By CAM HUFFMAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Few understand the West Virginia-Virginia Tech football series better than Steve Newberry. The Peterstown native, who holds the all-time career interceptions record at WVU with 20, was a four-year letterman at defensive back from 1980-83 under head coach Don Nehlen and now owns and operates Newberry Ford in Pearisburg, Va., just 25 miles from the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va.
Newberry said he found out about the renewal of the series — which will include a game in Morgantown in 2021 and one in Blacksburg in 2022 — yesterday when he received a text from his son, Nick, and he was excited about the news.
“I think they need to play,” said Newberry. “It’s going to be good for southern West Virginia and southwest Virginia. It definitely brings back a lot of memories.
“Both schools need a good nonconference schedule, so why not play it? It’s going to be a sellout every time.”
Now undoubtedly a Mountaineer, Newberry, at one point, was almost a Hokie. The WVU Hall of Famer was recruited by Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Marshall, and passing up the opportunity to stay close to home — Virginia Tech was less than an hour from his front door, while WVU was at least four hours from home — was no easy decision.
“It was hard not to stay that close to home,” Newberry remembered, while watching the action on the 17th green Thursday at The Greenbrier Classic. “I’d never been anywhere. Princeton or Roanoke was the furthest I’d ever been.”
Newberry, though, eventually became a Mountaineer, and after he headed to Morgantown for camp in August, he didn’t get back to Peterstown until Thanksgiving.
The closest he came was a game in Blacksburg on Nov. 1 of that year, and, despite a 34-11 Hokie victory, it’s a memory he’ll not soon forget.
“We came out early in pregame for specialties, and when I came out of the stadium it seemed like everybody in the stadium was from Monroe County.” he said. “It was nice to see, and it’s a really nice memory.”
His other recollections of the series, at least on the field, were even better. WVU beat Virginia Tech 27-6 in Morgantown in 1981, won 16-6 in Blacksburg the next year and Newberry picked up his fourth victory over the Hokies as a senior, a 12-0 Mountaineer win in Morgantown.
“The whole series was good for me,” he said. “I always had a little added incentive for me to play well, and we won three out of four. So at least I had the upper hand.”
Newberry said he’s seen several WVU-Virginia Tech games in person since his graduation, and most have been great games.
The opportunity to gain bragging rights is also one of the positives of the series. Most WVU fans have Hokie friends, and vice versa, and Newberry is certainly no different.
“The guy that owns the body shop adjacent to my Ford store, he’s a big Virginia Tech guy, and we go back and forth all the time,” said Newberry. “But it’s all in good fun. I miss it when we’re good.”
Mike Lansdale has a unique perspective, as well. The Charleston native was following Tom Watson’s group Thursday at The Greenbrier Classic, sporting a unique outfit — a Virginia Tech hat and a WVU T-shirt.
Lansdale explained he’s a Virginia Tech graduate, but his daughter, Christine Westfall, went to WVU and now lives in Morgantown. His girlfriend, Nancy Dunn, is also a diehard Mountaineer.
“A lot of people around here have ties both ways,” said Lansdale, who said he made the trip to Morgantown to see the two schools play in basketball this past season and was also at the last game of the football series in 2005. “So it’s good to see the series back.
“I think the whole state and the whole region misses something when they’re not playing.”
Even Johnson Wagner, who shot a 62 during the opening round of The Greenbrier Classic, weighed in on the series.
Wagner played four years of college golf at Virginia Tech, finishing up in 2002 when the series was still going strong.
The Hokies dominated the series during Wagner’s time in Blacksburg, winning in 1999 (22-20), 2000 (48-20) and 2001 (35-0), but WVU finally found revenge during Wagner’s senior year, winning 21-18 on a Thursday night in Lane Stadium for Rich Rodriguez’s first big win as the Mountaineer head coach.
Wagner, who still closely follows Hokie football, said he’s excited for the series to return.
“I’ve got a lot of West Virginia fans that are friends of mine,” said Wagner, who was born in Amarillo, Texas, and now resides in Charlotte, N.C., a hotbed of both Mountaineer and Hokie fans. “I’m looking forward to kicking their butts again.”