The Times West Virginian

August 5, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU’s Dunlap says the game has changed

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — It’s been 40 years since Steve Dunlap came out of Hurricane to play football at West Virginia University to set records for most tackles in a game and a season which still stand.

Since then he has bounced in and out of his alma mater as a defensive coach, sidetracked into adventures at Navy, Syracuse, N.C. State and even Marshall.

It has been a long and successful career, one in which he has seen West Virginia change dramatically and its place in the world of football change with it, forever altered just as the game itself has been altered.

And no, you will not hear him cry out for the good old days, for he survived the good old days and knows that today’s kids have it like no one ever before them, be it with the marvelous facilities in which they prepare or the lofty position they hold in the world of college football, a preseason No. 11 selection that some believe could contend for a national title.

How different are things today than they were when he played on Bobby Bowden’s final team at West Virginia, going 9-3 and beating North Carolina State in the 1975 Peach Bowl?

“It used to be when I played football there was hazing, ‘Freshman do this; freshman wash my car for me,’ that kind of thing, but when I played freshmen weren’t eligible to play. Now they play,” he said.

No beanies … no hazing … you come in as an equal.

In ’72, when he showed up campus, the philosophy of football was very different.

“First of all, there weren’t any number restrictions; bring in as many players as you want. The rule of thumb was to bring 40 in and then the day they got there they would try to run 20 of ’em off. That was the Bear Bryant influence — ‘The cream will rise to the top’ and ‘those who are left will be champions’ and blah, blah, blah,” he said.

“It was brutal … absolutely brutal.”

West Virginia has finished its first three days of camp. The first two days were in shorts, then they donned pads on Saturday and scrimmaged before being off today.

Didn’t work that way when Bobby Bowden took his players to camp.

“I don’t know how many days of two-a-days there were, but it was Day 1 in pads, and you just went,” Dunlap said. “The first day with Coach Bowden was 1-on-1, 3-on-3, then 7-on-7 and you beat the living crap out of each other. Two-a-days was hit, hit and hit.

“I remember spring ball, it was 20 practices in full pads. Now we have 15 practices, two in shorts, only like eight practices you can scrimmage in,” he said.

It almost had to be that way because the game at that time was far more physical.

“It was more physical because there was more running then,” Dunlap said. “Then they ran 50 times and passed 20 times. Now they run it 20 and throw it 50. That’s the difference. When I set the tackle record against Boston College, I think they ran the ball 50 times. Someone has to make the tackle.”

That someone was Dunlap, who made 28 tackles in that 1974 game. In fact, Dunlap may have been the only one making tackles because WVU lost, 35-3.

Even though it was more physical, it didn’t necessarily mean the players were any tougher than today’s players, Dunlap said.

“They say the kids aren‘t as tough now as they were then. Well, yeah they are,” he said. “What you’re looking at is different.”

Here is what he means there.

“The biggest guy on our team here was probably about 260. You went from 175 to 260. Now you have players from 175 or 180 to maybe 340. They are bigger, faster and stronger, which means more collisions, a lot more stress.

“You did a lot more hitting (in the ’70s), but the sizes were different. Then they might be 40-pound differences. Now it can be 80 or 90 pounds differences. Plus, you have the bones and the tendons and the ligaments, and that hasn’t changed.”

One thing for certain was that it was a more primitive time when Dunlap played. The team played and practiced in old Mountaineer Field.

“Everything was spread out. We practiced at the downtown campus on Mountaineer Field. We had to ride the bus back, then we had to walk up to engineering for the academics, which wasn’t really cool when it was like 10 degrees,” he said, shivering at the thought.

Of course, today the weight room is filled with the most modern of equipment and a strength and conditioning staff trained in the latest methods of building strength, speed and stamina.

“In high school, I used a universal gym. I benched 220, which isn’t much. When I got here we had free weights,” he said. “Everything was based on time. All the middle-sized guys would be together, the big guys and the little guys. You’d work on agility in one room, lower body in another room and upper body in the last room. They’d blow the whistle and you had a minute and a half to do your reps. You would get stronger, but not really strong, as we have learned.”

This was an era when they would make you take salt tablets, and it was at a time when coaches just began allowing players to drink water during practices, nutrition and sports medicine still being in the dark ages.

“Concussions? What concussions?” he said. “If you got a real one, you were pulled out. But if you just got dinged, you were in there.”

And academics?

“We had to go to study hall, but that was for the parents. I don’t remember having tutors,” he said, knowing that now there is an academic center and players often get individual help.

Film studies then were just that … 16-millimeter film, and because the films had to be passed around from one position meeting to another, they often would be in the film rooms until 10 p.m.

Today, of course, everything is digitalized and can almost instantaneously be edited and sent off to where it is needed.

“The No. 1 thing that improved our coaching is all the electronic things we can do now. If they’re having a problem, we can show it to them right away, which was impossible then,” he said.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.