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It’s a sad day to be a Mountaineer: A tribute to Donnie Young

Guest Writer: Don Powell

On Tuesday April 7, 2020, our Mountaineer friend Donnie Young passed from this world. Like many who have had public employment, you meet a lot of people and you come to call them friends even though you are not close personal friends, and that describes my relationship with Donnie Young.

I have been a diehard Mountaineer fan my entire life. In fact, I saved my money and bought two season tickets my senior year of high school (in 1967). One ticket for myslelf and one ticket for the person who drove me two and a half hours to the game.

One of the first organizational items Coach Don Nehlen put in place when he took the reins at West Virginia in 1980 was to establish a WVU Recruiting Club. If you want the truth, I don’t how I became a member of the Recruiting Club, but what I can tell you is that for me it was an exciting time. As it turned out, we had two primary contacts within the football office: Donnie Young, who was the overall recruiting club coordinator and the coach who covered the area from which you lived. This presented an opportunity for me to get to know many of the coaches but especially Coach Young.

Coach Young was a very low-key, soft-spoken guy but always a straight shooter. Through Coach Young, I came to realize the average fan including myself truly does not understand the technical side of college football. We had a lot of conversations about football in general and especially West Virginia football with these conversations being mostly on the phone. The following are my thoughts concerning Coach Young, to an extent others have already voiced similar opinions, including Coach Dunlap:

First, we as Recruiting Club members were always encouraged to dig up information on players in our local area. We soon learned the area had already been previewed thoroughly. Recruits do slip through the cracks but not very many, even in those days when you did not have electronic media.
Upon being introduced to the world of West Virginia football, they had a process for approving athletes for a scholarship offer. It took three coaches to approve an athlete, mostly Coach Young, the coach recruiting that area or the position coach, and finally Coach Nehlen. While all coaches spoke with people in the field and reviewed tapes of players, it seemed as though Coach Young was always in the mix. He coordinated getting tapes from the field, organizing them, and creating a prospect list which had gold players (the best) and blue players (next in line).

Once I received my list for my area, I would go over the recruits with coach Young. Just about the first thing I noticed when I started working with Coach Young was this; he did not care who was or was not recruiting a potential recruit. I would ask that question and he nearly always stated he did not care; this was the evaluation of the staff and that’s all that mattered.
He would follow up that statement by saying we recruit for need. In other words, what positions require new recruits and can those new recruits play those positions at West Virginia. That was it, nothing else mattered. I want to emphasize, it did not matter if they were a 5-star, 4-star, or 3-star. Those were labels placed upon the athlete by outside evaluators most of which did not have the skill of our staff to evaluate talent. These phrases have stuck with me and I will never forget them. As I reflect through the Don
Nehlen years, what really allowed us to win was first how we selected our talent and second, how we developed our talent once it got to Morgantown.

The selection of talent was an art not a science and Donnie Young possessed the art which others did not have. For years I attended the Big 33 game at Hershey Park; where the 33 best players from Pennsylvania playing the 33 best players from Ohio. It was always a game for both Penn State and Ohio State to showcase their recruiting trophies. West Virginia always had a few players in the game but what was very interesting nobody had ever really heard of our players. For instance, John Thornton from a very small single-A school in Scotland, Pennsylvania. He made first team single-A all-state in football and basketball, but he was not really recruited him.

Anthony Becht played football and basketball for a small Catholic high school in Philadelphia, with West Virginia and Temple being the only schools that offered him scholarships. Chuck Fisher was from Duquesne High School in Pittsburgh, he made single-A all-state in both football and basketball and again was not heavily recruited. Mark Bulger also played both football and baseball for Central Catholic in Pittsburgh; Pitt did not even offer him and Penn State did not come in until the last week of recruiting. Of course there’s Major Harris, West Virginia was the only school to offer him as a quarterback.

All of these players participated in the Big 33 game, and yet none of them started the game or obtained awards for playing in the game.

What do they have in common with the heavily recruited players who played for Penn State or Ohio State? They all had very successful years playing college football and most had careers playing in the NFL. The above players are just a few, we can name player after player who was under-recruited yet excelled at West Virginia (and in many cases in the pros). These players were the backbone of the Nehlen era success story.

Why did West Virginia recruit these professional players while seemingly no one else did? How did we build these core players who took us to new heights in big time college football? I would put forth that Donnie Young played a key role. I don’t mean to say that no one else played a role, but Donnie Young played a key role.

The key was overall talent evaluation, regardless of the high school stats and the mental determination to succeed at the major college football level. This was Donnie Youngs specialty.

He was a rare breed; he had an unusual ability to pick winners. I could go on and on concerning our friend; he had many good attributes. But in the end his ability to evaluate football talent made us a national football leader. Not bad for a good ole boy from Clendenin, WV.

In closing, we salute Donnie Young for his dedication to the great state of West Virginia and West Virginia University.

Respectfully submitted by Donald B. Pownell – WVU class of 1973

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