The Times West Virginian

Sports

May 16, 2014

FURFARI COLUMN: Kevin Koken leader of great 1988 WVU O-line

MORGANTOWN — Kevin Koken, who just turned 48, was an outstanding center on West Virginia University’s football teams from 1985-88.

Coach Don Nehlen called him the leader of the 1988 offensive line. That team arguably was the best in WVU football history.

Finishing the regular season 11-0, the Mountaineers lost to Notre Dame by 34-21 in the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl for the national championship on Jan. 2, 1989, at Tempe, Arizona.

Like virtually all of his magnificent teammates, Koken will tell you WVU undoubtedly would have won the 1988 crown if All-America quarterback Major Harris hadn’t injured his shoulder on the team’s third offensive play of the game.

Koken, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, now resides in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. He is still associated with Federal Express Ground.

He has been a cherished employee of this widely known firm since he graduated from WVU in 1989.

Koken was honored as a captain of the 1988 team. It finished No. 5 in both major polls and captured the prestigious Lambert Trophy, symbolic of eastern collegiate football supremacy.

After eventually becoming the top center in 1985, the 6-foot-3, 275-pounder remained the starter his last three seasons.

“We had some great guys, and we all played together well,” Koken recalled.

In his spare time, he enjoys coaching a junior high school basketball team. It includes his 13-year-old son.

Koken had a tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles but unfortunately did not play pro football. But that enabled him to start his career with FedEx earlier.

He joined the firm at Youngstown in 1989.

Kevin and wife Jennifer have been married for 17 years. She is a graduate of Bowling Green University.

Asked how it felt playing football for Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen, Koken replied:

“It was wonderful. He was passionate about the sport. But he also was passionate about his players. He’s absolutely a class act, too.

“Coach Nehlen didn’t just talk about football. He stressed leadership. He had high expectations, and he certainly knew the game.”

The Kokens have three young children. Son Justin is 13, and there are twin daughters, Berndan and Gretchen, 12.

Here’s what his coach said of him in “Don Nehlen’s Tales from the West Virginia Sidelines”:

“Kevin Koken was the leader of the 1988 offensive line. That line stuck together and took its lumps as sophomores, came together as juniors, and had a great year as seniors.

“Kevin was the catalyst for it all — just a wonderful young guy from Youngstown, Ohio. He had a way of bringing people together.”

That’s quite a tribute to a man who’s in a managerial position with FedEx.

Koken was named by The Associated Press to its All-East first team. He also received honorable mention in the AP’s All-America balloting.

As a senior, Koken also was selected winner of the squad’s John Russell Memorial award.

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