The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

February 6, 2012

Wyant recalls Mountaineers’ first ‘Golden Era’ of football

MORGANTOWN — If you’re a long-time West Virginia University football follower, you may recall Fred Wyant.

He was a 5-foot-11, 195-pound quarterback from Weston, who guided the Mountaineers to a four-year record of 30-4 as a starter. That’s the all-time WVU record percentage-wise (.890).

Wyant, who’s now 77 and remains a Star City resident with wife Delores, was a rough, tough signal-caller in 1952-53-54-55. Some admirers back then called him “a bull.”

He always believed that if he gained 100 yards or more passing and rushing, his team would win that game.

Wyant learned from head coach Art “Pappy” Lewis and backfield coach Ed Shockey how to read opposing defenses. So they let him call all of his plays during his four seasons.

For his career, Wyant completed 170 of 386 passes for 2,634 yards and 25 touchdowns. He also rushed 294 times for a net 783 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Defensively, Wyant was credited with five interceptions and 39 tackles.

The left-hander was responsible for 45 touchdowns in his 37 games. But he actually moved to his right while in action as most right-handers would do.

The Mountaineers used the split-T option offense. He was responsible for 45 touchdowns — 25 passing and 20 rushing.

Like all college players during that period, Wyant played on both sides of the ball. He’d play either safety or, on occasion, linebacker when not quarterbacking.

“When I was passing, pitching or handing the ball off to a running back, I’d be slammed into by the other team’s defensive end,” Wyant recalled recently.

“WVU has had some outstanding quarterbacks in recent years. But I’ve wondered whether a Pat White or a Marc Bulger or a Jeff Hostetler could hold up being hit by a big guy charging him on every play.

“I feel that Pappy Lewis really gave WVU its first football ‘Golden Era,’” Wyant said. He piloted teams to records of 7-2 in 1952, 8-2 in 1953, 8-1 in 1954 and 8-2 in 1955.

In the process, WVU captured three Southern Conference championships. WVU also played in the school’s first major postseason event — the Sugar Bowl on Jan 1, 1954.

Georgia Tech prevailed by 42-19 in New Orleans.

West Virginia in 1952 had upset old rival Pitt, 16-0, in Pittsburgh for the school’s first-ever victory over a Top 20 team.

Even more significantly, the Mountaineers defeated Penn State three consecutive years — 20-19 in 1953 and 19-14 in 1954 in State College Pa., and then by 21-7 in 1955 at Morgantown.

That’s a record which probably will never be broken. The two schools last played in 1992.

Wyant & Co. also won the only two meetings with Virginia Tech, 12-7 in ’52 and 12-7 in ’53.

“We also defeated Pitt a second time at Pittsburgh, 17-7 in 1953,” Wyant recalled. “I don’t think I carried the ball one time in that game. Neither did fullback Tommy Allman.

“But halfback Joe Marconi had 129 yards and Jack Stone ran for 135 yards. All I did was run the option on almost every play.

“Playing the split-T was really special to me. I was like a coach on the field.”

He certainly had command of his teammates. If any of them made a mistake, he let them know.

Wyant earned numerous honors, including Academic All-America status. He made the All-Southern Conference first team each of his four years.

The Southern Conference Sports Writers Association nominated him for All-America selection in 1953.

Wyant also was selected as “Freshman of the Year” in both 1952 and 1953.

In 1955, halfback Bobby Moss, tackles Bruce Bosely and Sam Huff, fullback Joe Marconi and Wyant were pictured as “The Big Five” of that period.

WVU was penciled in as a top prospect for a return to the Sugar Bowl in 1955. But the team lost Wyant and two linemen — Chuck Howley and Gene Lathey — early in the second half of the Pitt game, and the Panthers took a 27-7 upset win at Pitt Stadium.

So Sugar Bowl scouts at that game wound up taking the Panthers instead of WVU.

Wyant, who has a marketing business in Morgantown, has a combination of games he liked best.

These included his first college contest in which he came off the bench in the 1952 opener against Furman. Trailing 22-0, he led the team to two touchdowns in the 22-14 loss

“If we had five more minutes, I think we could have won,” he said.

“The three wins over Penn State and those over Pitt I also liked as special.”

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