The Huffman Awards

As I sit in front of the fire with a glass of eggnog and a gingerbread cookie, my thoughts immediately turn to the big man in the red suit.

No, not that big man, Ralph Friedgen and his sideline parka. The wait between the season ending win against Temple and the bowl trip to Jacksonville seems longer and longer with each passing day, and I cannot wait to see the gold and blue run out of the tunnel once again. It has been one of the more memorable seasons in the history of Mountaineer football, and I do not want to see it end.

I have done everything possible to pass the time; I have followed the WVU basketball squad, watched my Virginia Tech DVD, watched the West Virginia-Miami game on ESPN Classic, and even read through my dad's program from the '82 Gator Bowl clash with Florida State. The only thing left was to take another look back at the 2003 season. A common trend on every website and every sports television station is to hand out postseason awards. I decided that if Lee Corso is qualified, surely I am too, so here are my postseason Mountaineer football awards.

Most Underrated Player: Lance Frazier, Dan Mozes, Rasheed Marshall

Frazier: Most Mountaineer fans fully appreciate this senior's talents, but he has not earned the respect nationally that he deserves. Frazier has made play after play in his career in Morgantown, and if anyone respects his talents it is opposing coaches. Teams have refused to throw the ball his way all season long. The Florida native is also a big-time leader on this team and he is respected by all of his teammates. Lance certainly should have earned some consideration in the All-Big East selections.

Mozes: An offensive lineman not earning respect is nothing new, but Mozes is certainly worth noticing. Only a redshirt freshman, Mozes is already one of the top blockers on the team. Mozes has made plays all season long, including a key block on Quincy Wilson touchdown run in Miami. As talented as he is now, I really cannot imagine what Mozes will do after three more seasons in the gold and blue.

Marshall: Unlike Frazier, Rasheed was duly recognized by the conference, but it is at home where the junior quarterback has not gained the respect that he deserves. Fans have booed Marshall in his home stadium, and pleas to put in the backup are almost as common at Mountaineer Field as chants of "Let's go Mountaineers." All Rasheed has done in his days in Morgantown is win 17 games in two years, and has beaten every Big East team except Miami two years in a row. Chris Henry has emerged as a primetime receiver, but there has to be someone to throw him the ball. That someone is Rasheed Marshall, and it is time that he got the respect at home that he gets on the road.

Best Uniform Combination: Blue on Blue home uniforms

I will admit that I am a traditionalist and I still love to see the Mountaineers walk onto the field in blue jerseys and gold pants. That being said, I was impressed with the all blue combination. Not only did I think it looked great, I could not believe the attention it received. I have since heard recruits talk about the blue on blue look more than once. It seems crazy to think that uniforms could bring a player to a particular college campus, but in the modern age of recruiting it is often shocking to hear what brings the athletes in.

Worst Uniform Combination: White on Blue away uniforms

I understand the desire to mix the looks up a little, but the white on blue combination worn at Syracuse actually caused me to look away at times. The Mountaineers looked like a youth rec-league team that had taken some hand-me-downs from an area college and thrown the together to take the field. The stripes on the sides came nowhere close to matching up, and the color scheme looked like something that Ray Charles would put together.

Worst Opponent Uniforms: Syracuse all orange

This selection was not even close. As bad as West Virginia's fashion was on the trip to New York, it was hardly noticeable next to the home team. The Orangemen looked more like the endzone pylons or a group of prisoners than a college football squad. Maybe they hoped that teams would have vision problems after staring at the sun-bright threads, but it had little effect on an inspired West Virginia defense.

Best officiating call: Touchback at Syracuse

In the Big East Conference this was tough to pick, but again we go back to New York to find the winner. Just before the end of the first half, the West Virginia kick return team made what was almost a costly mistake. As Pacman Jones ran forward to field the kick, he could not find the handle, and the ball rolled into the endzone. Jones finally grabbed the pigskin but was immediately pounded to the bright green turf.

Much to the chagrin of the Orangemen faithful, the officials signaled for a touchback. The crowd and the SU sideline exploded, but it was the correct call. The rule states that if the player does not have control before the ball finds its way to the endzone, but picks it up once inside the goal line, it is a touchback and the ball will be brought out to the 20-yard line. The game was still very much up in the air when this call was made, and an incorrect decision could have drastically changed the game.

Worst officiating call: Grant Wiley interception at BC

In a league where the annual officials meeting are held under the big top, I had plenty to choose from to make this selection. One call, however, clearly jumped out ahead of all of the others.

With the game still in either team's hands, West Virginia's Grant Wiley jumped in front of a BC pass, fell to the turf with the ball, and popped up to show his prize. The ruling: complete pass for the Eagles. I have looked at this play from all angles, and I cannot figure out any possible explanation for the call. Maybe the zebra was looking for an invitation to the ACC and thought that the Eagles were his best chance, but the error could have been costly.

Rookie of the Year: Chris Henry

Okay, maybe this is a little obvious, but it is still worth mentioning. Henry's emergence has added a new dimension to Rodriguez's "Spot the Ball" offense, and it has been a major reason for the turnaround. When the Mountaineers need a big play, they can always look Henry's way and if the ball is put in his area, he almost always comes up with it. Chris was not even part of the game plan the first time West Virginia met up with Maryland, and he could be a big difference in round two.

Play of the Year: "The Run" at Miami

Again, this is similar to naming coal as West Virginia's most valuable natural resource, but it has to be mentioned. Quincy Wilson's almost inhuman scoring scamper was named ESPN College Gameday's play of the year and will likely earn more recognition before it is all said and done. "The Run" gave the visiting Mountaineers the lead, and was probably the turning point of the season. No true WVU supporter can ever see enough of this play.

Best Crowd: Virginia Tech game

Although not the largest crowd of the year, there was nothing like the atmosphere in Morgantown when the Hokies came into town in their fancy new ACC bus. The game had been circled since the schedule came out, and even with a 2-4 record, West Virginia's players, coaches, and fans believed that they had what it took to pull the upset. It was the first weeknight game in school history, and fans had an entire day to tailgate and prepare for the showdown. The electricity when the teams took the field and when Brian King intercepted two passes was at an unparalleled level. It was a great night to be a Mountaineer and a terrible night to be wearing maroon and orange.

Throwback Player of the Year: Scott Gyorko

From the old-school neck pad to the old-school work ethic, Gyorko is the ultimate throwback to the days of Lambert and Butkus. Scotty is not the fastest, the strongest, or the most athletic, but hard work has earned him a spot in the lineup. Gyorko's performance against the option at Syracuse was a big factor in the win, and he has made key plays all season long.

Offensive Player of the Year: Quincy Wilson

Here I go again, Mr. Obvious. Replacing the Big East's all-time rushing leader is never an easy job, but Wilson has done as well as could ever be expected in that role. Even before the offensive line developed, Quincy was finding his yards on the ground. Often met in the backfield, Q dragged defenders down the field and fought for extra yards on every play. As the line has developed, Wilson's production has soared and he has gained more and more respect from the national media. Having a superstar running back has been almost a given for the Mountaineers, but Quincy will be sorely missed.

Defensive Player of the Year: Grant Wiley What else needs to be said? The ninth Consensus All-American in WVU history, the Mountaineers' all-time leader in tackles for loss, a four-year starter, Wiley has done it all. Wiley's play allows for less than perfect play around him, as he can easily cover up a teammate's mistake. That has been rare, however, as Wiley demands the most from those around him. Grant will be missed, but fans will have an opportunity to continue to enjoy the way he plays the game on Sundays.

Worst Loss: Maryland The feeling after the pounding at the hands of the Terps was as close to rock bottom as a Mountaineer can get. West Virginia was dominated in all three phases and showed few signs of life against Friedgen's troops. Fans began to question the direction of the program and rumors swirled that the Terrapins were stealing WVU's plays. The empty feeling in the stomachs of gold and blue faithful everywhere was a painful experience.

Little did anyone know that the Rod Squad would not have to wait until next year to get revenge. The chance will come in less than two weeks, as the Mountaineers head to Jacksonville to, once again, meet up with the Terps in the Toyota Gator Bowl.

Most Underrated Win: Temple

Everyone appreciates the winning efforts against Virginia Tech, Pitt, and even Syracuse and BC on the road, but the win against the Owls is often brushed to the side. Sure Temple is far from a national power, but the job that West Virginia did against the visitors from Philadelphia should not be overlooked.

Temple was playing its best football of the year, and had nearly upset the Hokies from Virginia Tech just two weeks before. Walter Washington had emerged as a threat on the ground and through the air, and the Owls were far from a pushover. Adding to the challenge was a cold, snow-filled Mountaineer Field, one of the smallest crowds in history was scattered throughout the stadium, the Gator Bowl was virtually already clinched, and Quincy Wilson and Kay-Jay Harris were both on the sideline with injuries. A loss would have put a huge damper on the amazing turnaround, but West Virginia was able to fight through all of the obstacles and escape with a win that clinched a share of the Big East title.

Biggest Win: at Syracuse This will probably be the most controversial selection of them all, but to me nothing was more rewarding than this W. I know that I will never forget the feeling of looking into the crowd celebrating wins over two nationally ranked teams and two big rivals in Virginia Tech and Pitt, and those were certainly some of the most exciting moments of the year. But the win in the Carrier Dome takes top honors in my book.

WVU had not won in New York in since 1993 and the defensive line was being held together with duct tape and super glue as injuries has taken their toll. The Orangemen were far from being a national power, but there is no question that they are a different team at home. A loss in the Carrier Dome would have been a major blow to a magical season, and the Mountaineers refused to let that happen.

Yards on the ground did not come easily like they had against Pitt and VT, and WVU's coaches were forced to find another way to move the ball. Rasheed proved that he can throw downfield, and Chris Henry made him into a superstar, pulling in everything that came into his area. The shouts of joy and the hugs that came from a proud coaching staff left little doubt as to how much the win meant to them, and visions of Gators and championship rings danced through the heads of Mountaineer fans everywhere for the first time.


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