By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
When West Virginia University announced on Wednesday that Brandon Napoleon, a cornerback from St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey, had accepted a scholarship to play at the school, they pointed out that he had turned down offers from Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina and Rutgers.
What they didn’t say is that none of those schools every really had a chance, not with a kid who grew up with three of his father’s West Virginia uniform jerseys hanging in the guest room, along with a whole collection of hats featuring the West Virginia logo.
In fact, if you ask him his favorite colors, his father answers quite directly by saying, “blue and gold are my favorite colors.”
Oh, did we mention that his father is Eugene Napoleon, the very same one that played running back on the 1988 undefeated Mountaineers team that played for the national championship and firmly believes it would have won it had not quarterback Major Harris injured a shoulder early in the Fiesta Bowl showdown with Notre Dame.
Napoleon has gone on to make a name for himself after WVU, first playing football in the Arena League, then as a sports agent and as an author, writing the book “Dream Real,” which is promoted as “a top sports agent’s tips for teens serious about going pro.”
He wrote the book; Brandon lived it.
The trickiest part of all well may have been the recruitment of his son, for Eugene Napoleon knew he was in a difficult position, wanting not to dictate the choice of a college to his son, yet knowing where he hoped he would go.
“I tried to be as fair as I possibly could with that, but it’s hard,” he admitted, pointing toward his New Jersey home. “Everywhere you possibly look it’s West Virginia.”
So, in a way, it was a dream come true for both.
“Dad would tell me about Reggie Rembert, Major Harris, A.B. Brown … all that. A.B. Brown is like my uncle now. He gave me a lot of advice, too,” Brandon said. “The memories he has makes me want to have those kind of memories from my class and my teammates at West Virginia. Once I finally signed, I felt the love you get from your teammates.”
In many ways, this was an interesting experience for both, almost a second trip through the looking glass for Eugene while his son was being courted.
“I have to be honest, I’m filled with a lot of different emotions,” he said. “Having gone through this myself years ago and knowing what Brandon is going to have down in Morgantown makes me very proud.
“My wife and I did a good job of sitting down with him about a year ago. My wife coaches college basketball for the last 16 or 17 years. We gave him enough information, told him what recruiting was all about and let him make his choice. It was up to him. I thought he handled things really well.”
It was, he admits, different in the mid-1980s when he was coming out of high school.
“The biggest difference is the social media. When I came out of high school they didn’t have
Rivals and Scout and all the stuff on the Internet — Facebook and Twitter and all that,” Eugene Napoleon said. “I will say this, when I came out, Tom Lemming was around. To see him all these years later, still on top of his game, still picking high school athletes … that was neat. That was the tie-in from my era to this era.”
But change doesn’t necessarily mean progress.
“The thing I don’t like is you have guys writing about these high school kids who don’t know what they are looking at. It gives a different take on these young people. In my day, the people who were writing — Tom Lemming, Joe Terranova — they had a high football IQ. They were entrenched in football. When you read a scouting report from those guys you knew you were getting good information.”
They got it right on Napoleon, the younger, though.
He is the real deal, as a player and as a person, the latter probably being the more important part in the long run.
He’s dedicated, hard working, modest. At one of the All-American games they literally had to beg him to go on television, and after he did the host told Eugene that he was so modest they couldn’t get him to talk about anything but his teammates.
That is a rare quality in this era.
So, too, is the way he approaches his sport.
“He’s up at 5:30 in the morning,” Eugene said. “When (WVU coach) Dana (Holgorsen) was here, I showed him the commute and he said, ‘If he’s doing this every day for four years, gee whiz. You talk about discipline, there will be no excuse for him being late to class.’”
“Going to St. Peter’s every day is a struggle,” he admitted, “but it prepares you for real life. You are going to have to get up early in the morning and go to class. I’m already getting up at 5 in the morning, so that won’t be a problem.”
As for the matter ego, Napoleon played quarterback the last two years, and that can give someone an inflated enough opinion of himself that he would not readily accept being moved to cornerback.
“I’m 6-foot, almost 180. I’ll be a big corner,” he said. “I have natural ability. It’s not a big switch. I played defense all my life, starting way back in Pop Warner.”
And now he’ll be playing it in big-time major college football, at the school he wanted to play at, at his father’s school.
“Today is a good day in the Napoleon household,” Eugene Napoleon concluded.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.