Player, Coach, Fan, Friend

You can count on it, when the West Virginia Mountaineers vie against the Pitt Panthers at Mountaineer Field on Thanksgiving evening, Coach Paul "Hoss" Starr of Newark will be glued to his favorite chair in front of the TV.

You can count on it, when the West Virginia Mountaineers vie against the Pitt Panthers at Mountaineer Field on Thanksgiving evening, Coach Paul "Hoss" Starr of Newark will be glued to his favorite chair in front of the TV.

In fact, that's where he and Punch, his wife, can be found on any day when Mountaineer football hits the screen. Unless, of course, they are sitting in the stadium surrounded by those fragrant West Virginia hills.

Thanksgiving night is an extra special occasion because Starr's good buddy, former NFL great and Hall of Famer Sam Huff will be honored by the retirement of his WV jersey. Another WVU great and NBA legend, Jerry West will be so honored on November 27 when No. 44 is enshrined in separate ceremonies during the WVU/LSU game.

Back when Starr was fresh out of Parkersburg High School, he had been recruited by several schools to play football including Ohio State University and Syracuse. A winter storm held him up in Parkersburg when he was on his way to OSU, he said. Later, while looking over Syracuse, Starr received a phone call from WVU Mountaineer Coach Art "Pappy" Lewis (everybody in WV has a nickname, Hoss explained).

"Pappy said, ‘Get your butt down here where you belong. You go to the airport right now; there's a ticket waiting for you.' I went back to West Virginia and that was the smartest decision I ever made," Starr told Our Town News in an interview last week.

"Pappy Lewis was like a father to me. I was a mixed up kid. I had lost my Dad, the Korean War had broken out, and I was trying to figure out which college to accept," he recalls.

Starr was a linebacker on the Mountaineer 1953 team with Sam Huff and others who became football luminaries. It was January 1954 when the champion Mountaineers prevailed in New Orleans at the Sugar Bowl. Nah! Well, all right, it didn't really happen just like that.

"Georgia Tech put it on us," Starr recalls. "We went down there two weeks ahead of the game, and scrimmaged twice a day. But, for many it was the first time away from home. We were homesick. I don't mean that as an excuse."

That was the first time WVU had gone to a major bowl, he explained.

"We had nine guys from the Sugar Bowl team go on to play pro football. We were so doggone close, and still are. When we all get together for 10-year reunions on the years that end in the number four, it's like we were never separated," Starr said. Named among the many standouts are Joe Marconi, Bill Hillen, Beef Lamone, Fred Wyant, Bobby Moss, Ray Walsh.

Starr describes Huff as a humble man. Huff wasn't the best football player, but he (like many native West Virginians such as General Chuck Yeager, the man who first flew faster than sound, was made of the right stuff, and that's why Huff became a great in pro football history.

Sam Huff went up against such NFL greats as Cleveland Browns Jim Brown when he was a linebacker with the New York Giants. Following his football playing years, Huff went into broadcasting.

"Sam made it bigger than all the others that were on the Sugar Bowl team. He just got better and better. He remained a great person with the success and a real teammate," Starr said.

Coach Hoss Starr is a household name around Newark.

Following a coaching stint at Circleville High School, Starr came to Newark in 1968, to coach the Newark High School Wildcats, where he stayed until 1976--the first time. Because of health concerns at the time, he stopped coaching and taught health and physical education at Roosevelt Jr. High School. After 13 years "on the bench," Starr returned to Newark High.

"When things got bad for the Wildcats, I came back and coached another six years."

He also taught physical education, weight training and health. He retired in 1997 in his mid-60s.

Although he loves West Virginia, he calls Newark home. He and Punch raised their four children here. If the kids happen to come when the Mountaineers are playing, the whole clan routes for ‘Them Eers.' They know the Mountaineer stories like a well-worn trail that meanders through the Appalachian foothills that Hoss and Punch so love.

"When I came for an interview in Newark in 1968, I decided it would be a great challenge. I've never regretted it; it's been a wonderful, wonderful experience. There's nothing quite like coaching. The kids touch your life. There are the great highs and great lows, and somewhere in between. I miss the give and take you have with the players and the coach's preparation, and being a part of how the players grow up," he reminisced.

Starr began his sports career in 8th grade when he tried out for basketball. The coach soon realized that basketball was not the boy's sport. So, he shifted to training on weights and wrestling, and has continued to have a reputation for toughness on the wrestling mat even to this day. In fact, Sam Huff came under Starr's wrestling tutelage during college days. Today, Starr lifts weights three times a week, and walks a couple miles almost every day. He mows the lawn, rakes leaves, and keeps a tight schedule of activities. (Shhh, Coach Hoss' 74th birthday is November 15.)

"The thing that meant most to me is the fellowship. Football is the game that's most life like. When you go through a season, the bonding you have is really hard to express in words. We loved each other like brothers," Starr said. His eyes filled with tears as he looked back over the years, and especially at the mention of team mates who've died.

Married to Carlyn "Punch" for 51 years, his lady says, "It's been fun."

Starr was delighted to learn about his friend Sam Huff's upcoming honor when Our Town informed him of the news reports in the out-of-state Charleston Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Here's what he wants to say to Huff.

"Well, you did it again, Big Boy. Congratulations. You are a special guy."

This article originally appeared in of Newark, Oh. It is reprinted here by permission of the author. The author and her husband Ron Sowards, are graduates of Hamlin High School and remain dedicated Mountaineer fans.

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