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Frank Giardina

Frank Giardina

The West Virginia University sports family recently lost two former athletes, both from the southern part of the state.

Last weekend, former WVU basketball player Mark Dawson died in Huntington. A few days later, former WVU football star Oscar Patrick died in San Diego.

Dawson was a standout basketball player at Huntington East in 1967. He played on a great Highlander team that lost to Charleston High at the buzzer in the 1967 regional finals at a packed Memorial Field House. The game was won on a late tip-in by the smallest player on the floor, Sonny Burls.

Dawson has a unique place in Mountaineer hoops history. Under Sonny Moran, the 1971-72 basketball team was dealing with a tragic season. With players such as Will Robinson and Charleston High grads Curt Price, Levi Phillips and Larry “Deacon” Harris, WVU got off to a 7-1 start, including a win over Tom Burleson and North Carolina State.

However, on Jan. 19, 1972, Harris and WVU teammate Sam Oglesby were in an automobile accident that killed “Deacon.” The team never recovered and limped to a 13-11 record.

As the season progressed, injuries mounted, some players had academic issues and the roster became thin. Dawson was not using his last year of eligibility, but as the roster diminished, WVU assistant Gary McPherson convinced him to rejoin the squad.

Dawson played in six games and averaged nine minutes and 3.3 points a game. On March 1 in Blacksburg, Virginia, he gave his team a moment of glory when he made a long heave at the buzzer to beat Virginia Tech 83-82. His winning shot set off a celebration that saw Price climb to the top of a backboard.

It was a different time for WVU basketball. Besides Dawson, Price, Harris and Phillips, there were many in-state players on the roster. Mark Catlett (Hedgesville), Mike Carson (Sistersville), Charlie Hickox (Parkersburg), John Wooton (Beckley) and Chris Springer (Bridgeport) all played in a handful of games that season.

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In many ways, Patrick was a Randy Moss of the deep southern coalfields.

Patrick was a 6-4 multi-sport athlete out of Big Creek High School in War. Growing up in rural McDowell County in the 1960s, Patrick was not as savvy or as worldly as the 1990s athletes, but his size was similar to Moss.

He went on to be the first great pass-catching receiver for Jim Carlen and Bobby Bowden at WVU from 1967-69. He caught 50 passes from Mike Sherwood as a junior in 1968. I was in the stands on Oct. 5, 1968 when he caught 10 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns against Penn State. Former George Washington High School receiver Greg Edmonds also played in that game for the Nittany Lions.

Injuries hampered Patrick as a senior and knee issues curtailed his NFL opportunities. He has long been a beloved Mountaineer.

Contact Frank Giardina at flg16@hotmail.com.