Avon Cobourne says the last time he was in Morgantown was for the Gold-Blue Game in 2009. Before that he took in the Pitt game in 2007.
“Yeah, I was there for that one, unfortunately,” Cobourne said from his home in Orlando, Fla.
This Saturday, West Virginia University’s all-time leading rusher will be among nearly 200 former Mountaineer players returning to campus for this year’s Gold-Blue Spring Game, presented by Kroger.
“I am super-excited to get back to West Virginia,” Cobourne says.
What a career Cobourne had at WVU, the New Jersey native becoming just the 10th player in NCAA history at the time to rush for more than 5,000 career yards. He still ranks 12th on the NCAA all-time rushing list with 5,104 yards.
Cobourne’s consistency is unmatched in WVU annals, the back topping 1,000 yards all four years as a Mountaineer player including a career-high 1,710 yards playing for Rich Rodriguez in 2002. Cobourne carried the ball 335 times that year and scored 17 touchdowns for a 9-4 Mountaineer team that returned to the national rankings and finished second in the Big East.
“I can’t remember how many times I had the ball but (Rodriguez) trusted me. He said, ‘Look we want you to win games for us’ and we won a lot more than we lost,” Cobourne recalled.
It was during Cobourne’s senior season in 2002 when West Virginia finished second in the country in rushing with an average of 283.6 yards per game. Cobourne was paired with junior Quincy Wilson in a Mountaineer backfield that also featured sophomore quarterback Rasheed Marshall.
This was Rodriguez’s first triple-threat backfield attack at WVU before Pat White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt popularized it later in the decade.
“We laid the foundation,” Cobourne said. “As long as we kept winning it didn’t really matter who got the glory.”
Cobourne, Wilson and Marshall led West Virginia to a pair of exciting season-ending victories on the road at nationally ranked Virginia Tech and Pitt to finish second in the Big East. However, the Mountaineers were relegated to the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., instead of going to the Gator Bowl because Notre Dame used its affiliation with the Big East to get the invite instead of West Virginia.
“That was truly disappointing because we worked so hard and to be honest, I put that on the seniors why we didn’t win (the bowl game against Virginia) because we were so disappointed,” he said. “They gave it to Notre Dame and it definitely left a bad taste in our mouths and the seniors lost that game because we weren’t focused. I know I definitely wasn’t because I knew we should have been in Jacksonville instead.”
Getting overlooked for the Gator Bowl may have been Cobourne’s biggest disappointment, but he says his biggest thrill was breaking the school career rushing record against East Carolina early that season. He ended up running for a career-high 260 yards and after the game was carried off the field by Mountaineer teammates and fans.
“That was definitely the highlight of my career,” he said. “When people ask me what was the best moment I had at West Virginia it was my senior year when my teammates dumped water on me when I broke the record on Mountaineer Field and the fans came down and picked me up and carried me off the field. That was amazing.”
Cobourne earned first team all-Big East honors and was an Associated Press third team All-American choice his senior year.
He played one season for the Detroit Lions in 2003 before finding his niche in the Canadian Football League. Cobourne spent seven seasons in the CFL, including a 2009 campaign with Montreal when he rushed for 1,213 yards, caught 54 passes for 444 yards and was named MVP of the Grey Cup.
Cobourne had four consecutive seasons of rushing for more than 900 yards and accumulating more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage.
“I’ve been blessed. I led the team in rushing for three years and was part of two championship teams up there,” Cobourne said.
Cobourne spent the last two seasons playing for the Hamilton Tigercats in 2011-12 before being released after last season. Cobourne actually averaged more yards per carry (5.9) last season than in any other year playing in the Canadian League. Still, he said he’s ready to move on.
“I think I’m going to call it a wrap,” he said. “I got released last year and I’m trying to move on.”
Cobourne and his wife Rebecca have two sons – two-year-old Avon III, who they call Trey, and five-month-old Quion (pronounced Key-on).
Among the business ventures Cobourne has right now is a 90-day nutritional program that helps people lose weight called Body by Vi Challenge (http://chillson22.bodybyvi.com/
“I tried to do it by myself but I need more people on my team,” Cobourne said. “Not everyone can relate to Avon Cobourne the football player. But they can relate to Joe the big guy who lost some weight. I’m just trying to motivate them so they can help other people.
“My slogan is to transform yourself to inspire someone else.”
Cobourne says he still closely follows the Mountaineers and is pleased his alma mater was able to find a comfortable landing spot in the Big 12 Conference when the old Big East broke up. For an old East coast football guy who played in the Big East when it was still good, he admits its sad seeing old rivalries fall by the wayside.
“It’s a little odd as far as recruiting because West Virginia is in the East, but our philosophy has to change and obviously with our coach (Dana Holgorsen) he has that Big 12 mentality,” said Cobourne. “Any time you are in a good conference you are headed in the right direction and we’re in a pretty good conference so we can still be considered a contender.”
Still, it’s tough not seeing those guys from 75 miles up the road on the football schedule each year. Avon said Pitt was actually recruiting him out of high school before he picked WVU.
“I wasn’t even thinking about going to Pittsburgh, though,” he said. “They were terrible then and they’re still terrible. I would have never gone there.”
Spoken like a true Mountaineer, which Cobourne proudly professes to anyone within earshot.
“I love West Virginia,” he said. “You ask anybody and they know two things about me - they know I’ve got two boys and they know that I went to West Virginia.”Briefly:
WVU Varsity Club Director Dale Wolfley is expecting nearly 200 former players to be on campus for this weekend’s spring game as part of WVU Football Alumni Weekend. On Friday morning, former Mountaineer players will take part in the Chris Gray Memorial Golf Outing at Mountainview Golf Course. Chris’ two brothers and father are expected to play, as well as Dana Holgorsen’s entire coaching staff. The outing is being sponsored by Cava & Banko, WatchTower Insurance and Kegler’s II. Returning players will be recognized during the first quarter of Saturday’s Gold-Blue game.