EDITOR’S NOTE: This football season will mark the 40th anniversary of the opening of Mountaineer Field. We thought it would fitting to go back and talk to former players, coaches, executives and fans and get their favorite personal memory of time spent at what is now Milan Puskar Stadium. We weren’t looking for game memories, but personal moments. This is the fourth installment on a number of such articles through the coming weeks.
MORGANTOWN — Brian Jozwiak was a mountain of a man. He stood 6-foot, 6-inches tall and weighed 300 pounds, an intimidating figure, especially when he went to his Mohawk haircut.
He was a perhaps the best player of the early days of Mountaineer Field, an offensive tackle who became a consensus All-American and the seventh overall pick of the 1986 NFL draft when taken in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jozwiak was truly a Mountaineer legend, yet you ask him for one personal memory of Mountaineer Field, a place where he dominated so thoroughly as Coach Don Nehlen was building his program, and you get instead probably his most humbling — yet memorable — moment.
“How do you take five years of going through what we went through back in the early ‘80s when we still went to camp and went through two-a-days for weeks and narrow it down to one thing,” Jozwiak said.
“Seriously, for me, if I have to narrow it down to one thing it goes back to the beginning of the journey and when I was so close to actually quitting as a freshman,” Jozwiak said.
Like all freshmen, Jozwiak had been a high school star in Catonsville, Maryland, and like so many freshmen he wasn’t ready for what awaited him in college football. We’re not talking about the ability to play, but we’re talking about the adjustment to what was being asked of you. You were no longer that pampered high school star, but instead you were eh, well, a freshman.
“Coach Nehlen at the end of every practice — one of the equipment guys handed him an index card that had names on it of guys who did something whether it be violating a rule, missing class, not weighing in and you had to run. You had to do what they called ‘eminders.’
“Now I’m a freshman and it’s maybe the first week and a half of camp and still learning the ropes. My name got called on the second two-a-day. We’re out on the field, it’s hot, miserable. My body hurt so bad that I could hardly think or see straight. It was brutal,” Jozwiak said.
“So my name gets called out for leaving my chair out of my locker. Now I know for a fact that was the last thing I did. I didn’t want no ‘reminders.’ I was overweight enough and I didn’t want to run extra, but my name was called.
“Well, at any rate, you had to do a 100-yard bear crawl and do something else coming back and I’m going with Coach Bill Kirelawich yelling at me all the way up the field and it was a nightmare. I was like the last one and I’m trying to make my way back to the other goal line and everyone else is done and I got vomit flying out of my face mask.
“I was a mess. The only thing that actually got me over the goal line was I could hear guys yelling my name and my number ‘C’mon, let’s go. Get there. Blah-blah-blah.’ I finally made it and got scooped up and in my mind I’m done … I ain’t doing this … it’s too hard. I went in the locker room and just sat on my stool by my locker and Coach Kirelawich came through the locker room, walked up and he got right behind me, put his lips right close to my ear so only I could hear him and he said basically, ‘Son, you gotta hang in there. You got something special. You got to get through this tough stuff. You did a good job out there today.’”
And then Kirelawich just walked away.
“I kind of perked up a little bit and thought, ‘That’s kind of cool, he’d say something like that to me.’ Now I was still going to quit so I called home that night thinking Dad would come get me,” Jozwiak said.
The conversation didn’t quite go that way.
“He gave me the ultimatum, ‘If you quit there you got two choices. You either go to work or go to the military. You’re not coming here.’ So I said, ‘Let me talk to Mom’ and he said ‘Nah, I don’t think so.’ Between him and Coach Kirelawich they convinced me to stay. Thank God I did.”
Today, Jozwiak is getting the view of what went through from the other side, coaching high school football in Florida and helping young players through the same emotional turmoil he went through.
The called him “The Wes Express,” a man who enjoyed life, enjoyed football and enjoyed the West Virginia fans
His career at West Virginia was a strange one. He came out of Keyser as a running back, was moved to the defensive line, then to the offensive line, then back to fullback where he became a cult hero … a savage blocker for Avon Cobourne and pass protector and a man who would carry the ball on the goal line.
His most memorable personal moment?
“You go on the field and you try not to hear what the crowd is saying, bad or good, but the times we would have the ball down on the 1- or 2 -yard-line and everyone would be chanting for Wes to get the ball was probably one of the greatest feelings I ever had, just knowing everyone wanted me to get the ball,” Ours said.
It’s hard for any of us to understand what it is like to be there and having 50,000 fans chanting your name, but Ours assured it gets to you.
“It was nice to know that everyone loved to see the big guy get the ball and roll on a little bit,” he said.
How did come that about, though, that Ours found himself in that situation as a senior?
“When I first came there I was a running back, but after a while there you get bigger and I moved to D-line and then to offensive line between my freshman and sophomore year,” Ours said. “Then, for my senior year, I went back to fullback. That was something I always wanted. I considered myself a fast fat guy. I had really good feet for being the bigger stature.
“When Coach Nehlen and Coach [Bill] Legg moved me, we brought the fullback with Avon and Cooper Rego running behind me. That’s always a good situation to be able to lead block for those little guys and protect for Marc Bulger. I took a lot of pride in that … and it was good to know you were loved in Mountaineer Field.”
And, it gave Ours a chance to have one of the most memorable Mountaineer bowl moments, scoring the first touchdown in Don Nehlen’s final game as coach in a Music City Bowl victory over Mississippi on a little swing pass that allowed him to rumble 30 yards into the end zone.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel