Across The State: Week One

In the first installment of Across The State, come along with staff writer Adam Jardy as he heads to West Virginia to check out offensive lineman Josh Jenkins.

PARKERSBURG, W.VA. -- For the first edition of Across The State this season, I opted to break the mold a bit.

After a season of traveling to the likes of Canton, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo, I hopped in my car and headed southeast, beyond Ohio's borders. My target was offensive line prospect Josh Jenkins and the Parkersburg Big Reds, who were playing their season-opening contest against Ona (W.Va.) Cabell Midland.

En route to a state championship last season, Parkersburg defeated the Knights, 17-13, in the first round of the playoffs. Getting into town an hour early, I grabbed dinner and a copy of the local newspaper to keep me entertained.

There on the front page was a story on the heat wave gripping the region complete with a photograph of a five-year-old child playing in a puddle in an attempt to cool off. The child was sporting a glorious mullet.

I was definitely in West Virginia – although not far into it. In my futile attempt to find the stadium, I found myself facing a major intersection with two options: head into downtown (not where the stadium is) or back into Ohio (also not where the stadium is). Once again, Google Maps got me close to where I needed to be but not quite close enough.

After parking on a residential street, I wandered toward the stadium and was met with a sea of red that looked like Lane Avenue a few hours before kickoff. Apparently the Big Reds used red as one of their primary colors. Go figure.

I was also surprised to see a student dressed as the school's mascot – a full-fledged Indian who bore a striking resemblance to the now-outlawed Chief Illiniwek from the University of Illinois.

As I surveyed the home stands for a seat, I spied an open space near the top of the stadium and headed there. When watching high school players, I like to be as high up as possible to get a better overall view of how well they play.

This time, my seat was directly in front of three older gentlemen all wearing the home team's colors. I quickly struck up a conversation and found all three to be at least latent Ohio State fans – a bit of a surprise, seeing as I had heard so much about the draw of the in-state West Virginia Mountaineers.

There are few things better than watching a high school football game on a warm Friday evening while three older fans tell you everything you can possibly want to know about their team.

As the teams were getting ready to get the season started, I realized two things: It was very, very warm outside and I had forgotten to bring cash to the game. I was going to get thirsty quickly and there would be no respite. By the time the second quarter rolled around, I officially felt like a gross, sweaty mess.

The game began with the opposing team returning the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and got crazy from there. Parkersburg marched to a 24-6 lead, then found itself trailing, 41-31, early in the fourth quarter.

Only a late, two-touchdown rally – greatly aided by the blocking of Jenkins – prevented the upset. But just as entertaining to me in the second half was the new set of fans I was sitting in front of.

Of the three guys – all in their mid-30s, I'd say – all were die-hard Mountaineer fans. One pulled out his cell phone to show me a picture of himself and WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez. From them, I was introduced to Jenkins' younger brother, Justin.

I told him I was doing a story on his brother and he seemed very impressed I made the drive down for just one game. I asked him if I could talk to him for the story and pulled out my digital recorder.

He froze. And politely declined to talk into the recorder, looking nervous. I realized at that point I was trying to interview a freshman in high school and was doing it in the worst possible way. Once I put the recorder away, Justin eased up and gave me a few good tips on how his brother plays.

"That's a great pancake (block)," he said. "There's another one."

Sadly, he didn't have any embarrassing stories to share about his older sibling.

After the game, I spoke with Josh – with my recorder turned on – on how the season looked, how he felt, the usual questions. As I did so, I noticed all the little kids walking nearby gaping up at the massive player being interviewed. I told him he was a local celebrity and he laughed it off.

I also spoke with Parkersburg's tailback, Matt Lindamood. I asked him if I could ask him a few questions and he sighed for a second. I thought he was going to say no until he said, "Sure, but can we sit down?"

Great words from a tailback who had just rushed for 295 yards and had absolutely nothing left in the tank.

Once interviews were completed and I headed back to my car to begin the 2 ½ hour drive home, I passed a lady on the track surrounding the field who was unloading bottles of water from a cooler.

"Would ya like a water?" she said in the sweetest southern accent I had ever heard.

I swear, it was the best water I had ever had.

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