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In-state offense: WVU's best native sons

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — The one thing you never run out of all-this and all-that teams in football, be they all conference, All-America, All left-handers, all-vegetarian teams.

But this is the time of year when they become of interest. With that in mind, we wanted to put together a team that we haven’t seen until now ... an All-WVU team made up for all WVU natives of players who played high school ball at West Virginia.

And so, without hesitation, today we present the All-WVU native son (almost) offense and we’ll come back tomorrow with the defense.

All-WVU West Virginians offense

WR — James Jett, Shepherdstown

An example of why WVU should still have a men’s track team. Maybe fastest ever to play at the school as he was a seven-time track All-American and an Olympic Gold Medalist ... Only true freshman to start on 1989 Gator Bowl team ... Caught 11 TD passes in his career and had 1,384 receiving yards ... Said goodbye with a 78-yard TD catch from quarterback Darren Studstill in final game against Louisiana Tech in 1992 ... His 3,076 all-purpose yards were fifth best in WVU history when he left ... Although undrafted, he signed as a free agent with the Oakland Raiders and played nine NFL seasons, finishing with 256 catches for 3,317 yards (a whopping 17.3 per reception) and 30 TDs.

WR — Fred Graham, Morgantown

Another two-sport athlete who also played basketball, Graham was a star from 1922 through 1924 for Dr. Clarence Spears ... Captain of the 1924 team that went 8-1, the one loss to Pitt, 14-7, costing WVU an unbeaten season and an invitation to the Rose Bowl ... Biggest win that year was over Centre College, 13-6, at the Polo Grounds in New York ... A product of Morgantown High and Indiana Normal, he was the top receiver on the 1922 team that went 10-0-1, a season marred only by a 12-12 tie with underdog Washington & Lee at Laidley Field in Charleston. That was WVU’s first bowl team and they beat Gonzaga, 21-13, in the East-West Bowl in San Diego. Interesting note, missed part of the 1923 season with tonsilitis and when it became apparent his services would be needed, coach Spears, who was a doctor, removed his tonsils. Lettered in basketball in 1925.

WR — Steve Lewis, Hurricane

The 1974 season was not a good one for WVU or its young coach Bobby Bowden, going 4-7. He had a freshman from Hurricane though, who he thought might become a pretty good player. That, of course, was the year Bowden was hung in effigy in Morgantown and that made it only matter of time until he left. Lewis was long and lean and he ran the ball some, caught some passes and threw some, which Bowden always liked. His sophomore year, as things came together and Bowden won nine games, then hit the road for Florida State. Lewis found himself being featured more a receiver, but now there was a new coach in Frank Cignetti. Things went bad with two 5-6 years but Lewis proved himself to be something special, he caught 48 passes for 737 yards and six touchdowns. Hurt the next year, Lewis returned in 1978 to catch 31 more passes for 629 yards and five touchdowns on a team that would win only two games.

OL — Joe Stydahar, Shinnston

One of the greatest athletes ever at WVU, Joe Stydahar played both basketball and football at WVU and once held the school’s single-game scoring record with 24 points in a basketball game against West Virginia Wesleyan and was good enough that long-time WVU coach Francis Stadsvold named him center on his all-time team. But football was his main sport and went on to become an NFL Hall of Fame tackle with the Chicago Bears in the 1940s. Stydahar’s teams were not very good but he rose above them, his best-known feat being seven blocked punts in the 1934 season, three of which led to touchdowns. A third team All-American and a participant in the East-West Shrine Game and the College Football All-Star Game in Chicago, which was where he caught the eye of the Bears’ George Halas, who made him the team’s first choice in the first-ever NFL draft in 1936. He played for the Bears until joining the Navy as an officer during World War II and then became an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Rams. In 1950 he became the head coach and in his first year led them to the NFL Championship game against Paul Brown’s Cleveland Browns, losing a 30-28 heartbreaker. The next year they won the title by beating the Browns but after the 1952 season he resigned to become an assistant with the Bears.

OL — Rich Braham, Morgantown

If you can imagine it, Rich Braham is a walk-on who became a WVU Athletic Hall of Fame member for his play at left tackle from 1990-1993. He started every game as senior captain during the 1993 undefeated regular season, blocking for Robert Walker, who broke the then-school record with 1,250 rushing yards. Braham made All-Big East and was named the team’s most valuable player.

Braham became a starter for the last three games as a freshman and never gave it up. Braham, who graduated with a degree in finance, was drafted in the third round of the 1994 draft by the Arizona Cardinals, who later than year would trade him to the Cincinnati Bengals where he became a fixture. He made 142 starts over 13 seasons in Cincinnati, moving to center where he protected Boomer Esiason, Jeff Blake and Carson Palmer.

OL — Gene “Beef” Lamone, Wellsburg

Considered one of the best offensive guards in WVU history, he also played tackle and guard on defense, making second team AP All-America in 1953 and third team in 1954 ... Was the only unanimous choice on the 1954 All-Southern Conference team and played in the East-West All-Star game in San Francisco ... The 1954 team is still considered one of WVU’s best ever with the likes of Lamone, Sam Huff, Bruce Bosley, Joe Marconi and Fred Wyant on it. They finished 8-1 and were ranked 12th nationally at season’s end. Lamone was co-captain of that team. In his four years WVU went 28-7. A fifth-round selection of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1955. After three NFL seasons he retired from football.

OL — Russ Meredith, Fairmont

Not a familiar name these days, Meredith had an interesting career, one we can emphasize with today, as he started in 1917 and had it interrupted by the influenza pandemic of the era and World War I. He still managed to win four letters, coming back to play from 1920 to 1922. In 1921 first-year coach Clarence Spears came in and moved him to left tackle and, according to his WVU Athletic Hall of Fame biography, he became one of the top speed tackles in the East, suiting Spears’ shift offense which required speed, athleticism, fitness and precision. Perhaps the defining moment of his career was a punt he blocked against Pitt that was returned for a touchdown in a 9-6 victory. If not, it came in the 1922 East-West Bowl victory over Gonzaga when he grabbed a fumble and carried it back 80 yards for a touchdown. He played both ways, as they did in those days, as was the team captain in 1922.

OL — Walter “Red” Mahan, Follansbee

Sometimes we forget how good the Mountaineer teams of the early 1920s were, but Red Mahan certainly knew all about it. He didn’t experience a loss until midway through his sophomore year and in the four years he played WVU lost only three games, those by a combined 20 points. The 1922 team went 10-0-1 and got them to their first bowl ever, which was quite an accomplishment in an era when there weren’t 30 bowl games. WVU built a 20-0 lead in that game and then held on to win, 21-13. In 1924, the Mountaineers went 8-1 and scored 302 points in the nine games. Mahan earned a couple of first team All-American honors and was a third team Walter Camp All-American. He captained the 1925 team that also went 8-1.

OL — Russ Bailey, Weston

Russ Bailey was the center behind whom Ira Errett Rodgers ran from 1915 to 1919. He came to school with him and Andrew “Rip” King and they were the centerpieces of a run that led to 24 victories, including an 8-2 record in 1919. How good was this man. This was what John Heisman said about him in 1928 — yes, that John Heisman. “Russ Bailey had the unusual knack of being able to snap the ball without watching back between his legs. He could snap accurately while keeping his eyes fastened on the man opposite him. This enables him to charge into the opponent much more quickly and effectively than most centers and, at the same time, he had a good idea, as he snapped the ball, of the lay-out of the enemy forces. Thus, when he snapped, he simultaneously lunged into his man, checking for a bare instant,, long enough to give his back time to be gone, then knifing right through the line, again to get ahead of his runner.” In other words, Bailey was ahead of his time. He earned a number of first team All-America honors. He went on to become an early professional player before becoming a doctor. He received a medical degree from Cincinnati, specialized in cancer and became director of the American Cancer Society.

OL — Bruce Bosley, Green Bank

Bosley was one of the greatest of the great at WVU, where he played both offense and defense for coach Art “Pappy” Lewis as a teammate of Sam Huff, earning consensus All-America honors in 1954. Lewis went to Green Bank to see Bosley play basketball and when he saw him move on the court he had to pursue him, asking if he ever had played football. An affirmative answer put Lewis in full recruiting mode and he convince him to come to WVU that night. Bosley won letters from 1952 to 1955 and wound up being named to 12 All-America teams. When WVU upset Penn State in 1954 he was named AP national player of the week and played in the College All-Star game, the North-South Game and the Senior Bowl. He teamed with Huff and Gene “Beef” Lamone to form maybe the greatest line WVU ever had. The 49ers took him in the second round. After starting his career at defensive end, he moved to offensive guard and then center and played until 1969, earning four Pro Bowl appearances. He has been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

C — Bob Orders, Kermit

Came to WVU out of Huntington High and enrolled at West Point, where he played center for aArmy but was implicated in a famous cribbing scandal in 1951. There were 50 Cadets implicated, including Orders, Ray Malavasi, who later d\coached the L.A. Rams in Super Bowl XIV, and Bob Blaik, football coach Red Blaik’s son. Orders, Jim Peyton of Wheeling and Phil Stockey of Pittsburgh came to WVU in 1952 with much fanfare and Orders anchored the offensive line in the offensive line in 1952 and ‘1953, two of the great teams in WVU history. A two-time all-Southern Conference pick, he was named to the NEA first-team All-America squad in 1953, a year he was named West Virginia’s Athlete of the Year. He was called “the best blocker I’ve ever coached” by Mountaineer coach Art “Pappy” Lewis.

QB — Fred Wyant, Weston

Fred Wyant was a four-year letter winner at quarterback for WVU on the great teams from 1952 to 1955, going 30-4 as a starter and leading the Mountaineers to their first New Year’s Day bowl, the 1955 Sugar Bowl. At 5-11 and 205 pounds, he was a sturdy signal caller as he became the only QB to lead WVU to three straight wins against Penn State. Wyant long ranked among the career leaders in total offence (3,426 yards), passing yards (2,663), pass attempts (401) and touchdown passes (20). A three-time Academic All-American, he played in the Hula Bowl. He was drafted in the third round of the NFL draft by the Washington Redskins, played one season with them, then one year with Toronto of the CFL. At WVU he also had one big season with the baseball team, playing first base and batting .406. He went on to have a long career as an NFL referee. He officiated the 1981 divisional playoff game in which Miami beat the San Diego Chargers, 41-38, in overtime.

RB — Quincy Wilson, Weirton

Quincy Wilson, the son of an NFL player with the Chicago Bears, Otis Wilson, was a high school star at Weir and helped WVU transition from Don Nehlen in the 1990s into the 2000s, slowly growing into a thousand-yard rusher capable of making spectacular plays with his speed and strength. Wilson played his first year at WVU and showed flashes of what was to come, then redshirted the 2000 season. There wasn’t much need for him as Avon Cobourne, who become the school’s all-time leading rusher, got almost all of the carries that year and the next. Finally, in 2002, Rich Rodriguez had his ground game in full swing. Cobourne rushed for 1,710 yards and quarterback Rasheed Marshall ran for 666 more, which would make you think there was none left for Wilson. But he gobbled up all he could, 901 yards on 140 careers. In 2003, his final season, he became the featured back and powered his way to 1,380 yards and 12 touchdowns. Wilson also made one of the great plays in Mountaineer history that almost upset No. 1 Miami. WVU was trailing with 2:13 left when he took a screen pass, slipped by Vince Wilfork, eluded Sean Taylor and lowered his shouldere and sent Brandon Merriwether over backwards, then hurled him and took the ball into the end zone. It was the college football play of the year.

RB — Robert Alexander, Charleston

A high school legend at South Charleston who scored 100 touchdowns, Robert Alexander battled drug and alcohol from his prep days through WVU and into the NFL, something he detailed in a book he wrote in 2016. Alexander was one of the most sought-after athletes coming out of South Charleston with 200 college offers but WVU pushed hard for him, Gov. Rockefeller got involved and he came to WVU. He had a rough time at school, he wrote in the book, didn’t live up to expectations until his final year when heh ad 1,000-yard season. Alexander wound up b eing drafted by the Los Angeles Rams and played two seasons for them.

RB — Robert Walker, Huntington

Robert Walker came to WVU in 1992 but did not see much action as a freshman, although when he did get a chance he excelled. Adrian Murrell, who would go on to a big professional career with the Jets, was the starter there so Walker was more of a walker than a runner. Still, he got 14 rushes and gained 113 yards, which is 8 yards a carry. The next year he inherited the job from Murrell and surprised everyone by turning in a really big season, rushing for 1,250 yards, including one that covered 90 yards. That, of course, was the undefeated regular season of 1993, but in the next to last game they found themselves in trouble, trailing No. 4 Miami, 14-10, late in the game before 70,000 fans at home. Not to worry, for Walker went 19 yards for a game-winning touchdown. Walker never could recapture the magic of that season, gaining just 1,257 yards his final two years combined, just seven yards more than he gained as a sophomore.

RB — Bob Gresham, Yukon

Gresham was born in Porter, Alabama, but grew up in West Virginia and set the school’s single-season rushing record with 1,155 yards in 1969. Gresham helped WVU compile 25-7 record as the 1960s rolled over into the 1970s, playing on their 1969 Peach Bowl team. He finished his career as the all-time leading rusher at the school with 2,181 yards on 417 carries with 18 touchdowns. Gresham included in that nine 100-yard rushing performances. His biggest game came in a 1969 victory over Richmond when he gained 173 yards on 33 carries. Playing football at WVU was not boring for Gresham, who also had 30 receptions for 340 yards during his career,, 12 punt returns for 103 yards and 588 kickoff return yards on 28 returns. He was an eighth-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints and played for three teams — New Orleans, Houston and the Jets.

FB — Ira “Rat” Rodgers, Bethany

He did everything. If they would have let him, he’d probably would have sold beer in the stands at halftime. WVU’s greatest, most versatile athlete who went on to coach. Said he was hooked on a sports when he hopped a freight train to see Jim Thorpe play with the Carlisle Indians as a boy. He was WVU’s first consensus All-American in 1919 as he led the nation in scoring on 19 touchdowns and 33 extra points. His 313 career points scored were a school record for nearly 60 years. A great passer with a strong arm, they said his knees were as thick as tree trunks, yet he was shifty as a runner, too. The great sportswriter Grantland Rice once wrote “There may bre a greater all-around football player in America than Rodgers of West Virginia, but no one has uncovered his name as November slides briskly along the autumnal trail. And it likely no one ever will.” Rodgers was teh first athlete in school history to be named team captain in three different sports — football, basketball and baseball.