HUNTINGTON — Blocking, whether basketball shots or football defenders, is a specialty of Eli Archer.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound forward on Huntington’s basketball team and tight end on the Highlanders football squad is one of the better multiple-sport athletes in West Virginia. At 9 p.m. Thursday, Archer will lead the fourth-seeded Highlanders (11-3) against No. 5 University (11-1) in the Class AAAA quarterfinals of the boys basketball state tournament at the Charleston Coliseum.
Archer said the Highlanders hope to match the school’s girls team, which won a state championship on Saturday.
“They inspired and challenged us,” Archer said of the girls. “They won the state, then came to school on Monday telling us we have to win or else they’re better than us.”
Archer was a college basketball prospect, but accepted a preferred walk-on offer from West Virginia University football, choosing that route over several full-scholarship football opportunities from NCAA Division II schools. He said the day he planned to commit to Fairmont State, WVU assistant Travis Trickett called with the offer.
“I waited a few days,” Archer said. “Then [WVU head coach Neal Brown] called.”
Archer opted to accept WVU’s offer. He also considered Marshall, but the school was in the midst of a coaching change and that uncertainty led him to move on from the Thundering Herd.
“It was getting late,” Archer said. “I had talked with [Spring Valley tackle] Bryce Briggs and he was going to WVU. I knew the walk-ons they had worked hard and that’s what I do. I’ve always worked for what I’ve gotten. I’ll go work and if a scholarship opens, maybe I’ll get one. I’m not worried about that.”
Archer’s current concern is Thursday’s game. He said University is a formidable foe.
“That’s a good team,” said Archer, who isn’t related to the famed Huntington wrestling Archer family. “They’re 11-1 and have big, long, athletic guys. It should be fun.”
The Highlanders started 9-0 and ascended from unranked to No. 1 in the Associated Press poll before a late-season three-game losing skid. A 49-42 loss at Cabell Midland, a 62-51 setback to George Washington in the Mountain State Athletic Conference championship game, and a 51-50 defeat at the hands of Tolsia could have derailed Huntington’s season, but bounce-back postseason wins over Cabell Midland (59-54) and St. Albans (76-48) put the Highlanders back on track.
Coincidentally, the three losses took place with Archer out of the lineup because he had COVID-19. He said he never had symptoms but was frustrated he couldn’t help his team.
Huntington coach Ty Holmes said he’s thrilled to have Archer back.
“We certainly missed him,” Holmes said. “We’re better with him back. He’s a big part of what we do.”
Archer averages about eight points and as many rebounds per game, numbers that are down from last season. A more-balanced Highlanders attack this year, though, doesn’t require anyone to score big. Archer has plenty of help from Amare Smith, Jaylyn Motley, Brenden Hoffman, Joe Patterson, Zavion Johnson and others, making Huntington difficult to guard.
“This year is different role-wise,” Archer said. “We’re spread more evenly. We can have different leading scorers in nearly every game. Like at St. Albans, Zavion came in and scored 17.”
A fan of Marvel comics and movies, Archer said he enjoys basketball and football.
“Growing up, I was better at basketball until my junior year,” Archer said. “I’d watch them on TV and think I’d want to do that. In college, I thought about trying to do both, but that’s not realistic.”
Archer will stick with football, but not until, he hopes, he plays three more basketball games.