Morgantown, WV – College football coaches around the country talk about their blue-collar work ethic and how they integrate it into their program. Head coach Neal Brown is no different, except he has a perfect example in his backyard.
The state of West Virginia is known for its coal and it coincides with the blue-collar work ethic that West Virginians are proud of.
The football program has paid homage to the coal miners in the past with jersey’s that had black on the sleeve and a canary inside the jersey for the old coal mining days when miners would carry a canary down to the mine with them, and if the gasses such as carbon monoxide built up, the miner’s knew it was time to exit the tunnels.
Last season, the defense paid tribute by sporting a coal miners’ hat after every turnover.
It’s a new era with a new look. The jerseys are gone and so is the hat, however, Neal Brown took it a step further this year and instead of a symbolic gesture, he took his Mountaineer football team down the road to Grafton at the Leer Mining Company to meet the men that are the backbone of the Mountain State.
In-state and out-of-state players alike took it all in and came out with new-found respect of what it means to put your life on the line every day to put food on the table.
“I learned a lot more than I expected too,” said Fairmont, West Virginia native Darius Stills. “It’s not an easy job. You’re going down underground for 10 plus hours, not knowing if you’re going to make it out. It’s a mental thing. I appreciate the coal miner’s for doing that for their family and they’re doing for the whole state, honestly.”
“Being from West Virginia you hear about the coal mines, but only a few select people get to witness what actually goes on down there.” continued Stills. “We harp on it a lot the ’blue-collar mentality. We come from the coal mines’ and all that stuff. But you, especially from out-of-state, you never get to see it. So, us as a team going out there, it really put a different perspective on us.”
What’s it like for a player that comes from out-of-state and is not that familiar with coal mining? Redshirt freshman and Georgian Sam James gave his thoughts on the experience.
“That was actually a great experience,” said James. “Just being able to go there and for those men to be able to tell us what they go through day in and day out, sacrificing their life to be able to provide for their families and that was interesting and seeing how coal was produced and manufactured. To actually be able to see it. was pretty cool.”
Running back Alec Sinkfield from Delray Beach, Florida had some of the same sentiments and admiration for the miners.
“It was a good experience,” said Sinkfield. “It’s crazy because the risk they take in the coal mine and the things that can happen down there and for them to still wake up every morning and still do that, I got a different level of respect after going there.”
For guard Josh Sills, it was something you had to see in person to truly understand what the miners go through every day.
“It was awesome, very humbling and eye-opening,” stated Sills. “You see the guys that go to work every day and break their back for themselves and their families. It’s one of those things that when you see it on a slide show, a lot of people aren’t from here, so it doesn’t mean as much to you as it does when you see it in person. Luckily enough for us, we were getting ready to leave, they had a shift change. So, they were getting ready to send the minors down, well there was a shift that came out. So, when we were walking out, we got to see everybody and you to see how dirty they were. You just tell looking at them they were exhausted, and I really think that put in perspective for everybody.”
There have been stories of coal mines across the state blaring the Mountaineer games over the speakers down in the tunnels so they can hear their guys in the old gold and blue and it meant a lot to the players to see what they do on Saturdays, not only affect the standings, but the people they represent.
“To actually hear them say that to hear them say that they believe in us and that they are really proud of West Virginia, it hit different,” explained Sinkfield. “You know it actually means something outside of football.”
“That just shows how much they love West Virginia Football,” stated Sam James Jr. “And for us, for us to go out there and play for them because they’re working. They can’t be at the games and support us but they’re out there working listening to the game still supporting us.”
“It means everything. It gives me goosebumps listening to it,” said Josh Sills as he showed the goosebumps on his arm. “For me to know that you have somebody that’s willing to go hundreds of feet underground and how many ever miles back into a coal mine and they can radio our games to them, I mean you just can’t describe it. That makes me want to do ten times more than I’ve ever done because if they’re willing to do that and we mean that much to them, then how aren’t you willing to give yourself to make their lives a little better? Knowing that we play every Saturday and a win that we get means everything to them.”
The players didn’t get to go down into the mines for liability reasons but the coaches made the trip underground and the WVU Football Twitter account captured some of those moments.
— West Virginia Football (@WVUfootball) August 7, 2019