There I am, standing in the South end zone in Milan Puskar Stadium on Mountaineer Field during the Oklahoma State football ambush. I write ambush because the Cowboys had no idea the volcano full of embarrassment, anger, and, more importantly, the determination that was ready to erupt.
I will classify it as a volcano of Mountaineer Pride! Many of my fraternity brothers who are, of course, former Mountaineer football players were standing with me. The familiar chant, ‘Let’s Go... Mountaineers! Let’s Go... Mountaineers!’ West side. East side. Over and over and over again as they yelled.
It is 1984 and West Virginia is playing Penn State. The memories furiously came flooding through my head. The intense adrenaline rushed through my veins. My best friend Jeff from back home in Buffalo and I were standing on the grassy hill in the North end zone at Mountaineer Field (as it was named back then). We came down to watch my brother Ronnie, who was a senior fullback for the Mountaineers. That chant “Let’s Go … Mountaineers!’ just RAGED on over and over and over again. I yelled to my friend, standing six inches away from me, through the deafening noise, “This is what it’s like at major college football games. I want to play here, I want to be a Mountaineer!”
Two years later, in 1986, that same memory - among other factors - played such an important role in my decision to become an official Mountaineer. Thus began my journey of becoming a WVU football player and eventually a self-proclaimed West Virginian.
Since 1981, I have experienced many facets of WVU athletics, and more specifically, WVU football. I started out as a fan and I will always be a fan. I have played, coached and worked in the WVU Athletic Department, and I now have the pleasure of representing our former athletes in the WVU Varsity Club. Through my work, I have been fortunate enough to befriend coaches Carlen, Bowden and Cignetti. I have played and coached for Don Nehlen, worked on Bill Stewart’s staff, and have been friends with Rich Rodriguez since he played with my brother.
Flash forward to last Saturday …
It’s third and six in the second quarter deep in OSU’s territory. ‘Let’s Go … Mountaineers!’ continued to roar. I looked to my left, Coach Holgorsen and staff were rallying the defense to make one of the many third-down stops of the day. Oklahoma State QB JW Walsh changed the play with an audible and his teammates were having problems hearing him.
Defensive players on the field were waving their arms to encourage the fans to make it louder (not sure if that was even possible) and communication for the offense was becoming extremely difficult. Freshman linebacker Marvin Gross
lined up over the left tackle. OSU ran a read zone and handed the ball off to the tailback to the right of the formation. Defensive end Will Clarke
forced contain by driving the right tackle one yard behind the line of scrimmage. The running back stutter stepped and hesitated, looking for a hole to run through. Gross beat his man with pure desire and pursued from the left side to make a tackle for a loss. The crowd is electric, defenders swarmed over the ball carrier, hooting and hollering and celebrating with the fans. I bear hug former fullback Chris Peccon in the end zone as we celebrate another third down stop. Wow, this is WVU football at its best! The players and the crowd working together and making Milan Puskar Stadium one of the most difficult venues for opposing teams to play in. This is how I remember those special games that I have watched, coached and played in.
Maryland, two weeks ago. Man, it was BAD! Losing to the Terps, 37-0, and being shutout by them was about as bad as it can get. The players, coaches and certainly Dana Holgorsen were embarrassed and mad. What can he say at that moment? He knew the media and Mountaineer Nation would demand answers. How does this happen (rightfully so)?
I am sure this must have been a very lonely place. I can sympathize with him to some degree. I know what it is to have your team blown out as a head coach. There is only one official record - the win and loss columns after the name of the head coach. They don’t keep the official records of wins and losses for assistants. It’s all on the head guy, the good and the bad.
Now the questioning starts: How is his relationship with the players? Is the program going in the wrong direction?” It would be easy to start pointing fingers and giving excuses.
And Holgorsen faced it all. Straight up, he answered all the questions and shouldered all the blame. He told his guys to keep working hard because he had their back. Man, now that is leadership at its finest! Dana even mentioned that his team was really not that far off from being good.
What did he just say? He must be delirious; WVU just got shutout by Maryland. Many people snickered, but the players, coaches and those closest to the program continued to believe. One of the great strengths of Nehlen was that he was always the same, no matter if his teams won or lost. He would reassure his players that he believed in them and they would get better. These are young very influential 18-22 year old men. Positive leadership is a necessity in getting positive results.
Flash forward …
Last Saturday. Senior strong safety Darwin Cook
picked off a pass to seal a big victory for the Mountaineers over the 11th-rated Cowboys. The game was not pretty but they got it done. Heck, at times it looked like OSU might even come back. They clawed scratched and fought. This was a heavyweight bout that went the distance. The players wanted this win for many reasons after being embarrassed last week.
With an inside view, I can tell you this: They wanted to win for their head coach and coaching staff who stood behind them. Who will forget the goal line stand in the fourth quarter against a team that was 15 of 15 scoring TDs in the red zone? Who will forget Clint Tricket’s first start with his gutty offensive performance?
I will not!
Who will forget one of the greatest one-week turnarounds in modern WVU football history?
I will not!
Celebrating after the game with my Mountaineer family, I kept asking myself: Where does this win fit in our history? After some time I realized that it doesn’t matter, this is the most important win at this moment - at this time.
Earlier this season I wrote about Dana’s team. I finished it with this is not the Land of Oz and there is no yellow-brick road to skip down happily ever after. This team will certainly have to face many more struggles before the last chapter is written but they are ‘All In’ together. This is his team so don’t worry Holgs - his guys have his back.