50 greatest Mountaineers: From punters to Hall of Famers
Taking the 1954 season as the the cutoff date, this unofficial list of the 50 greatest West Virginia University football players was based on those being voted to All-America teams, ones holding school records, a large number with NFL credentials and others who helped their Mountaineer teams reach the heights of bowl games and league championships.
Some of West Virginia’s most productive players were specialists who not only gave consistent performances in Morgantown but also had long and well-chronicled professional careers. On the greatest 50 list are punters Pat McAfee, Todd Sauerbrun and Mike Vanderjagt as well as 2015’s kicker Josh Lambert.
Back in the era when players had to be two-way performers was when several of West Virginia’s best-of-the-best were on stage at old and sometimes cold Mountaineer Field.
Bruce Bosley was a two-way lineman and Joe Marconi was a large-for-his-time running back. Sam Huff is one of only two WVU players to have his number retired. Chuck Howley was better known as a linebacker but also was a starting center in Morgantown before a legendary career with the Dallas Cowboys.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Mountaineer teams were known for their quick-footed and nimble runners and receivers.
Bob Gresham, Artie Owens and Danny “Lightning” Buggs often ran away from defenders instead of running over them. Jim Braxton was a bull of a runner both at WVU and for the Buffalo Bills.
Garrett Ford and Dick Leftridge were both larger than many of the linemen on the teams they ran to glory for at old Mountaineer Field.
The quarterbacks on the lean list are Marc Bulger, Pat White, Major Harris, Jeff Hostetler, Chad Johnson and Geno Smith.
James Jett blossomed in the NFL, using his Olympic gold medal speed as a wide receiver and return specialist with the Oakland Raiders.
Amos Zereoue and Adrian Murrell were starters right from the early portions of their careesr and ran into WVU record books.
Steve Slaton teamed with quarterback White to give their Mountaineer teams the firepower to win wild-scoring games with White capping his brilliant career with a stunning offensive afternoon in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2007.
Wide receivers Tavon Austin, Kevin White and Stedman Bailey are from the modern era with their 1,000-yard pass-catching seasons before all shuffled off to the NFL.
The most recognized of the offensive linemen through the fast-paced years have been Dan Mozes, Brian Jozwiak, Mike Compton, Rich Braham and Ryan Stanchek.
West Virginia’s premier linebackers have come in a steady supply. Canute Curtis, Grant Wiley, Darryl Talley, Carl Crennel, J.T. Thomas, Gary Stills and Renaldo Turnbull all earned All-America honors.
Concerning the defensive secondary, it was difficult to omit several multi-year standouts but it was not any problem putting Aaron Beasley, Bo Orlando, Mike Logan, Adam Jones, Robert Sands, Jerry Holmes and Tom Pridemore on the elite list.
Those having more impact on games than others on the defensive line have been Bruce Irvin, Jeff Merrow, John Thornton and Chris Neild. Neild was with both Washington and Houston in the NFL as late as the 2014 season.
The Mountaineers just completed an 8-5 season with a late, late night win over Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl. There could be a player from that team that could one day merit selection to a future list of West Virginia’s blue and gold best.
But for now, this list was not easy to limit to only 50 players.