It’s not every day you get to spend an evening on Mountaineer Field with the WVU football team and coaches. So I was excited when I received an invitation from the Mountaineer Athletic Club for Football 101 for Women. The invitation promised me on-field instructional sessions with the players, a chance to meet the coaches, dinner and a live auction with the Voice of the Mountaineers, Tony Caridi.
The event did not disappoint. I felt like a clam at high tide. It was totally worth the day trip to Morgantown.
Before the program, I had to stop by Mario’s Fishbowl with my niece. I couldn’t wait to drink a frosty fishbowl of Bud Light. (I don’t typically drink Bud Light anymore, preferring instead craft beer, but it really is delicious in those glorious frosty goblets.)
I was only planning on drinking one, but some generous folks sitting next to us bought us another. (This is a common occurrence at the Fishbowl.)
After I dropped my niece off, I headed over to the stadium. Fortunately, I arrived at the same time as a girl I grew up with in Calhoun County – Stacy McCallister Crook, the wife of Offensive Line Coach Ron Crook. I hadn’t seen Stacy since last year when we were in Ft. Worth for the WVU vs. TCU game. Before that, I hadn’t seen her since I crashed her 20-year class reunion a few years back.
The program started with hors d’oeuvres and an open bar in the Touchdown Terrace at Milan Puskar Stadium. Boy, what I would give to watch a game from the terrace one day.
Afterward, we all received authentic jerseys to wear on the field for our practice drills with the players. I wore #28, the same number as freshman running back Elijah Wellman.
I developed a newfound appreciation for the players who have to wear those armors of burning coals they call jerseys on sweltering Saturday afternoons.
Once we had our jerseys on, we headed to the field in the drizzling rain. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to walk on Mountaineer Field. I was drawn to it like a 3-year-old girl to a chest full of tutus and sparkly tiaras.
On the field, the director of football operations, Alex Hammond, helped corral us into the bleacher seats – the very seats the Pride of West Virginia occupies during games. Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson introduced himself and his coaching staff, followed in lockstep by Offensive Coordinator Shannon Dawson.
Then the players led us in a brief warmup before we split up into groups of about a dozen or so to run through various drills. My group started with the running backs and then moved on to the offensive line. Every 7 or 8 minutes, an air horn signaled us to switch to the next position drills.
Isaiah Bruce went over our first linebacker drill. For the upcoming season, the defense has returned to the 3-3-5 scheme, which worked well for the Mountaineers under former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.
After we finished our drills with the linebackers, we visited with special teams, where I tried very unsuccessfully to kick the ball. The ball didn’t even get up in the air, but rather tumbled pitifully a few times on the ground like a box of old cleats.
I did a much better job completing the drills coached by the defensive line. The first one involved running around a large hoop, staying as close to the edge as possible. This drill teaches the defensive linemen how to stay on the edge of an offensive player as well as how to shorten the corner around the pass protector.
I really enjoyed our final drill with the wide receivers. I was assisted by junior corner Khairi Sharif and sophomore receiver Chai Smith. During part of it, a 10-year-old girl stepped in to play quarterback. This half pint had quite an arm. In fact, I’m sure she’d put most boys 3 or 4 years her senior to shame.
One of the star participants of the day was 77-year-old Kay Kinder, who completed each drill to cheers and even a few hugs. The players affectionately called her, “Grandma.” I came across this video from the MAC of her completing a drill and I had to share it.
Before we headed back to Touchdown Terrace for dinner and a live auction, we gathered at the center of the field to sing our beloved anthem, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” The pride and joy I felt when belting out this song on the field – with the players and other Football 101 participants – shot up tenfold from what it normally is. And that’s saying a lot. We all stood hugging and swaying in unison like a mountainside of sugar maples in a gentle, late summer breeze.
Unfortunately, I had to bow out before the live auction since I had to drive back to Akron. But next year, I’ll plan on staying overnight. After meeting this fine group of players, I’m even more psyched for the new season to start.
Let’s go Mountaineers! Beat Bama!