Night of Champions Breeds Camaraderie

Admit it. You haven't been feeling quite right since about the 1st of January.

You love D'or Fischer and Kate Bulger and Yolanda Paige and Kevin Pittsnogle and Greg Jones and Janae Cox, and you're thrilled about how well the winter sports have been going, but your step isn't as springy as it was in November. You can't quite bring yourself to retire your #6 or #3 football jersey and you're working up mock NFL drafts to try and figure out how high and to which teams Grant and Quincy will go. You miss Mountaineer football. You really, really miss it.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the "Night of Champions - Mountaineer Olympics" was the event for you. If you weren't in the Caperton Facilities Building last night watching the Mighty Men in Blue and Gold sprinting, jumping, racing, slam dunking, and bench pressing, you missed a golden (well, blue and golden) opportunity to get a football fix to hold you until the April 17 Blue-Gold Game.

In the first event of its kind, the Mountaineer faithful were welcomed to an evening of camaraderie building and exhibiting the results of the winter's strength and conditioning program.

Big East Football Coach of the Year Rich Rodriguez termed the intrasquad contests of speed, will, and endurance the "Mountaineer Madness Games." With some hundred or so enthusiastic fans and lots of small children (including the coaches' families) looking on, the 2004 Mountaineers got a chance to play games, enjoy each other's company, and show off a little. Even the coaches got into the act.

Although at first glance some of the events didn't seem directly tied to football, after a little consideration, it turns out they were (well, except for the hard-boiled egg-eating contest). Competitions in weight-lifting, sprinting, and tug of war were obviously about gridiron performance, but other events got at necessary football skills in a more subtle manner. A slam dunk contest, for example, initially appeared just a release valve - until you saw how high Chris Henry's vertical leap was and how focused he was on getting his hands around that basketball. Coach Rodriguez explained the standing broad jump as the NFL's test for a runner's explosiveness. And when Freddie Little and John Pennington rattled off a series of spectacular catches during the water balloon toss, you realized it was an excellent way to work on that firm but gentle touch necessary to hold on to an elusive football.

Here are the medalists from each event:

Bench Press:
Gold: Pat Liebig, 455 pounds
Silver: Dan Mozes, 445 pounds
Bronze: Keilen Dykes, 430 pounds

Slam Dunk Contest
Gold: Chris Henry
Silver: Leon Price
Bronze: Rayshawn Bolden

Broad Jump:
Gold: Dee Alston, 11' 1/2"
Silver (tie): Rasheed Marshall and Dwayne Thompson, 10' 5"

Water Balloon Toss:
Gold (tie): Freddie Little and John Pennington
Bronze: Bryan Wright and Eric Daugherty

Medicine Ball Toss:
Gold: Scott Gyorko, 10 ½ yards
Silver (tie): Ernest Hunter and Kay Jay Harris, 10 yards

Farmer's Walk (The players competed to see who could carry 2 130-pound dumbbells (total 260 pounds) the farthest distance.)
Gold: Dan Mozes, 119 yards
Silver: Andrae Wright, 116 ½ yards
Bronze: Jeremy Sheffey, 116 yards

Fast Man 70 yard relay
Gold: team led by Rasheed Marshall
Silver: team led by Travis McClintic
Bronze: team led by Kay Jay Harris & Miquelle Henderson

Fat Man 70 yard relay (Contestants weighed more than 250 pounds)
Gold: team led by Jason Hardee
Silver: team led by Ben Lynch and Keilen Dykes
Bronze: team led by Craig Wilson and Jeremy Sheffey

Tug of War Gold: team led by Jeremy Sheffey
Silver: team led by Scott Gyorko and Ben Lynch
Bronze: team led by Marc Magro

Egg-Eating Contest
In the evening's biggest upset, three-time defending champ Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Herb Hand lost to Jeff Noechel

Gold: Jeff Noechel
Silver: Herb Hand
Bronze: Justin Knapp


Spring practice begins March 22 and the Blue-Gold Game will be April 17.

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Chris Henry, Pac Man Jones, Rasheed Marshall, and Eddie Jackson have been consistently running 4.3 to 4.4 in the 40 during the winter workouts.

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Wednesday, March 10 is Pro Day at WVU. NFL scouts will descend on Mountaineer Field to test Grant Wiley, Quincy Wilson, Brian King, Moe Fofana, Lance Frazier, Tory Johnson and other senior players in preparation for the upcoming draft.

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After watching the Slam Dunk contest, we understand why these guys play football.

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You already knew that John Pennington is a dyed-in-the-wool, dedicated, loyal Mountaineer. But did you know that he has a flying WV logo tattooed on his left shoulder?

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Do you have any idea how hard it is to throw a water balloon 35 yards?

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Jeremy Sheffey is sporting a new beard. Too bad he was ineligible to audition to be the next Mountaineer, as he certainly looks the part.

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Adam Lehnortt seems to be recovering well from his recent shoulder surgery. Although he did not participate in the Mountaineer Olympics, he attended the games and talked some serious trash to the Tug of War competitors. All in fun, of course.

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Mike Lorello (whose longer hair had the teenage girls in attendance sighing) separated all his hard-boiled eggs into whites and yolks, ate the whites, and left the yolks on his plate. Watching your cholesterol, Mike?

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It was great to see the team laughing, enjoying each other's company, and building the kind of relationships that will hold the 2004 Mountaineers together in the trenches next fall.

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