By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
JaJuan Seider was having one of those déjà vu moments.
Here he was, getting that big break he’d been looking for, this son of a coach having landed not only an assistant’s job as running back coach at a BCS school, but at West Virginia University, his school.
It should have been a wonderful moment as he readied himself to inform his employer, Marshall University, that he was leaving, but it was no better than bittersweet, the same kind of moment he had felt all those many years ago when he left West Virginia to prove again he could play the game of football.
How could he say goodbye to Doc Holliday, his head coach at Marshall, his mentor, the man who had recruited him to WVU and who had brought him to Huntington as an assistant coach?
“The hardest thing to do is leave your mentor,” Seider said. “Doc had recruited me since I was 15, and I had to go in there and say, ‘Doc, I got a call.’ But it was like he said, ‘I would be more selfish as a person than as a coach if I told you to stay here. You played there; they will take care of you; you have to go.’
“That meant a lot to me. That took a big burden off my shoulders, to leave on that note. He was great.”
Déjà vu, indeed.
“The hardest thing is the relationship part, whether it was here or at Marshall with Doc or telling Coach (Don) Nehlen I was leaving,” he said. “I try to tell so many people, never burn a bridge. You never know when you are going to have to cross that bridge again.”
Certainly, his time at WVU as a college player was difficult, and he knew it could have led to a totally different conclusion had Marc Bulger not been on hand.
Bulger, of course, became the greatest passing quarterback in WVU history, at least until Geno Smith came along, and an argument can still be made for Bulger, considering that he operated under a coach who had built his reputation running the ball in Nehlen and that he missed four or five games to injury in his senior year, leaving him almost 2,000 yards short of the total he had passed for his junior season.
“The deal was, I was good enough to play here,” Seider said. “It wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough. Marc got a jump. Marc beat Miami. What can you say?”
The year was 1997, and Bulger had beaten Seider out to replace Chad Johnston as the starting quarterback, but like so many inexperienced sophomores was having problems.
The opening game was a renewal of the series against Marshall and WVU had to come from behind on two huge defensive plays by cornerback Nate Terry to beat the Thundering Herd of Randy Moss and Chad Pennington, 42-31.
Bulger went just 11-of-22 for 114 yards in his first start.
The next week was East Carolina and it was no pushover, WVU beating the Pirates, 24-17, with Bulger completing 9-of-16 passes for 127 yards and no touchdowns.
Boston College followed and that was a disaster, losing 31-24, with Bulger going 17-for-29 for 218 yards with two TDs and an interception.
“They called me into the office, and I remember they told me, ‘If Marc struggles down in Miami, be ready to go,’” Seider recalled.
He was that close to getting his chance, that close to maybe replacing Bulger as WVU quarterback.
“Well, Marc beat Miami. What can you say?” Seider said.
Seider tried to make the best of the situation.
“Every day as a player I knew I had to push Marc. I tried to make Marc be the best quarterback in the country. I never stopped preparing myself as if I was going to be a starter. I was one play away,” he said.
But Bulger began setting records, getting better with each game, the offense changing into a throwing offense.
After a while, you get tired of making the other quarterback the best he can be and want to find out just how good you can be. That began rubbing at Seider.
“I was ready to go to the next stage,” he said. “I tried to leave earlier, but they talked me into staying. The hard part was the relationships. Those were my brothers. I mean, you saw Amos Zereoue, you saw me. We did everything together. That was always the hardest part to leave.”
Still, his final year he had a chance to play at Florida A&M and took it, told Nehlen he was leaving, as hard as that was to do.
He transferred and set the world on fire.
“That year made it easier for me. I won every award known to man. I took that team to the national semifinals, and we should have won the national championship. We were up 11 points with nine minutes to go,” he said. “You wanted more, but at the end of the day it left a good taste.”
All of a sudden, the world was aware of JaJuan Seider.
“I remember coming up here for homecoming. ESPN was going to do a special on me after that game where I’d thrown like seven touchdowns the first half. We were playing Rutgers. Coach Nehlen saw me, hurried over and put a bear hug on me and told me how proud he was of me. It made me feel good, like those guys were watching,” Seider said.
So was the NFL.
“As a matter of fact, I came back and had my Pro Day here. This was where I got drafted. San Diego flew their scout in to see me,” Seider said.
And here’s something no one thinks of today. Seider and Bulger were drafted in the same round, the sixth.
“People don’t realize you can have good players on the same team at the same position,” Seider said, which could be a good signal for Ryan Nehlen as he tries to draw interest from the NFL after playing behind the group of great wide receivers WVU had while he was here.
“Don’t forget, Marc was drafted by New Orleans and got cut. I was in the league longer than him with the original team. He went to Atlanta and was let go there, too. He went to St. Louis and it was the perfect system for him,” Seider said.
“He got rid of the ball quick, the perfect coach, his career flourished. The NFL is so much about being in the right system, the right place at the right time.”
Seider again was not in the right place at the right time.
“A lot has to do with being in the right system in the NFL,” Seider said. “I went to San Diego with Ryan Leaf.”
That didn’t work.
“I had another shot, but my knee was not the same. I let it go, just stopped chasing it. I had a chance to go to Canada, but I wanted to be a coach,” Seider said.
And so it was he left for a profession in coaching, one that brought him to WVU as a graduate assistant, then sent him off on a journey that has brought him full cycle back as the running backs coach.
In the end, it all goes back to Don Nehlen.
“That’s the Godfather. You look up to that coach. I still talk to Coach Nehlen. I love the guy. I know he made some phone calls for me coming back here,” Seider said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.