Welcome, everyone, to our newest series which I most certainly did not directly copy from our Riot Bowl brethren over at Wide Right & Natty Lite. For the next month and a half, leading up to West Virginia’s kickoff against the Tennessee Volunteers on September 1st, we’re going to be dredging up the worst of the worst in Mountaineer history. The bad teams, the bad coaches, the bad players, the bad arrests, the hilariously bad officiating. It’s all going to be covered in no particular order over the next month and a half.
I can see the comment section now. I’m probably going to get a lot of criticism because I’m not writing about the stuff that’s just sunshine and rainbows. Our Facebook comments will be a nightmarish hellscape that will make me want to drive off the side of the Star City Bridge. It’s not going to be pretty, and I accept that because this needs to be done.
The West Virginia Mountaineers are on the cusp of what could be a really special season, but it hasn’t always been great. So, we’ll be looking back at those horrible, terrible, no good, very bad moments in history. For some, this may help you move on. For others, maybe you’ll just find some humor in the situation now that we’re looking back on it. Either way, I think this will be cathartic for all involved, and should make us appreciate what’s in front of us.
We’ll ease into things with something that’s a little more lighthearted than some of the things I’ll cover in this series, but it’s something that could be considered a bit of a pivotal moment in West Virginia football history:
The recruitment of Tajh Boyd and Logan Heastie, the two top recruits from Hampton Roads that got everyone’s hopes up and never played a single down together in Morgantown.
The 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl marked the beginning of a new era for West Virginia football. Although the departure of Rich Rodriguez was a major blow to the program, the Mountaineers still had one more season with star quarterback Pat White, a former five-star recruit entering his sophomore season in Noel Devine, and a Jeff Casteel led defense that was poised to make a top 15 finish during the 2008 season. Things were looking good for the Mountaineers, who would enter the season ranked No. 8 in both the AP and Coaches’ Polls, and new head coach Bill Stewart would be tasked with ensuring that future remained bright even after White graduated.
Stewart cobbled together a coaching staff that featured two highly regarded recruiters; Florida associate head coach/recruiting coordinator Doc Holliday and an up-and-coming running backs coach from Northern Illinois named Chris Beatty. Beatty had ties to the Tidewater area of Virginia, having previously coached Percy Harvin and Landstown High School to a state championship in 2004 before becoming the offensive coordinator at Hampton University in early 2006.
Stewart and his new staff went right to work shoring up the 2008 recruiting class Rich Rodriguez had already begun to build, but also started looking ahead to the 2009 class - Bill Stewart’s first true signing class.
On March 15, 2008, West Virginia received commitments from two key targets from the class of 2009; a five-star quarterback named Tajh Boyd from Phoebus High School and Logan Heastie, a four-star receiver from Great Bridge High School. The two Tidewater area athletes’ commitments to the Mountaineers shocked everyone that had been following their recruitment, and elated the West Virginia faithful. At that time it was very rare for a high-profile athlete from the following year’s signing class to commit that early, so the news of two top 200 recruits committing to the same school - on the same day - nearly 11 months before signing day surely meant that Bill Stewart had just pulled off the greatest coup in history. Stewart had just cemented West Virginia’s recruiting base in Hampton Roads and secured West Virginia’s football success for at least the next 4 years.
When West Virginia held its annual Gold-Blue spring football scrimmage a month later, Boyd and Heastie became an added attraction. The pair made the trip to Morgantown with a couple teammates and fellow Mountaineer targets, and appeared on the sideline during the game - in front of the record crowd of 25,000 fans - sporting custom made t-shirts that read “Future West Virginia Football - Boyd to Heastie.” The Mountaineer faithful absolutely ate this up, so much so that at least one local shop began creating replicas of the shirt. There was a buzz around the program that Spring unlike we’d seen before.
The buzz only grew louder when two of Tajh Boyd’s Phoebus teammates committed to West Virginia. Dominik “Baby D” Davenport, a 6’0”-270lb defensive tackle, announced he’d be joining Boyd and Heastie just a few days after returning from his visit to Morgantown for the Gold-Blue game. Running back Shawne Alston waited a little longer to announce his plans - giving the coaching staff his verbal commitment in June of that year. Everything was falling into place for Bill Stewart and his staff to continue building off of the success of the 2007 season.
That is, until Week 2 of the 2008 college football season.
The No. 8 ranked Mountaineers traveled to Greenville, North Carolina to take on the East Carolina Pirates, who were coming in hot after upsetting the No. 17 ranked Virginia Tech Hokies in a neutral site game in Charlotte to open the season. What transpired perhaps signaled the beginning of the end of Bill Stewart’s stint as head coach. ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney picked the Mountaineer defense apart, going 22-of-28 for 236 yards and a touchdown. On the other side of that, West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen couldn’t get anything going right for the Mountaineers. The Pirates would go on to pull off their second straight Top 25 upset with a final score of 24-3.
The spiral continued the following week when the Mountaineers, who managed to stay just inside the rankings at No. 24, went on the road to Boulder to take on the Big 12’s Colorado Buffaloes. West Virginia’s offense was once again neutered by Jeff Mullen’s abhorrent playcalling, but Pat White somehow manged to tie the game up in the third quarter with his second rushing touchdown of the night. In the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, with the Mountaineers driving, Bill Stewart displayed what may be the worst example of clock management I’ve ever seen. As the Mountaineers crossed over the 50-yard line, Stewart seemed to either forget that he had one timeout remaining or just refused to use it. The clock expired on a 1-yard loss by Noel Devine, and the game was forced into overtime. Pat McAfee bounced a 23-yard chip shot off the uprights in the first possession, allowing Colorado to knock in a 25-yarder of their own for the upset victory.
Obviously that wasn’t the start of the season that everyone had in mind for the team that beat arguably the best team in the country in the Fiesta Bowl.
Unhappy with how things were shaking out for the Mountaineers, Tajh Boyd announced that he would be de-committing from the Mountaineers on October 12, 2008, sending a shockwave through the West Virginia fan base. A few weeks later, Boyd committed to Phillip Fulmer and the Tennessee Volunteers.
Back in Morgantown, Bill Stewart and the Mountaineers were coming off another overtime loss - this time to the Cincinnati Bearcats - when they received a commitment from an Elite 11 quarterback from Miramar, Florida named Eugene Smith. Stewart had managed to get the commitment from the South Florida signal caller on short notice following Boyd’s decommitment, and managed to keep the rest of the Hampton Roads kids on board. The following day, Smith’s Miramar teammate and best friend Stedman Bailey committed to West Virginia.
West Virginia finished out the 2008 season with a win over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Meinike Car Care Bowl to send Pat White out with a perfect 4-0 bowl record. Despite a less than ideal season, it looked as if Bill Stewart still had the program moving in the right direction with a star studded recruiting class highlighted by Tavon Austin, Tevita Finau, and Deon Long alongside Smith, Bailey and the remaining Tidewater kids.
Meanwhile in Knoxville, Tennessee fired Phillip Fulmer and hired Lane Kiffin to replace him. Kiffin cut ties with Boyd, placing him back on the market. Boyd would make his third verbal commitment announcement in January, when he chose the Clemson Tigers over the Ohio State Buckeyes.
While Boyd was wrapping up his recruiting, Heastie had enrolled at West Virginia and was working to get a head start for the upcoming spring. If he wanted to see significant playing time, he needed to prove to the coaching staff that he was as good as advertised.
Heastie didn’t disappoint in the 2009 Gold-Blue scrimmage, catcching a slant and turning it up field to show off his blazing speed. He looked as good as advertised, and WVU fans were all in on Heastie being the breakout player of the 2009 football season.
Unfortunately, none of that ever happened. Heastie didn’t see any playing time in his freshman season, and announced the following spring he would be transferring to play for the Old Dominion Monarchs. Heastie would end up never playing a down of college football.
Of the four original Tidewater commitments, only one actually saw any playing time as a Mountaineer. Shawne Alston contributed for four seasons, and served as a perfect compliment in the West Virginia backfield.
Although he remained committed follow Boyd’s decommitment, Dominik Davenport took a similar path to that of Logan Heastie. Davenport enrolled in 2009, but didn’t see any playing time as a true freshman. In January 2010, Davenport announced that he’d be transferring to Old Dominion, but was found academically ineligible upon his arrival. He would later end up at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa.
Boyd, as well all know, signed with the Clemson Tigers and went on to lead them to a 70-33 loss to Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineers in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl as a sophomore. Boyd’s career at Clemson turned out okay in the end. As a senior, he led the Tigers to a 40-35 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes and cemented himself in the Clemson and ACC history books for the most passing yards and touchdowns in a career.
Things also worked out okay for West Virginia. Despite the 2009 recruiting class being an utter disaster, the trio of Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin would go on to become one of the most iconic trios in college football history. Perhaps those shirts should have looked more like this.