mountaineers, behind the running of Avon Cobourne, would outscore Miami, winning the game 43-27.
Competition: Kayden had the most impressive statistics of any of the players to wear #45 for the Mountaineers. His career stood out during the decline of Coach Nehlen’s tenure. Some other notables to mention include Steve Hathaway, Robert Pickett, Darrick Wiley, and Brad Palmer.
Teaser: Tomorrow the blog features the career of another member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. This player was a great running back and a solid tight end. He would later be drafted to the NFL to block for a Hall of Fame running back in frigid Buffalo. As we all learned from According to Jim, there are consequences to playing football on frozen fields.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

46 Joe Stydahar

Hometown: Kaylor, PA

Career: 1933-1935

Record: 12-13-5, Bowl Record: 0-0

Jumbo Joe Stydahar was one of the first superstars in Mountaineer football history. He played during one of the more forgettable periods of WVU football in the early 30s. Stydahar had grown up just down the road from West Virginia University in the small mining town of Shinnston, WV (he moved there while a child). With the Great Depression taking its toll on the country, Stydahar came to West Virginia to play for Coach Earl “Greasy” Neale. The exploits of Neale’s playing and coaching career were appealing to any recruit, but he was unable to translate that into winning West Virginia teams. Stydahar would flourish under new Head Coach Charles “Trusty” Tallman. Stydahar was a crushing tackler and a proficient blocker, playing along both lines for the Mountaineers. He was also a talented center for the West Virginia basketball team, earning varsity letters for 1933-1935. His talent stood out on poor WVU teams, earning him a 3rd team All-America honor in 1935 and an invite to the East-West All-Star game. His play in the All-Star game caught the attention of George Halas, leading to Joe’s selection 6th overall in the inaugural NFL draft. Stydahar is the first player ever drafted to be inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame (the top 5 picks did not have such luck). After a Hall of Fame worthy college playing career and a Hall of Fame pro career, Stydahar honorably served his country in World War II as a member of the U.S. Navy. Following the war, he would coach the Los Angeles Rams to a NFL championship in 1951. In summary: Joe Stydahar excelled at everything he put his mind to.

Memorable Game: As you might be able to imagine, it is really rare to find box scores for games from the 1930s. It is even harder to find box scores for bad teams from the 1930s. With that in mind, we highlight West Virginia’s 1934 victory over Duquesne. Coach Tallman had begun his Mountaineer coaching career with a home victory over West Virginia Wesleyan to open the 1934 season. West Virginia then faced a tough road game against Duquesne. The Dukes had won the previous two meetings against the Mountaineers. WVU was looking to snap the losing streak that day at Forbes Field. Joe Stydahar was the star of the game, scoring the lone touchdown on the day. The Mountaineers beat the Dukes by the score of 7-0.

Competition: As had been pointed out to me in a previous comment, Joe Stydahar might have also worn #58 during his time in Morgantown. I went by the photos published in West Virginia University Football Vault: The History of the Mountaineers by John Antonik that clearly shows Stydahar in a #46 jersey. Stydahar is one of only two WVU players to reach Canton, so there was no beating him for this spot. I know many fans were probably thinking Walter Easley should be here, but I just cannot imagine an argument where Easley beats out Stydahar.

Teaser: Tomorrow we look at the career of another tenacious tackler for the Mountaineers. This player from Fremont, OH played with a lot of gas in the tank. So tomorrow, we offer tribute to this great WVU linebacker.

Monday, July 16, 2012

47 Reed Williams

Hometown: Moorefield, WV
Career: 2005-2009
Record: 51-13, Bowl Record: 4-1
Reed Williams had one of the more memorable careers at West Virginia based on three things: his talent, his academics, and his injuries. Williams wound up as a special teams player his freshman year, avoiding a redshirt. He split strong side linebacker duties with Bobby Hathaway during 2006 before assuming the full-time role as a starter in 2007. Williams was forced to take a redshirt for the 2008 season due to shoulder injuries. He would require reconstructive surgery on both shoulders, which many thought might end his playing career. He persevered through the pain and started again in 2009 for the Mountaineers. Ultimately, he would reinjure one his shoulders at the conclusion of the season, forcing Reed Williams to end his career short of the NFL. While his statistics are quite impressive (254 tackles, 8 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries), what is most impressive was his acumen in the classroom. He was recognized in 2007 as an Academic All-American, a 2009 National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete. His dedication to the West Virginia football program cannot be questioned. He played through some incredible pain to give his all to WVU. You cannot help but admire that level of dedication.
Memorable Game: Reed Williams posted the best stats line of his career against Marshall in the 2007 edition of the Friends of Coal Bowl. This game marked the first time WVU had traveled to Huntington since the 1915 manhandling of the Herd (92-6 final score). Marshall was amped at the chance to knock off the Mountaineers and pulled out all the stops to take a 13-6 lead into half time. Too bad for Marshall, football is a 60 minute affair. West Virginia lit up the Herd in the second half, rattling of 6 touchdowns to rout Marshall at home, preserving West Virginia’s undefeated streak in the series and preserving WVU’s chances of playing for a BCS bowl berth. Reed would make his presence felt that day, tallying a career high 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. West Virginia prevailed 48-23.

Competition: Many memorable Mountaineers have worn #47. Williams wins out for his dedication and skill level. Other players you might remember: Willie Edwards, Zach Abraham, Ed Hughes, and current player Doug Rigg.

Teaser: Tomorrow we feature the only other Mountaineer player (besides Sam Huff) to be a member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame. This player was the 6th player to ever be drafted in NFL history (first round to Chicago Bears in 1936). He played at the time when the only real protection a player had was a jock strap and a leather helmet.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

48 Willie Drewrey

Hometown: Columbus, NJ
Career: 1981-1984
Record: 35-16, Bowl Record: 3-1
Willie Drewrey was Tavon Austin before Austin was even conceived. Drewrey was an electrifying player for the Mountaineers in the early 80s. He was an ace in the return game and a consistent slot receiver. Drewrey found his niche on special teams at the end of his freshman season. Coach Don Nehlen realized he had to get Willie more touches, giving him increased playing time at wide receiver as his career progressed. Drewrey had a monster senior campaign, ranking 3rd in punt returns, 10th in punt return yardage, and 20th in all-purpose yards. He would be named 1st team All-America that year. In all, Drewrey collected 3,508 career all-purpose yards and 9 touchdowns. He still holds the school record for career punt return yardage 1,191. His special teams capabilities earned him a spot in the NFL for 9 seasons with the Buccaneers (in their dreamcicle uniforms) and the Oilers (now the Titans).

Memorable Game: The game that best showcased Willie Drewrey’s dual-threat capability was the 1984 Backyard Brawl. West Virginia had just lost its #18 ranking after a shocking loss to Maryland at home in week 4 of the season. Next up was a tough road game against the rival Pitt Panthers. Willie Drewrey would help spark a big win for the Mountaineers, returning a punt for a touchdown and catching another. The Mountaineer defense forced two Panthers turnovers and held the offense to just 10 points for the afternoon. West Virginia took down Pitt 28-10.

Competition: Drewrey is the only real star to have ever worn #48 for the Mountaineers. There were, however, some memorable role players to don this number such as Akeem Jackson and Jeremy Kash.

Teaser: The selection at #47 is a player who was as tough as they come. He overcame multiple injuries (and subsequent surgeries) to play for the Mountaineers. He was also an outstanding student to boot, something that the vast majority of college football players cannot match. Tomorrow we take a bit of a walk on the wild side, by honoring a tremendous scholar and athlete.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

49 Chris Haering

Hometown: Pueblo, CO
Career: 1986-1989
Record: 29-17-1, Bowl Record: 0-3
One of the best defenders on the 1988 undefeated regular season team was Chris Haering. He would break into the starting lineup early in his career, starting as a sophomore. He was a tackling machine, racking up 416 tackles, good enough for 7th on WVU’s all-time leader board. His play was recognized in 1988 with a 1st Team All-America selection. Since his time in Morgantown, Haering has helped coach up young players, being a head coach at Mt. Lebanon High School. After winning a championship at the AAAA High School level, Haering garnered interest from colleges. Unfortunately for WVU fans, Haering is now the linebacker coach at Pitt. Good luck Chris, except when you play West Virginia.
Memorable Game: The 1989 season was a little bit of a letdown for the Mountaineers. Coming off arguably the best season in school history, the Mountaineers were expecting another outstanding season. They had begun the season with a 6-2-1 record and were needing to win out to improve their chances of making a decent bowl game. Fortunately for West Virginia, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights were in town. The game was far too close for comfort. The Mountaineer offense coughed up the football three times, keeping Rutgers in the game. Chris Haering did his part to keep West Virginia in the game, making 10 tackles and recovering a fumble. The Mountaineers would survive a close call, winning 21-20.
Competition: Haering was the most notable of the #49s. He had the best stats and name recognition in the whole group. Other players to note include: Anthony Green, Larry Krutko, and Josh Bailey.
Teaser: Tomorrow’s wide receiver was one of the most prolific offensive talents to play at West Virginia. Mountaineers fans could literally debate who was better: this New Jersey native or Tavon Austin. He was just that good. I argue that you could not go wrong with either. It’s like debating which trilogy is better: Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Roll the Kevin Smith movie footage…

Friday, July 13, 2012

50 Dennis Fowlkes

Hometown: Columbus, OH
Career: 1979-1982
Record: 29-18, Bowl Record: 1-1
Dennis Fowlkes is often remembered by Mountaineer fans as “Mr. Inside.” He was the Robin to Darryl Talley’s Batman during his time in Morgantown. Fowlkes was a staunch inside linebacker making many tackles, while Talley was more of the flashy pass rusher. Fowlkes made an immediate impact for the Mountaineers, seeing spot duty his freshman season. He would go on to start the final three years of his career in Morgantown, leading the team in tackles his senior season with 140. For his time in the old gold and blue, Fowlkes compiled 467 tackles, 7 sacks, and 7 interceptions. He would end up playing for the Minnesota Vikings for four seasons following his Mountaineer career.
Memorable Game: The Mountaineers had secured an 8-3 record coming into the final home game of the season against Syracuse. The Orange were looking to spoil West Virginia’s bowl prospects with an upset. The Orange were in for a long day. West Virginia’s defense absolutely dominated Syracuse throughout the game. The Mountaineers forced four Syracuse turnovers and held them to 230 yards of offense. Fowlkes had a marvelous performance, claiming two sacks and an interception. West Virginia embarrassed Syracuse 26-0 to cap off the 1982 regular season.

Competition: Surprisingly enough, the #50 is not a real popular number at West Virginia. In fact, the only two other player to wear that number for the length of their careers are Mike Booth and Matt Smith. Fowlkes was the obvious choice.

Teaser: Tomorrow we feature another great linebacker from the 80s. This player was so strong, he could cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring (hint hint).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

51 Carl Crennel

Hometown: Lynchburg, VA
Career: 1967-1969
Record: 22-8-1, Bowl Record: 1-0
Carl Crennel was an incredible defensive lineman and linebacker for the Mountaineer teams of the late 60s. All three years of his varsity career, he was named to an All-America team. He is also a notable player in West Virginia football history as he is one of the first African-American defensive stars for the Mountaineers. WVU had only been integrated for a couple years by the time Crennel got to Morgantown, making his decision to come to play for the Mountaineers a major decision. Having grown up in West Virginia myself, I know that the people have good hearts, but they can be quite stubborn to change. I’m sure the atmosphere of Morgantown during the 60s was less than hospitable for players like Crennel. But I’m sure after Mountaineer fans witnessed Crennel punishing opposing offenses, they must have warmed up to him. Following his successful and memorable career, Crennel was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
Memorable Game: Carl Crennel earned game MVP honors during the 1969 Peach Bowl against the South Carolina Gamecocks. The 1969 season was one of the best seasons Mountaineer fans had enjoyed in quite some time. WVU had managed to produce a 9-1 record with wins over Pitt and Syracuse. The strong performance landed West Virginia the Peach Bowl bid to play South Carolina. The game was WVU’s first bowl game in 5 seasons. Head Coach Jim Carlen had a month to prepare for the game and had offensive coordinator Bobby Bowden install a new wishbone offense just for the bowl game. This gave the Mountaineer offense a competitive edge over the Gamecocks. The offense would not need many points during the rainy bowl game as Carl Crennel and the WVU defense smothered the South Carolina offense, holding them to only a field goal for the afternoon. West Virginia beat South Carolina by a score of 14-3 to secure the school’s first bowl win in over 20 years.
Competition: There was no competition with Crennel for this spot. Not only did Crennel have a Hall of Fame career for West Virginia, he was also one of the early pioneers of integration for the Mountaineer football team. His contributions to the West Virginia football program cannot be overstated.
Teaser: Tomorrow we begin the second half of the countdown to kickoff. We will feature the career of a great Mountaineer linebacker that terrorized quarterbacks and was a complete menace to opposing offensive coordinators. His ability to disrupt offensive schemes had to flat out annoy opposing teams like Dennis the Menace annoyed the heck out of Mr. Wilson. Yes, I also enjoy John Hughes films.