MORGANTOWN — Once upon a time they shared they were a matched set.
They were almost so close that if one cut his finger, the other bled.
That was back at Seton-LaSalle, a small school near Pittsburgh, a school that would win a WPIAL championship that year.
The secret to that victory was quite simple. Quarterback Bill Stull threw the football; wide receiver Carmen Connelly caught it.
They combined 116 times for pass completions that senior season which was a state record for a wide receiver and the eighth highest ever nationally.
And then they went their separate ways.
Stull went to Pittsburgh, where he had a star-crossed career, injured and booed once, now the beloved leader of the No. 9 team in the nation.
Carmen Connelly, as sure-handed as he was in Lou Cerro’s system, wasn’t pursued on the same level as his quarterback, but he was determined to play major college football.
He came to West Virginia University, but somehow was always a step behind the best the Mountaineers had.
This kid who caught 116 passes in one high school season has caught one for three yards — against Eastern Washington in 2006 — in a career that has only three games left, the next one begin against Stull and Pitt at 7 tonight on Mountaineer Field.
Not that Carmen Connelly didn’t contribute to the cause. Because of those sure hands, he became the holder on placekicks, a job where you don’t need to always be a half-step ahead of a defender who is a half-step behind you.
His best friend was no longer the quarterback, but another seldom-used wide receiver, Jack Crow, and it isn’t by chance that he utters the same phrase Crow used when asked about his lack of playing time.
“Because you don’t play doesn’t mean you can’t play,” Connelly said. “I gave my best and was prepared for every situation.”
The talk on a couch in the study lounge at the Puskar Center had begun talking about the glory days when he and Stull ruled Pennsylvania. It was noted that he had played a huge part in Stull getting a scholarship at Pitt.
“I think Billy helped me get a scholarship, too,” Connelly said, knowingly.
Connelly watched Stull go through the ups and downs that come with the quarterback position. He saw him break his hand in his first game as a starter three years ago, costing him the season. Then he saw him booed lustily throughout a difficult next year, topped off by being shut out, 3-0, in the Sun Bowl and being benched during the game.
He read about him being booed this year on his first incompletion, just his second pass of the year.
“It’s hard to take as a college kid,” Connelly said when asked to get inside Stull’s head for a moment and think what it had to be like to be so reviled in his own hometown. “I’m so impressed with the way he has handled it. He was booed every game. He’d throw an incompletion after completing seven passes in a row and they would boo him.
“But he’s a tough kid. He let the water roll off his back.”
Earlier in the week, during a conference-call interview, Stull spoke of all he had been through.
“I’ve been through some rough times, the lowest of lows,” he said. “But now we’re starting to get some high points here. I wouldn’t change things. I don’t know if I’d be the type person or player I am. It makes you stronger mentally.”
And Stull won’t even dust it of as being unfair.
“Criticism is going to be there,” he said. “I’m my own worst critic. The things I heard are nothing compared to what I put on my own shoulders.”
Connelly, however, believes the criticism has been unfair.
“It was unfair, but you don’t expect fans to know the ins and outs of the game,” he said.
It’s too late now to know whether it was Connelly making Stull look good or Stull making Connelly look good back in high school, but the emergence of the spectacular, 6-foot, 5-inch receiver Jonathan Baldwin at Pitt has certainly given Stull a chance to succeed.
“Carmen was a heck of a receiver,” Stull said, “but I’d have to say Jonathan Baldwin is a little bit more athletic.”
He emphasized the little bit, just so you knew he was understating it.
As for Connelly, were his four years wasted in Morgantown? Should he have gone to a smaller school where he could have played?
“If I said I didn’t have any regrets I’d be lying, but you make a decision and you stick with it,” he said. “I catch myself thinking about it quite a bit.”
But Connelly knows it’s time to move forward. He’s planning on attending chiropractic school in South Carolina after graduating, which is really good news because you can bet he’ll have the best set of hands of any chiropractor no matter where he lands.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MORGANTOWN — Once upon a time they shared they were a matched set.
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