All-Time West Virginia Football Team
It’s a dead period for college athletics and there is no better time than the present to stir up our loyal readers.
Last week, we released our picks for the “Mount Rushmore” of Mountaineers football and today, we’re going to boil your blood even more and name the all-time West Virginia football team.
Allow me to preface by begging you to disagree with me. If you don’t agree with our picks, let us know via Twitter @DubVNation! I consider myself a West Virginia athletics expert. I live and breathe by this stuff. Therefore, I thought this would be easy. It’s not. I also learned that coming up with this All-Star team is a generational thing. It is difficult for me to truly appreciate some of these players’ accomplishments from decades ago, but I believe from stories passed down from family members and thorough research, I have compiled a formidable roster of some of the best to ever wear the gold and blue.
* For this exercise, we allowed more than 11 players to be named on offense and defense.
Head Coach – Don Nehlen
I came very, very close to picking Rich Rodriguez and part of me still believes he accomplished more as a head coach than Nehlen did before him. However, it was Nehlen’s longevity and overall “mark” he left at West Virginia that gets him the nod. During his 20-year career, Nehlen amassed a 149-93-4 record and led the Mountaineers to its only appearance in a national championship game in 1988. Also, I’m a spiteful human being and giving Rodriguez any award (even fictional) pains me.
Quarterback – Geno Smith
Maybe I’m showing my age. But at least to me, Smith was above and beyond the greatest “prototypical” signal caller in West Virginia history. You could easily rotate in Major Harris and Pat White into this role and win the popular vote but Smith’s arm talent surpassed that of his counterparts’. Smith holds the school passing records for a season (4,385 yds), a career (11,662 yds), and in a game (656 yds). He also holds records for touchdown passes in a season (42), a career (98), and in a game (8). At the end of the day, being a quarterback means putting the ball in the air, doesn’t it? And Geno, thus far, has been the best to ever do it.
Running Back – Avon Cobourne
Ask yourself which traits determine the success of a dependable running back. Speed, size, athleticism? Yes, yes, and yes. And that’s exactly what made Cobourne such a force on the gridiron during his time at West Virginia in the late ’90’s and early 2000’s. But what made him so special was his ability to be an every-down back. When Cobourne exited Morgantown in 2002, he would leave as the most decorated running back in West Virginia football history. Cobourne tallied over 5,000 yards during his 4-year career (4 straight 1,000+ yard seasons) and tied the school record of 42 career rushing touchdowns before Steve Slaton totaled 50. Had it not been for a string of injuries during his sophomore campaign, his legacy as a Mountaineer would be even more awe-inspiring.
Fullback – Ira Rodgers
It’s somewhat unfair to place Rodgers into one category. In truth, Ira “Rat” Rodgers was a multifaceted man. During his career as a Mountaineer, he lined up under center, as a fullback and even found himself splitting the uprights as a placekicker. But it was as a fullback where he found the most success. Rodgers was the first Mountaineer to rush for over 200 yards in a single game and still holds the school record for the most touchdowns in a single season (19) set back in 1919. He was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame and was the first ever Mountaineer to have his number retired (21).
Tight End – Anthony Becht
Even during the Nehlen Era, the tight end position wasn’t taken advantage of much, which is why Becht’s numbers won’t blow you away. He tallied only 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns during his collegiate career but was named to the All-Big East second team twice and to the All-American honorable mention team as a senior.
Receiver – Stedman Bailey
For the same reasons Geno Smith made this team, Stedman Bailey also has his name etched in several school record books. Bailey is second (behind Tavon Austin’s 3,413 yds) in career receiving yards (3,218 yds), first in single-season receiving yards (1,622), and tallied the most yards ever (303) by a pass catcher in a single game. The former Mountaineer also hauled in a school record 41 touchdowns during his time in Morgantown. Seeing how this is all fantasy anyway, the Geno to Bailey connection would be fun to watch just one more time.
Receiver – Tavon Austin
Tavon “Awesome” was the perfect example of getting the ball to your best player and watching him make a play. And, boy, did he always do just that. There isn’t a man in college football that could contain Austin in open space and his numbers show for it. After four seasons of terrorizing defenses, Austin left Morgantown with a school-best 3,413 career receiving yards and 39 total touchdowns. And, of course, as a receiver, holds the single-game rushing yards record (344). Austin was like watching a video game and goes down as not only one of the greatest receivers at West Virginia but as one of the greatest scoring threats, period.
Receiver – Danny Buggs
How about a throwback? Although school records and wins take prevalence 9-out-of-10 times, Buggs’ legacy is built around being one of the most electrifying playmakers of the ’70’s and unfortunately, not as a contributor to overly successful teams. Buggs accounted for 24 total touchdowns and 2,729 total yards as a receiver, running back, and as a returner during his three-year career. In several ways, Buggs was ahead of his time, playing in an era in which running backs and power football dominated. Regardless, head coach Bobby Bowden found numerous ways to get Buggs the ball because even one of the greatest coaches in college football history knew just how special Danny was.
Dan Mozes (Center)
Not only did Mozes help pave the way for Pat White and Steve Slaton’s combined 2,963 yards and 34 rushing touchdowns in 2006, he also took home consensus All-American honors and a two-time recipient of the Rimington Trophy for being the nation’s best center (2005, 2006). The four-year starter was a finalist for the Outland Trophy (nation’s best interior lineman) and Lombardi Award (nation’s best lineman or linebacker).
Joe Stydahar (Tackle)
“Jumbo Joe’s” college career was never one to write home about, but his time as a professional is reason enough to be considered one the most underappreciated linemen in West Virginia football history. Stydahar’s 6’4″ frame was reason enough to be selected as the sixth overall pick in the 1936 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He was named to the NFL All-Pro team five times, won four NFL championships, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as well as the NFL Hall of Fame.
Sam Huff (Guard/Tackle)
The second West Virginia player to have his number retired (75), Sam Huff was not only one of the greatest lineman to come out of West Virginia, he was also one of the greatest players ever regardless of position. Naturally, Huff was a consensus All-American and 4-year letterman for the Mountaineers before becoming one of the best linebackers in the NFL in the ’50’s and ’60’s. For his efforts, Huff was inducted into the NFL, College and WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
Bruce Bosley (Guard/Center)
The third and final Mountaineer to have his number retired (77), Bosley was a key cog in one of West Virginia’s most successful 4-year stretches. From 1952-1955, Bosley’s Mountaineers secured 3-straight SoCon Conference titles and an overall record of 31-7. The former All-American was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
Chuck Howley (Guard/Center)
Picking Howley was one hell of a hard decision. In truth, there are so many great offensive linemen that have played at West Virginia. And most of them – like Howley – are from West Virginia. And it would be a lie if that didn’t help influence my decision making. Howley, however, is truly deserving of being named as one of the best linemen in the school’s history. The 3-year starter was named to the SoCon All-Conference team 3 times and was later inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. I made it a loose rule that I wouldn’t determine a player’s status for this list for his time in the NFL good or bad. But Howley had one of the most illustrious professional careers I’ve seen from a former Mountaineer. Howley made six Pro Bowls, won a Super Bowl along with the Super Bowl MVP, and was named to the Cowboy’s Ring of Honor – an elite group of former players, coaches, and officials that have left a lasting legacy at Dallas.
Bruce Irvin (End)
You can hear it now, can’t you? 60,000 of your closest friends screaming out “BRUUUUUUUUCE” as Irvin once again sacks the opposing team’s quarterback. The only reason I put Bruce on this team is that of his speed and his love for West Virginia. In 2010, he burst onto the scene with a nation’s second-best 14 sacks and was named to the second team All-Big East. Since leaving West Virginia, Irvin has donated large amounts of money and time to the university and continues to proudly support the Mountaineers.
John Thorton (Defensive Tackle)
My picture perfect defensive tackle is a demolition ball in the trenches and Thorton proved to be just that. The 6’3″, 300-lb tackling machine racked up 162 tackles, 15 sacks, and 19 tackles-for-loss as a Mountaineer and was named to the All-Big East team twice and the 1998 All-American team. Thorton also enjoyed a 10-year NFL career with the Titans and Bengals where he tallied over 300 tackles and 27 sacks.
John “Tree” Adams (Defensive Tackle)
Okay, yes, he was caught up in a drug empire a long time ago. It wasn’t good and it tarnished his legacy as a Mountaineer forever. However, during his two years from 1973-1974, he was a force to be reckoned with. At 6’6″, Adams used his length to rack up 149 total tackles, 4 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss. He was big, heavy and could play ball. I put him on this list. Get over it.
Julian Miller (End)
Every Batman needs a Robin and vice versa. It’s up to you to decide which one Bruce Irvin was and which one Julian Miller was. But one thing was certain, during their time, there may not have been a more formidable pair of ends in the Big East. During his 4-year career, Miller racked up 27.5 sacks (second in school history) with 9 in back-to-back seasons (2009, 2010).
Wiley was easily the best linebacker to come through Morgantown in the early 2000’s and his records as a formidable tackler only support that claim. After being forced into the starting lineup as a freshman, Wiley went on to tally 94 tackles and 14 tackles for loss before being named the Big East Rookie of the Year. His senior season, however, is the one Mountaineer fans will remember for many years to come. In 2003, Wiley amassed 167 total tackles, bringing his career total to a school-record 492. He was named a consensus All-American and as a finalist for the Bronco Narguski Award.
In many ways, Darryl Talley paved the way for Grant Wiley. Talley’s 484 career tackles stood as a school record for two decades before Wiley bested that total in 2003. Talley was also a 4-year starter and took home All-American Honors before being inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame. Talley also enjoyed an illustrious professional career as a Buffalo Bill. From 1983-1994, Talley was named to two All-Pro teams and two Pro Bowl teams.
Bookmarked by both Wiley and Talley, Curtis left his own legacy as a tackling machine in the early and mid-1990’s. Unfortunately for opposing team’s quarterbacks, a good portion of Curtis’ tackles occurred in the backfield. During his 4-year career, Curtis accounted for a still-standing school record 34.5 sacks and the single-season record for sacks with 16.5 in 1996. And after his stellar senior campaign in 1996, Curtis was named a consensus All-American, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, a Dick Butkus Award finalist, and a Bronco Narguski Award finalist.
Adam “Pacman” Jones
Put away your pool stick jokes. They’re not welcome here. I don’t have a lot of numbers to throw at you when it comes to Pacman, but avid fans of my age remember him as a lockdown corner and electric return man. More often than not, quarterbacks looked to other side of the field and not in the direction of Jones. In 2005, Jones earned All-American honors and was named to the All-Big East team before being selected sixth overall by the Tennessee Titans.
Here I go showing my age again. In my lifetime, Joseph may be the hardest and most ruthless hitter to ever play at West Virginia. From day one, Joseph was an absolute force and the fear alone he instilled in his opponents is reason enough for him to be mentioned among one of the best safeties in school history. Despite only playing in five games his senior season due to a knee injury, he was named to the All-American Second Team and was drafted 14th overall by the Oakland Raiders.
With only 3 full seasons as a starter, Beasley earned the reputation as a ball hawk, snagging 19 career interceptions and a single-season school record 10 in 1994. Beasley was named a consensus All-American and a Jim Thorpe semifinalist as well as an All-Big East first team selection in 1995. In 2009, he was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
Logan’s college career was filled with a bunch of “what ifs?” What if he didn’t break his arm? Three times. What if he had a full four years to pad his stats? If he did, he would be one of the best cornerbacks in school history and that’s why he is on this list. In only 37 combined games (22 starts), Logan recorded 140 tackles, 8 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and 18 pass breakups. In 1996, he was named to the All-Big East first team and he was later inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.
Kicker – Paul Woodside
Sorry, Pat McAfee did not get the nod for the best kicker in school history. And NO, it has nothing to do with what happened in 2007. I went with accuracy, consistency, and longevity. Paul Woodside was a four-year starter and holds the school record for field goals made in a career (74), in a game (4), and is second in made field goals made in a season (28). His career field goal percentage of 79.6% is also second in school history.
Punter – Todd Sauerbrun
Again, accuracy, consistency, and longevity. From 1992-1994, Sauerbrun was named to the All-Big East first team three times and was named as a consensus All-American in 1994. His 48.4 yard punting average in 1994 was a school and NCAA record.