MORGANTOWN — When they built Mountaineer Field and then opened it up for business 40 years ago they etched into the history books a perfect place to divide WVU’s modern era from its early days.
The Mountaineers introduced a new coach, a new stadium, a new attitude.
They would be tough, competitive and play on a national level.
And since then, as the stadium expanded and was redone, the echoes of John Denver’s opening rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” has echoed throughout. They may have added new and modern offices, dining and study areas, weight room and suites, widened the walkways, and put in a 21st century scoreboard system far ahead of its time, but it has always been what it was built to be … a football stadium.
“There was a lot of talk of where to put it,” said former WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong, who was in on the original planning, “but I think we made a pretty good choice.”
The stadium took the place of the school’s golf course, set up beneath Law School Hill, and it has had a constant flow of great players come through it.
But who were the best?
That’s what we’ll try to answer here.
Here is our all-time WVU Mountaineer Field football team. Argue about it, let your blood pressure rise if your favorite player isn’t there. It’s unofficial, but the names aren’t just pulled out of a helmet either.
QB: Pat White
How do you pick between Pat White and Major Harris? Big games? Maybe. White played in and won four bowl games. Harris played for a national championship and got hurt. Interestingly, White played in a game that would have matched them up with Ohio State for a shot at the national title but also got hurt.
As great as Harris was, and he’s a College Football Hall of Famer, White’s elusiveness as a runner just lifted him to heights not even Major could reach.
RB: Steve Slaton
Slaton and White in the same backfield? It was unfair to opponents with the two of them running within Rich Rodriguez’s offense; it gave White the options to either run the ball himself, give it to Slaton, or throw it to a group of good receivers. Slaton played only three years, but he still rushed for 3,923 yards and rushed for the most career touchdowns in school history with 50.
Mountaineer Moments? He scored six touchdowns against Louisville in a thrilling overtime come from behind victory and rushed for 204 yards and three touchdowns in a Sugar Bowl upset of Georgia. As for Slaton and White, Slaton rushed for 215 yards against Pitt in 2006 and wasn’t the team’s leading rusher as White rushed for 220 yards.
RB: Avon Cobourne
Avon Cobourne came off the streets of Camden, New Jersey, determined to escape the ghetto and the way he did it was by escaping tackles. A tough, tireless runner, Cobourne carried the ball almost 300 times more than any other WVU running back in his career, toting it 1,050 times for a school record 5,164 yards. All that work and all that yardage and he stood just 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds. Cobourne played his professional career in Canada.
FB: Owen Schmitt
Owen Schmitt was the fullback Don Nehlen should have had, but Schmitt played during the Rich Rod era. The guy performed without fear, which led to the nickname “The Runaway Beer Truck.” Never has there been a more fitting nickname, right up to the point after his playing days when he opened a country and western beer joint in Morgantown.
Schmitt is known for breaking facemasks. The legend is that he broke eight of them from hitting people so hard. And those weren’t the anti-virus facemasks we’re wearing today. Those were metal. Amazingly, Schmitt carried the ball 160 times in his career and was dropped for a loss just four times, losing 5 total yards.
WR: Stedman Bailey
Stedman Bailey redefined the art of receiving at WVU when he came out Florida to play for Bill Stewart. He was a prized talent, and as sophomore in 2011, he snared 72 passes from Geno Smith for 1,278 yards and 12 touchdowns. But he was just warming up. The next year, with Dana Holgorsen in charge, Bailey rewrote the record books. In his junior year, his last at WVU, Bailey broke the school receiving records for catches with 114, yards with 1,622 and touchdowns record with 25.
He is the only receiver with a 300-yard game in WVU history, that coming against Baylor in 2012, a game in which he caught just five passes. His professional career ended when he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and was shot twice in the face while sitting in a car in what seemed to be a random shooting.
WR: Tavon Austin
One can only imagine what it was like defending Bailey and Tavon Austin at the same time. Austin caught everything, but he was most electrifying running with the ball after he caught it. He was used inside, outside and out of the backfield, and he probably gained ‘1,000 yards on little 1-yard flips from the quarterback as he went in motion across the backfield.
Austin also might have been the best running back WVU ever had, for when Holgorsen secretly moved him to that position in a game against Oklahoma, he rushed for a school record 344 yards on just 21 carries. He owned all of 103 rushing yards for the year coming into the game, mostly on reverses.
WR: David Sills V
David Sills V was a skilled player at an early age; he was offered a scholarship — as a quarterback — from USC when he was 13, which made him something of a celebrity. He was recruited to WVU by Holgorsen as a quarterback, but he didn’t pan out and the coach made probably the best move in his career by moving him to wide receiver.
Sills’ first catch was for a touchdown. But there was a problem, as he still yearned to prove himself a quarterback and went to California to give it a try in junior college. That didn’t work out, so he returned to WVU to make a career out of playing wide receiver. Playing just 2017-18 and that little bit of 2015, Sills was a scoring machine; he wound second to Bailey in career touchdowns caught with 35. Only Sills and Bailey have caught more than 30 TD passes in their WVU careers.
WR: Kevin White
Kevin White came out of Lackawanna Junior College, as did his brother, Ka’Raun, also a receiver, and his other brother, Kyzir, a safety, giving WVU a lot of great play.
Kevin launched himself to the top of those who played at Mountaineer Field with one of the greatest seasons in Mountaineer history. His 109 catches were just five behind Bailey and Austin, who share he record at 114, and his 1,447 yards gained in 2014 are second all-time to Bailey. Ten touchdowns in that season helped him become a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears as the 7th overall pick.
TE: Anthony Becht
Anthony Becht came out of eastern Pennsylvania as a tall, lean prospect who didn’t have any other scholarship offers. Don Nehlen saw something in him, though, and Becht developed into not only a great college player but a long-time NFL starter and now a broadcaster. Becht caught 83 passes for 1,139 yards and 11 touchdowns, but it was his blocking that really stood out. Quarterback came to look for him and he caught passes in an offense that wasn’t really built to feature the tight end.
OT: Brian Jozwiak
The 1985 West Virginia football team did not reach the heights of a few other teams, but at 6-foot-6, offensive tackle Brian Jozwiak reached the biggest heights of anyone who had played at the school. He became the fourth consensus All-American in school history and a first-round draft selection of the Kansas City Chiefs. Wearing No. 77, the Cantonsville, Maryland, native made an impression on all who played against him.
His pro career was cut short by injury after three years. Jozwiak then became involved in charities, and to this day his charity golf tournament continues to be played on an annual basis 30 years later.
OT: Yodny Cajuste
Yodny Cajuste came out of Miramar High in Florida, the same school that sent Geno Smith to the Mountaineers. He was a mountain of a Mountaineer at 6-foot-5 and 311 pounds.
Cajuste survived a knee injury that ended the opening game of his sophomore season and went on to become a second-team All-American as the driving force of an offensive line that blocked for a 2018 WVU team that averaged 40 points and 512 yards a game. No less a team than the New England Patriots drafted him in the third round.
OG: Solomon Page
Like Jozwiak, Solomon Page wore No. 77. And like Jozwiak, he was an immovable force on the offensive line of the Mountaineers in 1996-98. As a freshman, Page won the starting left tackle job and blocked for Amos Zereoue as he became the school’s and the Big East’s all-time leading rusher as well as quarterback Marc Bulger as he became the school’s and conference’s all-time leading passer.
Page was just the 11th freshman to start for WVU on the offensive line and graded out at 80 percent or better. Page blocked on an offense that gained at least 300 yards a game over the final 21 games of his career. He was drafted in the second round by the Dallas Cowboys and had a solid NFL career.
OG: Rich Braham
Rich Braham was the local kid from University High who made good. He stayed at home in Morgantown to play college football from 1990 to 1993 and was as tough a player as WVU has ever had. He was the anchor of an offensive line that paved the way for Robert Walker to gain a then-school record 1,250 rushing yards in 1993, and he became an All-American for his performance on what would be an 11-0 regular season Mountaineer team.
Braham was drafted in the third round of the 1994 NFL draft by Cincinnati, and despite four arthroscopic knee surgeries, two sprained ankles, a herniated neck disc and a broken toe, he went on to play 13 years as a center.
C: Dan Mozes
Dan Mozes didn’t part the Red Sea, but he parted many a defensive front as one of the strongest linemen ever to play at WVU … and as one of the best. Out of Washington, Pennsylvania, Mozes is sometimes the forgotten star of the 2003-2006 WVU teams that brought the Mountaineers back to national prominence with Pat White and Steve Slaton.
In his senior year, Mozes was a consensus All-American, an Outland Award finalist and the only WVU player to win the Rimington Award as the nation’s best center. Undrafted, Mozes signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 2007 but saw his career end due to a knee injury.
P: Todd Sauerbrun
You never quite knew what Todd Sauerbrun was going to do…except punt the football further than anyone else. Out of Long Island, Sauerbrun punted for Don Nehlen from 1990 to 1994, which meant he punted for the unbeaten 1993 team. It was in 1994, however, that he had a year unlike anyone who ever punted before him. In the opening game against Nebraska, Sauerbrun got off a punt that likely never will be equaled, one that traveled 90 yards. He wound up averaging 48.4 yards per punt to set an NCAA record and earn himself consensus All-American honors. The Chicago Bears used the 56th pick in the 1993 draft to select him and he played five years for them and is second all-time on their punting list.
PR: Willie Drewry
Willie Drewry was an exciting slot receiver who came out of New Jersey to play for Don Nehlen in the early years of Mountaineer Field from 1981-84 when WVU went 35-13 and went to four bowl games. It was as a punt returner where Drewry really set the house on fire. He got better every year and as a senior became an All-America when he was third in the nation in punt returns and 10th in punt return yardage. He holds the school record with 108 punt returns in his career, 33 more than any other player. He also holds the record for punt return yards at 1,196, averaging 11.1 yards per return for his career. Drewry played nine years in the NFL after being drafted in the 11th round by the Houston Oilers.
DE: Bruce Irvin
Irvin’s is a story of which novels are written. Homeless and arrested as a young man, he turned his life around as he went from Stone Mountain, Georgia, to California to play junior college football and then became not only one of the best defenders ever to play at WVU but one of the most popular. After his time with the Mountaineers, he went on to a solid NFL career. Irvin played just two seasons in 2010 and 2011, and no one was happier than opposing quarterbacks when he left. In those two years he had 30 tackles for losses and 23 sacks.
Irvin then stunned people with his performance at the NFL combine and was a first round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks. He is still in the league and is harassing quarterbacks with 50 NFL sacks and a Super Bowl ring.
DE: Gary Stills
Stills came out of New Jersey, played his high school football at Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania and was brought to WVU by assistant Bill Kirelawich, one of the best grabs ever. He became one of the great pass rushers in the school’s history. In 1997, Stills opened the season with 11 tackles, including a school record four sacks. He finished the season with 67 tackles and 12 sacks, and the next year he had 58 tackles and 10 sacks. His 26 career sacks are second all time to Canute Curtis’ 35. He has also been re-productively productive, being the father of current Mountaineer stars Darius and Dante Stiills.
DT: John Thornton
The father of current WVU player, offensive tackle Jalen Thornton, John Thornton was almost the perfect defensive tackle as he made 41 consecutive starts from 1995 to 1998. He came to WVU out of Philadelphia as another Bill Kirelawich recruit. Playing alongside Gary Stills on one of the really strong WVU teams, Thornton was a picture of consistency, recording 51 tackles and five sacks as a sophomore and junior and then 45 tackles and four sacks as a senior. Nothing changed after the Tennessee Titans drafted him in the second round as he went to play nine seasons with the Titans and Cincinnati Bengals, making 303 tackles and 27.5 sacks.
DT: Darius Stills
The only active player on the list, Stills has proven to be a dominant force on the defensive line with his brother, Dante, who may also muscle his way onto this team if he continues his development. Out of Fairmont Senior, many believed Dante had the higher upside than Darius, but that only drove Darius harder. Darius got his feet wet as a freshman, played a lot more as a sophomore and last year absolutely exploded onto the scene as a junior with 46 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss and seven sacks. That earned him All-Big 12 honors and set him up for preseason All-American honors this year. He had a career game against Baylor with career highs in tackles with 10, solo tackles with seven, and sacks with three.
NG: Chris Nield
Nield was the prototype — and pro type — nose guard. Out of Stroudsburg, he stood 6-foot-2 and weighed 325 pounds, had his head shaved bald and was a brawler in the middle of the defensive line. He was an immovable object from 2007 to 2010. Teams didn’t do much going up the middle against WVU as he had 130 career tackles, including 11 for losses, and six sacks The NFL took note and the Washington Redskins drafted him in the seventh round of the 2011 draft where he played for four years. In his first game he had 1.5 sacks against Giants QB Eli Manning. His career was ended by a second knee surgery.
LB: Canute Curtis
Aptly named “The Amityville Horror”, Curtis came out of Amityville, New York, to haunt opposing quarterbacks as the best pass rusher in school history. A three-year starter at linebacker, he was a 1996 consensus All-American after being one of the prime reasons the WVU defense was No 1 in the nation. The Big East Defensive Player of the Year that season, Curtis rewrote the WVU record books with 16.5 sacks for 121 yards of losses en route to being named a Nagurski and Butkus award finalist. His 35 career sacks stand as a Mountaineer record. Curtis played six NFL seasons after being drafted in the sixth round of the 1997 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
LB: Darryl Talley
How good was Darryl Talley? Well, you have to be pretty damn good to be a starting linebacker four times in the Super Bowl, which Talley was with the Buffalo Bills, a legacy that would have been even better had the Bills managed to win at least one of them. Talley came out of Cleveland and was there for the opening of Mountaineer Field, playing from 1979 to 1982. He led WVU to the Peach Bowl in 1981 and the Gator Bowl in 1982.
In 1982, when the Mountaineers stunned the No. 2 Pitt Panthers 16-13, Talley almost won the game single-handedly, intercepting Pitt QB Dan Marino to set up one touchdown and scoring a second one himself when he blocked a punt and took it into the end zone. That same season he was part of one of the most significant wins in WVU history, an opening upset of Oklahoma in Norman. Talley was an All-American in 1982 and was drafted by Buffalo in the second round. He played 13 NFL seasons.
LB: Grant Wiley
Wiley was recruited out of Trappe, Pennsylvania, and made one of the most significant tackles in school history when he stopped Virginia Tech running back Lee Suggs from the 8-inch line on fourth down in Blacksburg to save the game. That kind of figured, for it seemed like he was always making every tackle. When Wiley graduated, he held the school records for career tackles with 493, tackles for a loss with 47.5, and solo tackles with 288. Somehow he found time to intercept eight passes, break up 17 more, force nine fumbles, recover two fumbles and record 29 double figure tackle games. Wiley somehow went undrafted and was then signed by the Vikings as a free agent. His pro career ended with a shoulder injury.
LB: David Long Jr.
David Long was supposed to be too small to be a great linebacker. Wrong. Recruited out of Cincinnati, Long used quickness and intelligence to create havoc for opposing Big 12 offenses from 2016 to 2018. Playing in a league known for its offense and on a team also known for its offense, he made defense work and became a second-team All-American when he was named the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2018. In that junior year he averaged 9.3 tackles a game as he finished his career with 252 tackles. He still had another year to play at WVU when he opted to go the NFL, where he was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the sixth round.
CB: Pacman Jones
Say Adam “Pacman” Jones’ name and it conjures up a lot of emotion. He came out of a tough situation in Georgia and he got himself in a good bit of trouble off the field as a professional. But on the field all he did was make trouble for receivers and ball carriers as probably the best cornerback ever to play at WVU. Jones intercepted just eight passes in his three years, but that was because teams learned very early to stay away from him. He did a little of everything, even playing some offense while being one of the great return men ever at WVU. Pacman’s junior year was a monster one; he led the team in tackles with 76, including two sacks from his CB position. He was first team All-Big 12, won Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year. Jones went on to play 12 NFL seasons.
CB: Aaron Beasley
If Jones was WVU’s best ever cornerback, Aaron Beasley was 1-A. There was no better ball hawk ever in the Mountaineer secondary than Beasley, who, in 1994, set the school single season record with 10 interceptions. His 19 career interceptions rank second in school history to Steve Newberry. Another Kirelavich recruit out Pottstown, Pennsylvania, Beasley earned consensus All-American honors in 1996 and was a cornerback on that unbeaten 1993 team. Beasley didn’t stop when he graduated with a degree in sociology and anthropology as he was drafted by Jacksonville with the 63rd pick of the 1996 NFL Draft. He played 121 NFL games and had 24 interceptions.
S: Karl Joseph
There was something out of whack with Karl Joseph playing safety, for there was no one on the opposition safe when he was on the field. A vicious tackler, Joseph would rattle fillings when anyone came across the middle. He had 104 tackles as a freshman, 68 as a sophomore and 92 as a junior. He was on his way to having more tackles than any safety in WVU history four games into his senior year when he blew his knee out. Surgery didn’t scare away the NFL, such was his talent that the Oakland Raiders drafted him in the first round of the 2016 draft. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that when he was injured he was leading the nation with five interceptions
S: Brian King
This was really a tough choice, but King earned his spot in the same Virginia Tech game where Wiley made his courageous save. After Wiley stopped Suggs on the 8-inch line, Tech got the ball back and drove into scoring position only to have King intercept in the end zone to save the game a second time. After playing sparingly as a freshman and sophomore, King put the crowning glory on his career when he compiled 118 tackles and six interceptions. King, who was from Damascas, Maryland, was an intelligent player who made the most of his abilities.
K: Paul Woodside
WVU has had a lot of great placekickers, but Woodside, who came out of Falls Church, Virginia, stood above the rest. In 1983 he kicked 21 field goals in 25 tries and finished with 100 points, earning first team All-American honors. Woodside was proof that even walk-ons can get themselves noticed …. not only by the coach but by the nation. He finished his career with school records for scoring (323 points), field goals (74) and field goals attempted (93). Woodside was not only prolific but accurate, connecting on 79.6 percent of his field goals.
KR: Tavon Austin
WVU had some wonderful kick returners from Pacman Jones to Fulton Walker to Nate and Shawn Terry to Marcus Simms to Darius Reynaud, but Austin has two years in the top five for kickoff return yardage. He owns the single season record and the career mark with 2,407 kickoff return yards. Among his returns was a 100-yard return against Kansas State, which always was always among the nation’s best special teams under coach Bill Snyder.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.