By Mickey Furfari
Times West Virginian
First of all, I’d like to publicly thank Dave Van Halanger for verbally “writing” this column.
It’s the product of perhaps the most inspiring interview I’ve had via telephone in going on 68 years or so as a sports reporter.
Van Halanger, who turns 60 in October, was a great offensive tackle at West Virginia University from 1973-75 under Bobby Bowden. He also will be remembered as the organizer of WVU’s first formal strength and conditioning program.
After a second stint at Florida State, the Turtle Creek, Pa., native is the director of player welfare at the University of Georgia. He has filled that position since January 2011.
This is what the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Van Halanger had to say about his high school and WVU years:
“Playing football for Bobby Bowden changed my life. I was from the Pittsburgh area, and I didn’t know a whole lot about what life was really all about.
“’I was just there to play football! Period!
“Coach Bowden gave you a picture that there was a big world up there and that God played a big part in it.
“And to understand what it was all about, you needed to understand how life works. That’s what Bobby Bowden taught me.
“That’s my relationship with God. How to treat people. How to treat women — and everything. Just everything.
“Coach Bowden was the best even then.”
Van Halanger still retains a very close relationship with the legendary Bowden and his son Tommy, with whom he became best friends while at West Virginia.
“Coach Bobby Bowden is just a wonderful man. He has made so much happen for me,” he exclaimed.
Van Halanger recalled, “When I was in high school, I had a coach tell me how bad I was. ‘You’re trouble,’ he’d tell me. ‘I can’t stand you.’
“I can still see his big face in my big face yelling at me.’”
He continued, “When I went to West Virginia, after a year at prep school, Bobby Bowden said, ‘David, you’re going to be a great player (for three years at offensive tackle). I can see that.’ And he painted a picture of what I could be.”
As a result, every day since that, young Van Halanger worked as hard as possible not to disappoint his beloved head coach, now retired as the nation’s all-time wins leader.
Van Halanger dearly wanted to measure up to Bowden’s expectations – and did as a Mountaineer standout.
“Wow! He did so many great things for me,” Van Halanger reiterated.
He admittedly enjoyed his years as a player, as an assistant coach for Frank Cignetti and as a noted strength/conditioning pioneer.
Georgia couldn’t have a better man as director of player welfare with his knowledge and experiences.