The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 20, 2013

A day of work and play for Mountaineers

WVU football players pitch in as part of community service effort

SUMMERSVILLE — Darwin Cook ran after reporters with a weed eater, while Russell Haughton-James got a lesson on driving a riding lawnmower. Doug Rigg wiped silver paint off the back of his neck, and Dustin Garrison admired his tape job in preparing to paint the basketball floor.

There was plenty of fun to go along with the work Friday at the Summersville Community Center as approximately 90 members of the West Virginia University football team made the 2 1/2-hour bus ride from Morgantown to Nicholas County to participate in the Reaching the Summit Community Service Initiative — the largest community service effort in U.S. history.

“Several months ago, (WVU head coach Dana) Holgorsen read about the Reaching the Summit Community Service initiative and asked us how he could help,” said Matt Sutton, a media representative for the Reaching the Summit project. “We worked with him and his staff over the last couple of months, and finally he just said, ‘I’ve got an entire football team. We’ll have them work out in the morning, put them on a bus and then send them down to help you out.’”

Players teamed up with members of the Boy Scouts of America to work on mowing, weed eating and painting the fences at the center’s baseball field, while others worked to paint the bathrooms, recreation center and basketball floor inside the arena.

“It’s stuff that’s much needed but expensive to do,” said Sutton. “So it doesn’t often get done.”

It didn’t seem much like work as the sound of laughter was the only thing louder than the lawn care machinery.

“They’re all laughing and having a good time,” said assistant director of football operations Quincy Wilson, a former Mountaineer running back. “They adjust. They had a workout (Friday) morning and a long bus ride, but once they got here, all of that went away. They just became kids again.”

“It’s fun,” said sophomore linebacker Isaiah Bruce. “I get to meet a lot of these Boy Scouts, and I’m able to give back. It’s a good experience. When I was younger, I never had an experience about this. It’s awesome.”

The hardest part may have been keeping up with all the Boy Scouts, determined to get the job done.

“One kid ran off,” joked Cook, a senior safety. “But I found him and taught him something.”

Aside from providing some assistance, the Mountaineer players benefited from exploring different parts of the Mountain State.

“I was talking to a few of them that said they don’t make it out of Morgantown much,” said Sutton. “It’s nice for them to see other parts of West Virginia, because their fans are just as big down here.”

“This plays off of what we’ve been teaching these guys since January — what it means to come from this state and what it means to be a Mountaineer,” said Wilson, a Weirton native. “Coming to Summersville pretty much signifies much of what West Virginia is — small, tight-knit communities. For these guys to be here doing stuff they wouldn’t normally do is awesome.”

Even if the trip was a little difficult for some.

“Most of these guys aren’t used to these back roads, and a couple of them looked like they were getting a little sick,” laughed junior wide receiver Connor Arlia, also a Weirton native. “But how can you not love it?

“Obviously, everybody is proud of their state, but I tell them all that there’s no place like West Virginia. Like John Denver said, it’s almost Heaven.”

For Bruce, it was his first taste of any part of the state other than Morgantown.

“This was definitely the first, but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be the last,” said the Jacksonville, Fla., product. “We’ve made a big emphasis on learning what West Virginia is all about and who we’re playing for. We understand that now, and this was really good for all of us.”

“It’s definitely some motivation,” agreed Garrison, who hails from Pearland, Texas. “As a Texas boy, I never knew much about West Virginia. But now I know more about the state and who I’m playing for. It’s a boost for us and helps us play a lot harder.”

And learning a few new skills can never hurt.

“It looks easy,” said Garrison as he grabbed a paint brush and readied to go to work. “So hopefully it’s as easy as it looks.”

— E-mail: chuffman@ and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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