|Dale Wolfley, pictured here between big brothers Ron and Craig, said he had to follow his heart and turn down Penn State to sign with the Mountaineers.
|WVU Sports Communications photo
The phone rang. “Oh no,” I thought. The butterflies in the pit of my stomach just intensified. I knew this phone call was coming, I just did not want to face the reality of it. I looked at my mother, hoping she would not answer the phone. She looked back with sympathy, but no mercy was forthcoming. She had already been through this twice before with my two older brothers and it would be no different for me. As she answered the phone, I pictured my oldest brother, Craig, in a previous conversation telling me, “It’s time to man up little brother, make a decision and stand by it!”
My mother handed me the phone and said it was Coach Paterno.
Joe Paterno, the legendary football coach at Penn State University was waiting on the other end of the line. He was calling to get my final decision on where I was going to choose to continue my education and begin my collegiate football career. Straightening out my shoulders and standing tall, I took the phone from my mother and took a deep breath. I then proceeded to tell Coach Paterno that I would be attending West Virginia University. I said, “Thank you for offering me a scholarship as it is an honor. I am sorry if I have let you down as this has been a very difficult decision, but WVU is the right choice for me.”
I really liked Coach Paterno and made sure I told him so. I am not sure what he really thought, because, of course, he was first-class and a gentleman – and this was even after I canceled an official visit to Penn State and was later convinced to change my mind twice and eventually take the trip.
Then there was the now-infamous event at the Wolfley house during Coach Paterno’s home visit that we simply refer to as “The Ambush.” Joe Paterno’s popularity back then was so huge that he could officially claim Rock Star status. When some of my cousins and neighbors heard that he was doing a home visit with me, kin and friends alike became a little crazy - the Wolfley way! They showed up unannounced at the house and the snowball effect began. My mother, always being courteous, thought it would be rude not to invite them all in, and even went so far as to make cookies. Coach Paterno, who was completely blindsided, greeted each one of my family and neighbors with patience and kindness until our small house was full to capacity.
I also imagine, later that same night, he was probably a little annoyed and thought it strange when the side door to his rental car was completely smashed in by an unknown hit and run assailant. It was impossible for him to get into the car as the smashed door was unusable, and the other door was blocked by an eight-foot snowbank that was created by a snowplow. I am from Buffalo, N.Y. and this was in January, if you know what I mean?
We certainly had our ideas of who hit Paterno’s rental car, and many have whispered and pointed fingers, but none of us had any proof. One of the biggest unsolved mysteries in my hometown remains: WHO SMASHED JOEPA’S CAR?
The truth is I really didn’t have much of a choice which school I was going to choose. Sure, I had offers and I took all five of my official visits to some fantastic schools, but deep down, I ALWAYS knew I would be a Mountaineer. Watching players like Freddie “Boom-Boom” Smalls sack Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie to stop the final drive of the game against Boston College, or Brian Jozwiak’s famous one-on-one battles with Virginia Tech’s Bruce Smith, or just relishing my brother Ronnie bashing Pitt linebackers for four years.
I remember sneaking into the WVU locker room before the 1984 Penn State game and listening to Coach Nehlen give the greatest pregame speech that I had ever heard. I was so caught up that I reached into the team huddle like I was already a player. I also remember the day that we buried my father when my brother was a sophomore at WVU. Two-a-days camp had just begun to prepare for the beginning of the ‘82 season and the first game was in Norman, Okla. Don Nehlen canceled that day’s practice sessions and got in a private jet with his staff and flew up to Buffalo to showed their respect for my father.
Yes, I always knew I was going to be a Mountaineer!
Recruiting is an awesome and exciting experience but it can also be overwhelming, especially when time runs out and you have to make a decision. Major universities with power-packed football programs come calling and they have all the bells and whistles - huge stadiums and a tradition of success; the best of facilities and an elite status on campus; coaches telling you that they really, really need you and they can make you NFL material. To an impressionable young man it can appear like the winning golden ticket to tour the Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Some coaches are straight up and let the program sell itself, while others have more creative ways to convince.
The process starts out simply by mailing the prospective athletes to introduce the program and then in the waning days of recruiting the head coach makes a home visit for the final assault. I have never met a successful head coach that couldn’t put on the charm and make your head swivel, and that’s why they are the closers!
Evaluating the recruiting process after having been through it with my two brothers, myself and then when I was on the other side as a coach, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I have listened and debated the arguments about what is most important to a recruit and why he will choose the school he does. Is it the football brand, academics, player’s relationships with coaches, the depth chart, football system or facilities? The simple answer is all of the above. What triggers one recruit might be the opposite for another. There is no exact science or formula. What it really takes is a coach to understand what is important to that person and focus on those issues. Be that as it may, it is impossible to compete consistently at a high level without having the total package - all of it, period!
This Wednesday is national signing day and it will be special for those who will sign on the dotted line and officially become Mountaineers - the day that these young men will stand tall with their shoulders back and declare over all others, I choose West Virginia University!
Individually, I congratulate you on your decision and welcome you to the Old Gold and Blue Brotherhood! Many have come before and others will come after but this is your day and this is your time!
You have become a part of Mountaineer Nation and you now have the honor of representing the great State of West Virginia! Be confident and know that you have chosen the right path, “For there is naught to fear; the gang's all here, So hail to West Virginia, Hail.”