MORGANTOWN — This is about greatness.
No, not as you are thinking of it. It is about what goes into greatness and, perhaps, a new definition of what greatness really is.
We all think we know greatness when we see it, be it Mary Lou Retton scoring a perfect 10 or Pat White taking off on a touchdown run.
That’s the public side of it, more a result than greatness itself, for greatness doesn’t happen.
Greatness is created.
True, it comes with the genes, but it must be developed, as much mental as physical.
It is built of sweat and dedication, of character and desire as much as it is built of muscle and reflexes.
We think of this today because on Wednesday, in the midst of so much chaos exemplified in the turmoil the West Virginia University athletic department finds itself enveloped in today … racial, social and political fingers being pointed in the midst of a pandemic that threatens the very existence of sports themselves – at least in the short run, the football team tried to honor those who are the real paragons of greatness.
In the midst of all that, the football program announced the winner of the 2020 Tommy Nickolich Memorial Award and those named Iron Mountaineers by the strength and conditioning staff, awards that normally are given out at the spring game which this year was canceled.
The Nikolich Award is given annually by the Blue and Gold News to the walk-on team member who has distinguished himself through his attitude and work ethic, is going this year to safety Osman Kamara, a redshirt freshman from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The Iron Mountaineers are the most outstanding performers in WVU’s offseason strength and conditioning program.
You do not catch passes, throw touchdowns, break tackles or make tackles to win this is award, but you do all that because you won this award. It is the hours spent in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove to produce a 5-star meal, the staircase to success.
This year’s Iron Mountaineers were true workout warriors: redshirt senior safety Dante Bonamico from Bridgeport, redshirt junior safety Noah Guzman from La Puente, California, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman James Gmiter from Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and sophomore wide receiver Bryce Wheaton from Fuqua-Varina, North Carolina.
This is a group of players who embody what is good about sports. In a world gone astray, they have stuck to the task.
To be a walk on, as Kamara was and to earn playing time and recognition and, eventually, a scholarship is no easy work. It’s like running up Law School Hill dragging a 30-pound weight behind you.
The highly recruited athletes come first, in part because their resume screams out success, and in part, because the coaching staff by nature of recruiting them has put their reputation on having them succeed.
Walk-ons need to be special to succeed. They need to put guts over glory. They need patience and they need confidence that what they put into being noticed, usually through special teams, at least at first, will allow them to have the satisfaction of making plays on Saturday afternoon.
Will they become NFL players? The odds, they know, are stacked against them but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen or won’t happen, so they go at it as hard as they can. Those who are willing to sacrifice the most usually take the most out of it.
And as for the Iron Mountaineers, well, let’s just say that there’s no cheering fans there while you are pumping the iron, save for your teammates. The sweat on the floor around is the nectar of hard work and the way you change your physique from freshman to sophomore to junior to senior are the fruits of the aches that go into it.
It’s done mostly in the off-season, for in season you are trying to peak toward games each week, so the effort goes into practice … but the off-season can be grueling.
The coaching staff does what it can to make it competitive as it can, for with competition comes goals that must be reached and when the goals are set high enough you learn there really is nothing you can’t accomplish.
Bonamico is the perfect example, being a player who was a high school star but wound up walking on and who pushed himself upon the coaching staff and earned a starting spot and scholarship.
It was done through attitude and effort, creating a different football player that exists today than the one that showed up out of Bridgeport.
“When you get that slight opportunity, you have to take advantage of it,” Bonamico said last year, spouting advice from another former walk-on, linebacker Casey Vance, gave him.
Vance went from walk-on to All-Big East.
And, when promoted into a starting role, Bonamico saw it not as an end result but as a beginning.
“I’m still going nose to the grindstone every day. No one has a job set in stone yet,” he said. “I worked my tail off this summer. All of us did. The DBs were in here every day hitting weights we’ve never hit, pushing each other every day.”
And, he used that work to create an Iron Mountaineer, which is a bigger honor than you may imagine.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel