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.