MORGANTOWN — When Steve Dunlap played football at West Virginia 40 years ago, Charleston was a familiar place for a practice session.
“When I played we went down there every year, which was great for me because I was from there,’’ said Dunlap, who grew up in Hurricane before becoming one of the most proficient tacklers in WVU history as a linebacker. “But I think everybody liked it. It’s good to get out like that.’’
Since the 1970s, though, Charleston hasn’t been much of a destination for the Mountaineers. They played a few junior varsity games at Laidley Field and one year scheduled a practice session there but didn’t hold it.
“I remember Don Nehlen putting everybody on buses and going down there,’’ said Dunlap, who by that time was an assistant coach. “He got off the bus, took one look at the field and turned around and went home.’’
Well, on Saturday, West Virginia will be back in Charleston. The Mountaineers will hold a practice at Laidley Field beginning at 1 p.m. that is free and open to the public. An autograph session is planned for after the practice.
It’s not easy moving an entire college football team 160 miles or so just for a practice, but as far as Dunlap is concerned it’s worth it. Apparently coach Dana Holgorsen agrees because this is the second of two such remote workouts, the first having taken place two weeks ago in Wheeling.
“The players like it because it’s something different, and I think it’s a good team thing, too. You throw them all on buses, mix them up,’’ Dunlap said. “And the fans like it because the average guy can come out and watch the Mountaineers for nothing. That’s nice.’’
There will be no repeat of the 1997 fiasco when Nehlen canceled his team’s scrimmage after looking at the turf and deciding that it was too treacherous. Dunlap, who counts among his responsibilities now with the program that of an advance man for travel, went to both Wheeling and Charleston long before the scheduled practices to check out the two venues.
“We don’t have to worry about that this time,’’ he said.
Saturday’s practice is likely to be a bit different from the one in Wheeling two weeks ago for a couple of reasons. First, it will be WVU’s 11th practice of the spring — Thursday’s was postponed until Sunday because of weather — so the Mountaineers just might look a bit more like a football team.
“There was a lot of individual work in Wheeling,’’ Dunlap said. “I think this will be more scrimmaging.’’
And second is the opportunity for the autograph session. One was originally planned for Wheeling, but NCAA rules put a damper on that because Wheeling Island Stadium is owned by the Ohio County Board of Education.
“It’s Wheeling Park’s home field,’’ Dunlap said. “So you get into rules about dealing with prospects.’’
That’s not the case in Charleston, where the University of Charleston owns the stadium. So players can sign autographs.
After Saturday’s practice the Mountaineers will have four remaining in the spring, including the rescheduled one on Sunday. The 15th and final practice is the Gold-Blue game a week from Saturday at Mountaineer Field.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1