|Quarterback Geno Smith celebrates with Mountaineer fans during last year's Senior Day at Milan Puskar Stadium.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
Six a.m. came quickly that morning. I awoke in the same hotel room that I had always slept in. For four years I had been sleeping in the same bed the night before West Virginia University home football games. For four years I had been waking up at 6 a.m. I never needed an alarm clock as my internal clock was tuned in to game day. It never failed: my adrenaline would begin to build and I was immediately awake.
Game days could not come fast enough.
It was still dark outside. I could hear my roommate and fellow offensive lineman Dale Williams sleeping in the other bed. Dale, on the other hand, could sleep through a wicked thunderstorm with his window wide open. I just put on my sweats and leave the room. I walked across the parking lot to the front desk to get a cup of coffee and grab the morning newspaper. It was cold and wet that morning as I started to prepare for the day. I am not superstitious, but routine and preparation must stay the same.
WVU coach Don Nehlen believed in routines. The day before a game, we would have a short walk-through practice and a one-handed catching competition with the O- and D-line. We would run a fade pattern and coach would throw the ball to the “big guys,” as we liked to call ourselves. Simple rule: catch the ball with one hand or be eliminated. No matter how hard I tried, I never won (zero skill). The linemen loved that competition with coach for its comic relief. I always believed he did that as a tactical move to release tension – and I’m not sure if that was for us players or for himself. Keeping routine on game day was always important and this day would be no different.
Yet, this day was different! It was not like any other day for me. It was Senior Day at Mountaineer Field and my time had come. It was the last day that I strapped on the Old Gold and Blue and played on Mountaineer Field. On that day, my teammates and I, who started our journeys five years earlier, were going to be individually recognized in the pregame festivities. I can still remember our look of wide-eye excitement (and a little bit of fear) that first day we had to report to camp as freshmen. It’s simply amazing that those five years had come to past.
Where had they gone?
We started this journey as 18-year-olds who knew very little about one another and grew into men who had become a family. Well, this is what it has come to, one last fight with my brothers in front of the faithful, I thought.
My intensity was growing as the team was loading onto the bus to depart the hotel. The West Virginia state troopers that always escorted our team buses had become a vital part of our routine. I have not experienced anything like those escorts since. Nothing slowed those buses down as the troopers expertly navigated us through the quagmire of traffic! Departing the hotel and following the state police to the stadium was a rush. Seeing the Mountaineer fans cheering and waving to us along 705 and Willowdale Drive was my signal that the countdown to game time had officially begun.
The pregame warm up seemed to go on forever. All I wanted to do was get the game started! Finally, the time had come and we were fully charged up. Coach Nehlen called for all the seniors to line up in the tunnel. The rest of the team formed two lines to make a funnel so the seniors could run out individually. It went in alphabetical order and, of course, the name Wolfley put me in the back of the line. Then the announcer began, I watched and listened as every senior was called out in front of me. There goes Cookie – Larry Cooke, then T -Theron Ellis, next was Chas - Charlie Fedorco, and Mitch - Darrell Mitchell … and down the line they went until it was finally my turn!
Regardless of the many years that have since passed, I have a clear and vivid memory of that moment. There I was standing with Coach Nehlen at my side. He thanked me for my commitment to WVU and following it through until the end.
“Well done, Wolf,” he said.
Coach ended it the same way he had started it with me, first class! My heart was pounding as I looked out at my teammates and realized this was it. I had given my all and played as a team member until the very end. My resume included the Sun, Fiesta, and Gator Bowls, as well as being a team captain. Then the stadium announcer called out my name. I hugged Coach, and made my run. The rest, well, is history.
Saturday, 14 seniors will be recognized on the field before the Iowa State game for Senior Day. Their teammates, coaches, and all who are part of the program, will be there thanking them and giving their due respect. I know I will be there with many of our football alumni - all of whom know how special that run is. The majority of them have contributed to the Pinstripe, Orange, Champs and Meineke bowls, and have much to be thankful for and be proud of their achievements.
These 2013 seniors are:
A little insight to these seniors from one that has come before: Hold your head high, enjoy the moment and finish the season the right way. As a great man once said to me, I would like to pass along to you … “You have earned my respect and I thank you for your commitment to WVU. Thank you for seeing it through to the end!”
Well done men, well done!
Enjoy your last game and soak it all in. You will always – ALWAYS - remember your last time playing in the Old Gold & Blue!”
Hail West Virginia!
Be sure to follow Dale Wolfley on twitter at @Wolfey64