Big 12 Media Day Football

West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen adjusts the mike before speaking to reporters during the Big 12 NCAA college football media day in Frisco, Texas, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

If you wish to cut your imagination loose, take a moment to consider the life of free-spirit and WVU head football coach Dana Holgorsen back in his college days.

Must have been a lot of fun, right?

Well, Doug Elisaia, Utah’s director for football strength and conditioning, can confirm the answer is yes.

Because he was right there beside Holgorsen, right in the heyday of Iowa Wesleyan football, right in the middle of the fun. And now Holgorsen’s Mountaineers and Elisaia’s Utes will be clashing in the upcoming Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl at 1:30 ET on Dec. 26 at the Cotton Bowl.

“I don’t have familiarity [with West Virginia] other than catching a couple games of theirs on TV,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham this week. “But our strength coach was Coach Holgorsen’s [teammate] in college so I’ve got all the dirt on Coach Holgorsen.”

Whittingham, of course, said it with a chuckle. And when Holgorsen was asked about Elisaia, he responded in a similar fun manner.

“I could never beat him up,” said the WVU coach. “He was approximately 6-foot-1, 290 pounds and was really a bad dude. I never tested him. He protected me most of the time. I’m not going to test him in pregame and hopefully he can protect me from anything that can go awry in pregame.”

“I texted him as soon as I saw the matchup,” Elisaia said when reached this week. “We’ve been texting back and forth. I’m looking forward to seeing to him once he gets in town.”

With good reason. Both, you see, were in Mount Pleasant for the birth and growth of the “Air Raid” offensive system.

“We were college teammates,” Elisaia said. “I think Dana was a junior when I came in as a freshman. He was a wideout for us and Hal Mumme was our coach. Well, Dana was one of the local guys, a star on the team. His family was in town so every once in a while we’d drive over and shoot pool. It was a relationship we’ve held on to ever since.”

Actually, relationships — plural — were built from the tiny town and program that have stood the test of time.

“We were fortunate to have a lot of people come through there,” Elisaia said. “We have pretty good network. Bill Bedenbaugh, now the offensive line coach at Oklahoma, was an offensive lineman. There’s just been a bunch of them.”

Consider that Mumme, who went on to coach at Kentucky before falling out of grace with the NCAA, was at Iowa Wesleyan from 1989-91. His offensive coordinator was law school graduate Mike Leach, now the head coach at Washington State. Kentucky associate athletic director Marc Hill was a linebacker. Ex-Kentucky and New Mexico State coach Mike Fanoga, now at Virginia Union, was there.

Yet Holgorsen was the local legend.

“His parents lived in town and we’d go over there, play some pool and throw a couple back every now and then,” Elisaia said with a laugh.

Meanwhile, the Wesleyan program grew. The offensive numbers were staggering. An NAIA record was set when quarterback Dustin Dewald completed 61 passes against Harding, Arkansas, in 1991. The QB had 4,320 total yards. Holgorsen was a primary target.

“We played the last two years together,” Elisaia. “Dana was awesome. He was a hell of a wide receiver. Gutsy and ballsy, that guy.

“He was just a guy that was always on edge, man. He was an athlete that was competitive as hell. He wouldn’t take any crap from anybody. He was feisty — and that’s what I loved about him. He was competitive as hell.

“I mean, he wasn’t always the biggest guy, but he had the biggest heart on the squad. He was fast. He could cut. Ran great routes. Him and Dustin Dewald racked up a lot of yardage for us. It seemed like they went for 400, 500 yards passing every week.”

Elisaia played for Iowa Wesleyan from 1991-95 and led the team in tackles — from a defensive tackle position — as a senior. He’s been at Utah for 12 years.

“He’s really a good guy,” Holgoresen said. “He’s done a great job for Coach Whittingham and has been there with him a long time. Does a great job.”

So what should one expect from the Utes?

“Our guys play hard,” Elisaia said. “They’re just a reflection of our head guy. Blue collar. Hard working. We’re excited to be in the bowl game and those guys at West Virginia are a good opponent.”

And you’ll never guess what he expects from WVU.

“I know they’re going to throw the ball,” Elisaia said. “It’s just like Iowa Wesleyan. Throw around that pigskin. Rack up some yards.”

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, fun will be had. Just like the old days — with a dash of newer technology.

“I have a bunch of buddies from college already texting me about us playing against each other,” Elisaia said. “It’s been kind of fun already.”

Mitch Vingle can be reached at 304-348-4827 or mitchvingle@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter@MitchVingle.