The preseason college football coaches’ poll came out Thursday afternoon and season-opening foe Alabama checks in at No. 2.
The Tide will be the highest ranked season-opening opponent West Virginia has faced since 1998 when the Mountaineers christened the new season with top-ranked Ohio State at Mountaineer Field.
The Buckeyes, behind offensive stars Joe Germaine, Michael Wiley, David Boston and Dee Miller, and defensive standouts Antoine Winfield and Andy Katzenmoyer, defeated West Virginia, 34-17, that September night in Morgantown in front of a prime-time CBS television audience.
Ohio State ended up going 11-1 that season with its only blemish being a midseason loss to Michigan State. The Buckeyes defeated Texas A&M, 24-14, in the Sugar Bowl to finish No. 2 in the polls.
If you recall, West Virginia’s game against Ohio State in 1998 was the first-ever college football contest televised in high definition.
Can you even imagine watching a college football game today that is not in HD?
Opening With a Bang – Mountaineer Season Openers vs. Ranked Teams
Aug. 30, 2003, No. 21 Wisconsin (24-17, L)
Sept. 5, 1998, No. 1 Ohio State (34-17, L)
Aug. 28, 1994, No. 4 Nebraska (31-0, L)
Sept. 11, 1982, No. 9 Oklahoma (41-27, W)
Sept. 21, 1963, No. 9 Navy (51-7, L)
Sept. 22, 1956, No. 10 Pitt (14-13, L)
Sept. 26, 1953, No. 17 Pitt (17-7, W)
Sept. 24, 1938, No. 1 Pitt (19-0, L)
||Nick Saban, pictured here in 1968 as a senior quarterback at Monongah High.
Old timers in West Virginia say the Monongah High team that Alabama coach Nick Saban quarterbacked in 1968 ranks among the best Class-A teams in state history.
The Lions blew through their ’68 schedule, outscoring their 10 regular season foes by an average of 41 points per game. The fewest number of points Monongah scored that season was 39 on a team that also featured a pair of Mountaineer standouts in running back Kerry Marbury and defensive back Charlie Miller.
“What a team,” recalled retired Wheeling Intelligencer sports editor Doug Huff, who covered West Virginia high school sports during that era. “Earl Keener was the coach and I believe they won back-to-back state titles (they did in 1968 and 1969). Nick was the quarterback on the first state championship team and Kerry Marbury and Charlie Miller were in the backfield. They ran 1-2 in the state high school track meet in the 100 and the 200.”
WVU’s Nate Stephens was another tremendous talent who played at nearby Farmington, and had there been consolidation back in those days, Stephens would have played with all those great Monongah players, too – a scary thought, for sure.
“This was just a small school that had a ton of great West Virginia high school players,” said Huff. “They had an end named Tom Hulderman who played professional baseball. Then they had a guy named (Vernon) Butch Beans and he was like a high school version of (WVU All-American wide receiver) Danny Buggs. He just wasn’t one of those guys who was going to go to college.”
As we all know, Saban went on to play at Kent State and later returned to West Virginia where he coached the Mountaineer secondary for two seasons under Frank Cignetti.
There are those who rank some of Louie Nocida’s best Sistersville teams in Monongah’s class, but Sistersville never had a player the caliber of Charlie Miller or Kerry Marbury, who was just a step behind Olympic gold medalist James Jett as the fastest player the state has ever produced.
You could probably throw Randy Moss in that category, too.
The old-school coaches that I have talked to through the years claim Marbury was Bobby Bowden’s best player when he was at WVU.
I can’t argue with that.
I got football strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph on the phone Thursday afternoon before lunch to ask him for some names of guys who really performed well during this summer’s developmental season.
Joseph rattled off so many that I couldn’t keep track of them all.
“This is one of the best groups we’ve had,” said Joseph. “They have allowed us to really push them this summer.”
Joseph believes last year’s disappointing record has something to do with how hard the guys have worked this summer, and, he also believes No. 2-ranked Alabama looming in the season opener is a contributing factor as well. But probably just as important is the overall experience this year’s team has.
There are many more veteran players in the program right now and that will be helpful when things get tough, which they undoubtedly will over the course of the season.
According to Joseph, it wasn’t that West Virginia was physically out-manned last season as much as it was a matter of young and inexperienced football players not being mentally tough enough to handle the adverse situations that they encountered.
“When things go bad that’s when these things usually show up,” said Joseph. “The kids we’ve got now are older and they’ve been through the process.”
Harvey Smith, a former standout wide receiver for the Mountaineers under Don Nehlen in the mid-1980s, was the team’s offensive coordinator this year.
Harvey tells me West Virginia is well represented on this year’s team with Alex McAtee hailing from Clarksburg and Ashley Strawn coming from Buckhannon.
This just goes to show you what can happen whenever you bring on a bunch of Mountaineers.
Way to go girls!
Former college basketball star and NBA player Chris Herren was in Morgantown recently to give a presentation to the men’s basketball team. Herren was the subject of an ESPN “30 for 30” feature titled Unguarded
that profiled his 10 years of substance abuse that led to his premature exit from the NBA … http://www.ahoopdream.com/espn-unguarded/
I am told Herren really connected with the players during his talk and he also did some one-on-ones with the guys afterward.
Bob Huggins, Larry Harrison and Billy Hahn each tried to recruit Herren when he was a top-rated prep player at Durfee High in Fall River, Massachusetts.
An important date in the history of collegiate sports is coming up on August 7 when the NCAA considers adopting a restructuring plan the NCAA Division I Board of Directors endorsed last spring designed to give the five power conferences more autonomy.
This restructuring plan could also give student-athletes a much greater voice in the overall decision-making process, which is significant considering the number of high-profile lawsuits that have been filed against the NCAA, including the Ed O’Bannon vs. NCAA case that federal judge Claudia Wilken is still considering.
The people I know who are in the know believe restructuring is finally going to happen after many unsuccessful tries through the years.
As former interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas told me earlier this month, “everyone wants to be Division I.”
Well, it looks like the number of schools in that highest classification is going to be pared down, which is good news for West Virginia University now that the Mountaineers are in the Big 12 Conference.
Had West Virginia not made the cut three years ago … well, you are looking at the 1960s all over again for Mountaineer athletics.
||Coach Art Lewis offers instruction to Mountaineer players on the airport landing strip during this 1950s era practice at Jackson's Mill.
||WVU Athletic Communications photo
Speaking of the 1960s, I got a nice telephone call from Joe Taffoni the other day. Joe grew up in nearby Carmichaels, Pa. and played for the Mountaineers in the mid-1960s before spending six seasons in the NFL with the Browns and Giants.
Joe’s son, Matt, was an outstanding linebacker for the Mountaineers in the early 1990s and is now a successful doctor in Columbia, S.C.
Joe sent me a poem he once wrote when he was a WVU player describing the Spartan conditions that they endured during preseason training camp down at Jackson’s Mill. West Virginia spent many years training there until Jim Carlen ended the practice in 1966.
Now that fall camp is now underway, I thought it would be a good idea to share Joe’s poem describing what Mountaineer football’s training camp used to be like. You can compare that to what guys go through now.
They loaded the buses up Morgantown way
We were off to camp to make other teams pay
The name of the place is Old Jackson’s Mill
Let me tell ya’ll, it’s not far from hell
When we arrived in August it was about 105
With tons of bugs, which most could fly
We looked at each other and started to laugh out loud
The coaches told us the Mill was a resort that could hold a crowd
We carry our bags down to the shacks
Put them down and picked out a rack
Everyone checked the floors looking for rats
To make sure there are no night attacks
Team meeting starts at 4 o’clock
You go to your coaches for some chalk talks
Broke the meeting about 6:45
Eat dinner, walked back to the shacks still feeling alive
Breakfast bell rings at 6:30 a.m.
You’d better be there no matter what condition you’re in
Walk back to the shacks and put on your pads
Then walk to the airfield that can hold many lads
After running and hitting for two hours or more
The coach blows the whistle and says, “That’s it!’ – thank the Lord!
After running 40s and up and down the ridge
We take off the uppers to cross that damned swinging bridge
Many guys fell off it into that black water
After they’d been used for cannon fodder
We hang our equipment on the bushes to dry
Then walk to lunch and that is no lie
After lunch we walk back to the shacks
Jumping into our racks to catch a quick nap
At two o’clock the coaches come around and yet, “Get out of the racks!”
It’s time for meetings and our second round of attacks
On the field at three p.m.
Looking for 5:30 hoping practice will end
Back across that bridge to the shacks
Putting equipment on the bushes and getting inside before the bugs attack
When the bell rings it’s dinner time
With everyone standing and waiting in line
This time of the day fuses get a little hot
Rookies don’t linger as you might get a shot
Have meeting with your coaches and it’s back to the shacks
Man, we can hardly wait to get back into our racks
Lying in our racks, everyone’s talking about home
And how their girls will be all alone
Lights are off at 10 o’clock
Many are asleep, too tired to talk
The length of the stay is 15 days
Which the most of it ended in a haze
Governor flies in to end this camp
We finish practice all hoping to be champs
As we board the buses to start up the road
They’re moving slowly as they have quite a load
Many people say Jackson’s Mill is a lot like hell
So we say we’ve been there and done very well
The Mill has made us tough through the years
Ask the teams we played and that will be very clear!
Great stuff, for sure.
Everyone enjoy your weekend!