The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

February 2, 2011

WVU expected to have 17 recruits today

MORGANTOWN — Too often, due to the provincialism that exists in all of us, we look at college football signing day, which comes about today with West Virginia University expecting to bring in a class of 17 recruits to join five early enrollees, as a one-way street to stock our football team for the future.

Certainly, it is easy to understand this thinking, for from August until January of each year Mountaineer football captures our imagination, takes over our mentality and toys with our emotions.

If, however, one can take note of another aspect of signing day, if one can turn it into what it really is, then it takes on a new, more meaningful meaning.

Yes, this is about football teams, but it is also about football players, teenaged children making a decision that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

Some make it; some don’t. Some leave; some stay. Some sit; some play.

Each is a unique case, a talented high school athlete who was a star at his school, moving forward into life, each with a story to tell of his past as he writes a story of his future.

On one hand, a Jason Gwaltney can come into West Virginia carrying five stars on his resume but completely unprepared to give of himself what it takes to make it, while his half-brother, Scooter Davis, can come in enveloped in Gwaltney’s shadow and become the player and person many hoped Gwaltney would be.

We don’t know, really, how any of these stories will play out, for we are dealing with 18-, 19-, maybe 20-year-olds who have to date taken only baby steps into life.

Every once in a while, though, there appears someone who brings with him credentials of greatness, some of them on the football field, some in life.

One such person who has given WVU his verbal commitment and is expected to file his papers today is Terrell Chestnut of Pottstown, Pa. As one of only two players in Bill Stewart’s final recruiting class or Dana Holgorsen’s first, depending upon your point of view, Chestnut will draw attention to himself.

And when they look at him, it will be as a football player, which is as narrow a view of this person as you can possibly take. In fact, his hometown newspaper recently put together a 2,000-word article on him and never mentioned what position he played, and the story lacked nothing by the oversight.

Because Dan Seeley, who wrote it for the Pottstown Mercury, focused not on the football player who is Terrell Chestnut but, instead, the person, which is the quality that far too often is overlooked.

He played quarterback in high school but is in reality an athlete who will be shifted to another position for his collegiate career, which should not be very challenging, considering the challenges Seeley outlined that he had already been through.

His had a troubled childhood, born in Philadelphia, coming out of a broken home, moved around from place to place. Battling grades and an aggressive personality, he seemed headed toward trouble.

“Terrell had a difficult time adjusting to his new environment when he first moved up here,” his high school football coach Rick Pennypacker, a WVU player from 1973-75, said. “He was an angry child who acted out in ways that were unacceptable. He got into fights, disrespected teachers, got bad grades, even got suspended from school. He seemed like just another young boy destined for a life of trouble.”

“I just got into a lot of dumb stuff,” he explained to Seeley. “We’d jump people, beat them up, harass them. We’d cuss at people, egg their houses. I even had a few friends who sold drugs. I never sold drugs, but I sometimes held the money for those guys.”

He wound up finding a support group, however, including his grandmother, his football team and Pat Hawthorne, a secretary at the middle school who showed him the light.

“I don’t know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t met Mrs. Hawthorne,” Chestnut said, adding they shared many conversations about the everyday ups and downs in the classroom and on the athletic fields. “That was my turnaround year.”

It is difficult to imagine what happened, yet terribly inspiring, as it shows that if kids can be reached before their lives are ruined, they can be rescued.

“But by the time he entered (ninth grade), we were able to see the transformation, able to see how he turned into the most polite, courteous and respectful young man in our school. And what separated him from every player in my coaching career was his character, his compassion, his integrity,” Pennypacker said.

Seeley summed it up this way in his article:

“Chestnut’s character is best exemplified in school, where he spends 5-10 minutes of his lunch break with special needs students. He is very visible and active in SNAP — the Student Needs Assistance Program — leading a group of students committed to a drug- and alcohol-free environment, and a group that has been recognized nationally for their efforts. He helped organize the football team’s participation in the Read Across America program, reading to elementary school students in the district. He’s also held leadership meetings at West Pottsgrove Elementary School, where he’s spoken to boys in fourth and fifth grades about academics, character and discipline.

“Chestnut’s passion to help others doesn’t end with the end-of-the-school bell, either. He’s the youngest member on the Montgomery County Council of Human Relations committee, and he often volunteers at ManorCare, where he spends time with and talks to the elderly.”

His next stop, it appears, is here, and Morgantown and West Virginia University may well wind up benefiting as much from his off-the-field activities as they do on the field.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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