By Cliff Nichols
Times West Virginian
There were a lot of hugs and smiles as Brian Jozwiak celebrated his 50th birthday Thursday evening.
Throw in some video of the former West Virginia University All-America offensive tackle and a roast of the Baltimore-area native who now resides in Florida.
Don’t forget the tears.
There was no place Jozwiak, who has long considered West Virginia “home,” would have rather been than right here in Fairmont.
Celebrating his 50th on West Virginia’s 150th birthday made it even more special for the former first-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It’s pretty cool,” Jozwiak said. “Having a birthday on West Virginia Day and being a Mountaineer for so long, there are no words to describe it. To celebrate the 50th on that 150th is very special, very special.”
Don Nehlen, who coached Jozwiak at WVU from 1982-85, and his wife Merry Ann were on hand. So was retired WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong, as well as several former Mountaineer players such as Brad Hunt, Matt Menas, Mike Compton and Major Harris.
“I’m blown away,” Jozwiak said. “I’ve got friends who drove up from Florida. My folks are here. My brother is here. It’s family and friends. It just doesn’t get any better than that.”
Fairmont’s Scott and Jim Sears, friends of Jozwiak for about three decades, whose family hosted the party, are like “brothers,” Jozwiak said.
“It’s really special to still have that relationship,” he said.
“I can’t describe it. They’re brothers. They’re family.”
The party was held on the eve of the 23rd annual Brian Jozwiak Celebrity Golf Classic scheduled for 11:30 a.m. today at Green Hills Country Club. The event benefits WVU Children’s Hospital and Miracles You Admire Buddy Walk for Down Syndrome.
“I get emotional. I get teary-eyed. I don’t care,” Jozwiak said when introduced to the crowd. “I’m a big guy with a big heart, and I deserve to cry a little bit.”
He paid a strong tribute to Nehlen, who retired as WVU’s head football coach in 2000.
“One of the things that Coach Nehlen wanted to get us doing was understanding that just being a football player wasn’t enough. It’s about the kids,” Jozwiak said.
That’s how he and so many Mountaineers became involved with Children’s Hospital.
“I never forced anybody to go to the hospital,” Nehlen said. “They knew I went every Friday. I said, ‘Hey, at 11 o’clock, I’ll be in the lobby. I need six, eight, 10 guys.’ Brian was there every time.”
Nehlen is a Hall of Fame coach, but the relationships with players, he stressed, is more valuable to him than the victories.
“You know what? I don’t even remember the wins or the losses, but I remember Brian Jozwiak and Brad Hunt,” Nehlen said. “That’s the name of coaching. We’re getting so far out of whack with having to win and all that. Everybody knows you want to win. The lesson these kids learned was unbelievable. Unbelievable.”
Nehlen said so many players “really appreciate it because we had a little discipline.
“That’s the name of the game when it comes to coaching. It’s funny. I see a lot of the guys who played for me. I see a lot of them.”
Hunt, a defensive tackle from Ripley (1984-87) for the Mountaineers, has been close friends with Jozwiak since their days at WVU.
“When I came in as a rookie, he kind of took me under his wing,” Hunt said. “We’ve remained great friends since then. The tournament that he’s been doing for 23 years now straight in a row is a testament to the kind of guy he is. I’m glad to call myself his friend.
“It’s a special event every year that I wouldn’t miss for the world. It’s something that Coach Nehlen instilled in a lot of players to try to give back. We were talented enough to have the God-given ability to go out and play football and do the things that we did and have the opportunities that we had.
“There were a lot of kids who were born with cancer or had other debilitative diseases at young ages and were in the hospital. For us it was to have a softer side and do some charitable work and see how lucky we really were.”
Email Cliff Nichols at firstname.lastname@example.org.