West Virginians on the Gridiron: 120 Years of Making History — The Early Days

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CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Starting today, we’re going to take a look at the history of college and professional football, but only through the careers and accomplishments of those born in West Virginia. 

Countless West Virginians have made an impact at the collegiate and professional level spanning the last 120 years. 

And there’s no better place to start than at the beginning, with maybe the most dominant coach of the early 20th century. 

FIELDING H. YOST

As organized college football became more popular across the country at the start of the 20th century, Marion County’s own, Fielding H. Yost, had created a dynasty.

Yost jumpstarted the Michigan Wolverines football program, collecting six national championships, including four in a row. His 1901 team defeated Stanford 49-0 in the first college bowl game ever played, ending a season in which Michigan outscored its opponents 555-0. 

Over a five-year stretch, Yost’s teams outscored their opponents 2,821 – 42, scoring 100 or more points four times. 

“They were called the point a minute teams. And, the thing about Yost, I remember reading something about that game, is that he wanted to score more. They wanted to score more than 130. He kept his foot on the pedal, that was how he played,” said John Antonik, the Director of Athletics Content at West Virginia University.  

Yost was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. He’s also responsible for Michigan Stadium, aka “The Big House”, one of the most famous stadiums in college football. 

Ira Rodgers

Back in the Mountain State, Bethany, West Virginia-native, Ira Rodgers was putting together a great career at West Virginia University. 

“Rodgers was a great player. He wasn’t very tall. He was stocky. He was probably about 200, 210 pounds, maybe 5 feet, 10 (inches tall). But he had big hands, which enabled him to hold the football and throw it, which back then the football was more like a rugby ball.”

Rodgers put forth an All-American-awarded season in 1919 – leading the nation in scoring, by tallying 19 touchdowns and 33 extra points.  He’s also the first All-American at WVU. 

“The Princeton game is the game that Walter Camp saw him play. Of course, Walter Camp – the great football historian -, was at that game, saw Rogers play, and from that point on put him on his All-American team and considered him one the great players in the game at the time. Had a phenomenal game, threw some touchdown passes in that game, got knocked out, came back in, and played the fourth quarter. Wonderful player,” said Antonik.

Not only did he play for the Mountaineers, but he began coaching his alma matre a few years later, winning eight games twice. 

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1957. 

Marshall Goldberg

Elkins-native Marshall Goldberg would be inducted into the collegiate Hall of Fame a year later in 1958, after having a successful playing career at the University of Pittsburgh. 

Goldberg was a standout running back for the Panthers in the mid-to-late 30s, a two-time All-American, and a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist.

He also helped the Panthers collect back-to-back national championships in 1936 and ’37.

When he graduated, Goldberg did so with a school-record 1,957 career rushing yards, which stood until Tony Dorsett broke the mark nearly 40 years later.

Earle “Greasy” Neale

Earle “Greasy” Neale is not only in the history books for what he did on the gridiron, but what he did on the diamond, as well, batting for a .357 average against the White Sox in the infamous 1919 World Series. 

Neale was both a player and coach in collegiate football, and then made a name for himself in the pros. 

Neale collected 82 wins while in charge of a college football team, and won a pair of Ohio League championships. 

He then made a jump to the NFL at the start of the 1940s, and turned the Philadelphia Eagles into a winner, claiming back-to-back NFL championships in 1948 and ‘49.

Neale earned the distinction of being the first coach elected to both the College Football and National Football League Halls of Fame. 

Neale won nearly 60 percent of the games he coached during the 1940s, which is where we will continue our journey next time on “West Virginians on the Gridiron.” 

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