By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
MORGANTOWN — Cliff Nichols and John Veasey have seen a whole lot in their time working for the Times West Virginian and they aren’t always in agreement when it comes to things they have observed over the years.
There is, however, one thing on which they are in total agreement because they were both there to see it with their own eyes.
“Kerry Marbury is the fastest man I’ve ever seen,” Nichols said the other day when Nick Saban, Marbury’s former high school teammate who went on to win national football championships as a coach at LSU and Alabama, was in town to be honored by the Chamber of Commerce.
Nichols went on to say that he had never witnessed anything like Marbury coming around the far turn in full lean on the Fairmont track at East-West Stadium.
Veasey was at the same meet and backed up Nichols’ story.
“I happened to be on that turn and he just flew by,” said Veasey.
He stopped short of saying that he could not see him due to the dust that he’d raised as he roared around the turn, perhaps because Marbury’s feet were barely touching the track. It may not have been that day, but Marbury once was clocked at 9.6 in the 100, which is approaching world class speed.
Marbury, of course, translated his speed to the football field, took it from his tiny coal-mining home town of Carolina, W.Va., and spent much of his life running in the fast lane. He was a running back like few other who had played at WVU, having been the most coveted prize coach Jim Carlen would land.
It used to be you could find his name in the WVU record books, because on Oct. 23, 1971, he rushed for 291 yards and three touchdowns against Temple. Did we mention that he carried the ball only 22 times and that he missed part of the third quarter with a leg injury, all of it combining to keep him not from gaining 300 yards but possibly 400.
Bobby Bowden replaced Carlen during Marbury’s stay and the two did not get along, Marbury eventually opting to leave WVU and head to Canada, a decision that he would regret.
“It was very confusing for me at the time. If I had known, or had had better guidance, I would have stayed and finished school,” he once admitted to John Antonik of the WVU sports information office.
Living in Canada was fine with Marbury, but he decided to try getting back into American football after being little used in the 12-man, three-down Canadian game, only to suffer a couple of setbacks. At 24, his career was over.
He drifted into drugs, spending some time in prison, time enough for him to begin to understand what life really was
about. He earned a degree, then a master’s degree, went to work at Fairmont State and had things going his way when the sky fell in.
He was told he had terminal cancer.
There was the original anger and disbelief, the denial and then the will to fight back. His old high school friend and teammate, Saban, contacted him, set him with a doctor’s appointment at a specialist in Birmingham, who could only confirm the diagnosis and the treatment he was following.
He remembers the conversation with Saban well, about how Saban told him he would set this up to get him a second opinion.
“Second opinion? I haven’t paid for the first one, yet,” he cracked.
Marbury was facing a difficult world in which to exist, one with a heavy weight on his back and dark cloud over his head.
“You know,” he said, “you don’t need friends when you are on top. It’s when you hit rock bottom, that’s when you need friends.
And that’s when friends stepped forward for him. He had support from friends who were willing to help him along, friends like Saban and a woman he had become close to in Michigan named Pam Blanchard, a district manager for Sears.
He remembers when he was in prison, about how he had so much time on his hands, about how he spent a lot of time thinking about the women he had been with during his life.
He also remembers realizing they were shallow relationships, based on his being an athlete, not coming with the support he was getting from Blanchard.
“I told her you could roll them all up together and they don’t come close to approaching her,” he said.
Marbury is fighting the fight.
“The diagnosis hasn’t changed,” he said. “But in my PSA tests that were 294 when I started have been down to zero.”
It is something to grab hold of, a ray of sunshine that is magnified by the support he is getting from friends.
“I wake up every day and find I love the little things in life,” he said.
He suddenly finds himself at times being that little kid who played with Saban in the peewee leagues of West Virginia. He’d seen a whole lot, played football in college and professionally and had come back to one realization.
“I was happier when I was playing for ice cream,” he said.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.