By Parker Stone, Panhandle News Network Sports

Part I: Building the All-Time West Virginia University Football Team

 

In the over 100 years of West Virginia football, there have been remarkable players that have made their mark on the Mountaineer program. With 15 conference championships, over 200 players selected in the NFL Draft, and seven members of the College Football Hall of Fame. The task is a mammoth one, but after consultation with peers, analysts, and the Panhandle Sports Live! faithful, here is how I would construct the best possible West Virginia University football team of all time. We featured the full offense and my head coach in my previous article, now we finish off the team with the defense, kicker, and punter.

 

Edge Defender: Canute Curtis

Canute Curtis starts off our front seven of the All-Time Mountaineer team as the premier pass-rusher in WVU history. Curtis still after a quarter century is the all-time leader in sacks with 34.5 over his four-year career in the gold and blue. Curtis was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year and a Consensus All-American in his banner 1996 season: setting the WVU single-season sack record with 16.5 and leading what was the nation’s top defense that year. A finalist for the Dick Butkus and Bronko Nagurski Awards for the nation’s top linebacker and defensive player, Curtis goes down as one of the greatest defenders in Mountaineer history.

 

Edge Defender: Bruce Irvin

As he is currently in the twilight of his NFL career at the time of writing this, Bruce Irvin will be chasing quarterbacks on the opposite side of the Mountaineer defense. Irvin came to Morgantown after becoming a Junior College All-American at Mt. San Antonio College in California. Irvin’s first year was used mostly as a pass-rush specialist which saw him land second overall in the nation with 14 sacks and being named an honorable mention All-American by SI.com. His dominance stretched throughout many Mountaineer contests, with eight games where he registered two or more sacks. Irvin would go on to be an important member of the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl 48 team as he has transitioned into a versatile linebacker in his pro career that can both rush the passer and play in coverage. Ranking in the top five in WVU sacks history in just two seasons the chants of Bruuuuuce will be loud for the All-Time Mountaineers.

 

Defensive Line Reserves: Julian Miller and Gary Stills

Creating arguably one of the best tandems in WVU history with Irvin, Julian Miller ranks second all-time in Mountaineer history with 27.5 career sacks. His career-high four sacks against Pitt in 2011’s Backyard Brawl helped the Mountaineers win the last one for almost a decade. Miller was a consistent tackler, registering double-digit tackles for loss, and has the versatility to slide inside to defensive tackle to pass rush for the All-Time Mountaineer time on passing downs. Named to multiple All-Big East teams, Miller is currently an assistant football coach in the Mountain East Conference with the West Liberty Hilltoppers.

 

It won’t be the last time you hear the last name Stills on the list as Gary Stills makes his way on the list. In his three years with the Mountaineers, Stills ranks just behind Curtis and Miller in all-time sacks with 26 in his career. One of his greatest outings came against Marshall in the 1997 opener where he kicked off his best statistical campaign with 3.5 sacks against the Thundering Herd. His final two seasons featured 22 of his 26 career sacks and gave Stills a career average of just under a sack a game.

 

 

Interior Defensive Linemen: Darius Stills and Dante Stills

It’s not a long wait for the Stills siblings to join their father as they both slide in as the top two defensive tackles in Mountaineer history. Older brother Darius was the better run-stopper of the two, logging in an astounding 14.5 tackles for loss in 2019. For his efforts, he was named BIG XII Defensive Lineman of the Year, First-team All-Big XII, and a Consensus All-American in 2020. His career 25.5 TFLs, 84 total tackles, and 11.5 sacks lands Darius on the roster.

 

Younger brother Dante made an immediate splash on the defensive line for the Mountaineers in 2018, registering 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks on way to being named a Freshman All-American. The benefit of receiving a bonus year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic helped Stills finish his career ranked fourth all-time in sacks for WVU with 23.5 along with 52.5 career tackles for loss. Racking up multiple All Big-XII honors in his career, Stills was selected in the 6th round of the 2023 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals.

 

Starting Will Linebacker: Darryl Talley

The latest Mountaineer inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, Darryl Talley was as consistent and versatile as any Mountaineer defender in history. A four-year starter, Talley tops the all-time solo tackles list in Mountaineer history with 282, second all-time in career tackles with 484, fifth all-time in sacks with 19, and added five career interceptions. His performances against the likes of Penn State, Pitt, and bowl game standouts such as the 1981 Peach Bowl and 1982 Gator Bowl cemented Talley’s legacy. Named a consensus All-American in 1983, Talley would go on to a successful NFL career for the Buffalo Bills where he started in four Super Bowls and never missed a start in his 12 seasons with the franchise. Talley was enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011 and his number 90 was retired by the Mountaineers in 2021.

 

 

Starting Mike Linebacker: Sam Huff

Along with Rat Rodgers, Sam Huff really defined the golden era of West Virginia football. Huff played both ways for the Mountaineers as a guard and tackle, helping the Mountaineers to a 31-7 mark in his four years in Morgantown. He was named a First-team and Academic All-American in 1955, but one could argue his best success came in the NFL. Huff’s pro dreams almost weren’t to be until a talking from Vince Lombardi and a scheme and position change thanks to Tom Landry saw Huff become one of the greatest linebackers in the earlier years of the NFL for the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. Huff would end his playing career twice named a First-team All-Pro, four times a Second-team All-Pro, inducted into both the New York Giants and Washington Commanders Ring of Honor, and becoming one of only two WVU players to be inducted into both the Pro Football and College Football Hall of Fames.

 

Starting Sam Linebacker: Grant Wiley

Joining Darryl Talley as one of the greatest tacklers in WVU history, Grant Wiley was a force for the gold and blue in the early 2000s. Arriving with a splash, Wiley was named Big East Rookie of the Year in 2000 with 94 tackles, three sacks, and three interceptions. Wiley would go on to have a remarkable final season with the Mountaineers as he registered a whopping 167 total tackles and a nation-best 7 forced fumbles en route to being named a consensus All-American in 2003. Throw in twice being selected to the All-Big East First-team and the program’s all-time leading tackler, Grant Wiley rounds out a hard-hitting linebacker trio for WVU.

 

Starting Cornerback: Adam “Pacman” Jones

What Tavon Austin is remembered for the offense can be said for Adam “Pacman” Jones on the defensive side of West Virginia football history. Jones settled into more of a starter into his sophomore season where he registered an impressive 93 tackles from the cornerback position and four interceptions, while also becoming the primary returner for kickoffs and punts. This performance landed Pacman a Second-team Big East selection. His final season at WVU prompted a First-team selection to the All-Big East team with three interceptions and a punt return for a touchdown in the first game of the 2004 season against East Carolina. Pacman would forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the 2005 NFL Draft. He would be the first defensive player selected by the Tennessee Titans 6th overall. While his NFL career featured troubling moments at times, Pacman lasted 13 years in the NFL and racked up a First-team All-Pro selection in 2014 and a Pro Bowl selection in 2015 with the Cincinnati Bengals. Whether it was on the field, in a wrestling or boxing ring, or now alongside former Mountaineer Pat McAfee on his show, Pacman Jones will always bring highlight moments.

 

 

Starting Cornerback: Aaron Beasley

Starting on the opposite side of Pacman Jones will be the ball hawk of the Mountaineer secondary in Aaron Beasley. Beasley’s banner season came in 1994 where he set the single-season interception record for the Mountaineers with 10. These came in key games as well, with three interceptions against Virginia Tech and two against Pitt. Also in 1994, Beasley had an impressive streak of six straight games with an interception. Beasley followed that up with a successful season as a lockdown corner in 1995 with a then-school-record 18 pass breakups and five interceptions. Beasley was named First-team Big East, a consensus All-American, and was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s best defensive back. Beasley would go on to be drafted in the 1996 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars and holds the Jaguars’ record for longest interception return in team history. Beasley also played for the New York Jets and the Atlanta Falcons in his nine-year NFL career.

 

Nickel and Dime Cornerbacks: Daryl Worley and Rasul Douglas

Daryl Worley will slot in as the nickel corner for the All-Time Mountaineers. Leading the team in interceptions his sophomore season, Worley followed that up by being named All Big-XII First Team. His season marks included six interceptions, 49 tackles, and two forced fumbles. A sure tackler and playmaker, Worley would be the ideal nickel corner.

 

Rasul Douglas completes the cornerback room for the greatest WVU team ever assembled. Douglas was a two-year member of the Mountaineers coming by way of Nassau Community College. His senior season was one of the best in recent memory for a Mountaineer corner as he was named First-team All-Big XII while tying the nation lead at eight interceptions and making 70 tackles.

 

 

Starting Safety: Bo Orlando

One of the biggest pieces of the undefeated 1988 season for the Mountaineers, Bo Orlando checks in at safety for the All-Time Mountaineers. Orlando played at WVU from 1985-88 where he registered 173 career tackles, four pass breakups, and five interceptions. Orlando had his best season in 1988 when he registered three interceptions as a feared safety across the nation, being named an All-American for that season. Orlando would go on to have a successful NFL career primarily with the Houston Oilers.

 

Starting Safety: Karl Joseph

Completing the WVU secondary is the hard hitter of the group in Karl Joseph. A starter all four years in Morgantown, Joseph was the first star for the Mountaineers in the post-Geno, Tavon, and Stedman era of the Mountaineers. Joseph registered 100-plus tackles his freshman season, forced eight career fumbles, and was on pace for a historic senior season, registering five interceptions before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Oklahoma in just the fourth game of the season. Joseph would go on to be drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft and would play for the Raiders, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

Reserve Safety: Darwin Cook

Darwin Cook will always have a special place for Mountaineer fans for his 99-yard return in the Orange Bowl, but beyond the play, he was an excellent safety for the gold and blue. Cook recorded 239 career tackles in four seasons for WVU, seven career interceptions, and twelve career pass breakups.

 

Starting Kicker: Pat McAfee

Before he became the most popular sports personality in the nation, before he stepped into a professional ring, and before he became the best punter of the 2010s decade in the NFL, he was WVU’s kicker. Pat McAfee made his way to WVU after being found out by Tony Gibson and started all four years as the kicker for the Mountaineers. McAfee later would transition into providing both kicking and punting duties for the WVU, where he would be a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award and a finalist for the Ray Guy Award given to the nation’s best kicker and punter respectively. McAfee was named an All-American in 2008, but fans do have a gripe with the now College Gameday host for his infamous misses in the final regular season game against Pitt that seemed to cost the Mountaineers a shot in the BCS National Championship that season. Time heals all wounds, and Pat is the best to do double duty and the best kicker in Mountaineer history.

 

Starting Punter: Todd Sauerbrun

We finish out the All-Time WVU team with another one of the easier choices being Todd Sauerbrun at Punter. Sauerbrun changed field position for the Mountaineers in the early 1990s with his booming right leg. A three-time member of the All-Big East First-team, an honorable mention All-American in 1992 and 1993, and securing consensus All-American honors in 1994. That 1994 season saw Sauerbrun set the NCAA record with an impressive punt yards average of 48.4 yards. Sauerbrun would continue his success in the NFL, being a second-round pick in the 1995 NFL Draft to the Chicago Bears. Sauerbrun would see the most success in his tenure with the Carolina Panthers being named twice a First-team All-Pro and a three-time Pro Bowler.