By Mickey Furfari
For the Times West Virginian
John Stroia of North Canton, Ohio, was an All-America offensive guard on West Virginia University’s football team in 1985-86-87-88.
He was a captain of that great 1988 team, the first to finish a regular season undefeated/untied in the school’s football history. Stroia also is a member of the all-time team for the period of 1980-89.
The 6-foot-3, 262-pound hard-hitting blocker earned Academic All-America first-team honors in ’88. He also made The Associated Press All-America third team, meaning he was considered one of the nation’s best six college guards.
Stroia, who received All-Stark County recognition in both offense and defense in high school, was a key contributor to an offensive line in 1988 that coach Don Nehlen called “the best in the (21-year) history of our program.”
Stroia said, “We had a really strong senior class. We had a bunch of guys that stayed together.”
That team also had an all-time great quarterback, Major Harris, who excelled as both a passer and runner. The Pittsburgh native and All-American is a member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
Asked how it was playing football for Nehlen, Stroia replied, “I still tell people he’s one of the classiest guys I’ve ever known. The older I get, the smarter I realize how great Coach Nehlen was.
“He really was special to all of us players.”
Like so many former Mountaineer athletes, he said he wouldn’t trade his four years at WVU for anything. He has no regrets that he chose West Virginia while being recruited.
Stroia graduated in 1989 with a degree in finance. After trying out with a couple of NFL teams, he enrolled at Ohio State and got a master’s degree in business administration in 1992.
Stroia then spent 21 years working for the Die Bolt Corp. It constructs ATMs for banks nationally. He left that firm about a year and a half ago.
Then he became chief operating officer of the Will-Burt Co. He remains in that position now.
“I have two best memories of my years at WVU,” Stroia recalled. “One was being elected a captain (1988). My second best memory was after the Syracuse game (sealing the undefeated season) when we came back out of the locker room and circled the stadium waving tribute to our wonderful fans.”
He noted that there were about 23 seniors on that squad, and he really believes that was a major reason that they were so successful as a unit.
The Mountaineers earned a final national ranking of No. 5 in the polls and captured the Lambert Trophy, symbolic of eastern supremacy.
Stroia cites the third game of ’88 as a vital turn that year. It was against Maryland, then a tough opponent.
“We were down 14-0 after an interception and a fumble, and they scored on the first two possessions. But Coach Nehlen told us we were just going to run the ball (most of the time) and wound up winning the game (55-24),” Stroia said.
John and his wife Elaine, a graduate of Bowling Green, have been married 21 years. They have three children: Maria, 17; Tim, 15; and Eleanor, 10.