MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Mountaineer immortality is their quest, for however long that lasts. After all, it was last year's senior class that set the standard they pursue. With a victory Saturday against North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, these older heads can stake their claim as having collected more West Virginia victories, 42, in a four-year period than any other class in the program's 117-season history.
• Game: West Virginia (8-4) vs. North Carolina (8-4).
• When: 1 p.m. Saturday.
• Where: Charlotte, N.C.
• TV: ESPN.
"It's very important to me and to the senior class," said offensive tackle Ryan Stanchek, who has played almost every snap since becoming a full-time starter in Game 5 of the 50 these seniors have waged. "We really want to finish off on the right note. More than anything, we do want to be the winningest class. We talk about it all the time. We need to win this game to do that. Granted, we do play more games now, but it's still in the stats, right?"
"Of course we want it," said linebacker Mortty Ivy of Gateway, whose 25 career starts lead the defensive members of the Mountaineers (8-4). "Our class, our seniors, want to go out as the winningest class. 'Cause you'll always be remembered as that. Until the next team breaks it."
History will record that these lads from back-to-back classes joined forces -- the most immutable force inarguably being quarterback Patrick White -- to win West Virginia its first and second BCS bowls, its first run of three consecutive Jan. 1-2 bowls and its unprecedented streak of seven bowl berths in succession. Last year's senior group compiled the record that this one matched at 41-9, but these guys benefited from a 12th regular-season game becoming standard operating procedure the season before last.
And these historic boys of 2005-08 are: Stanchek; White; Jeannette center Mike Dent; guard Jake Figner; receiver Tito Gonzales; receiver Dorrell Jalloh; long snapper Adam Hughes; backups John Bradshaw at guard, tackle Stephen Maw, tight end Sam Morrone and receiver Ezra Tilaye; Ivy; Mt. Lebanon defensive lineman Doug Slavonic; cornerback Ellis Lankster; linebacker John Holmes; special team demon Jim Lewis; defensive lineman Pat Liebig; backup kicker Chris Glenn and punter/kicker Pat McAfee of Plum.
In 2004, Stanchek and White matriculated to Morgantown with a litany of players no longer around, such as Brandon Barrett, Tyler Benoit, T.J. Mitchell, Darius Reynaud (a Minnesota Vikings member who used up his eligibility last season) and Pernell Williams. Stanchek looked over that signing day roster and met each absentee with a reaction: "Wow. ... It's pretty impressive. Wow.
"All great guys we came in with," he added. "Just goes to show you how hard Division I football is, I guess. Not everybody [makes it]. I'll never forget coach [Garrett] Ford [the associate athletic director for student services], when we first got here, we were sitting in a room, and he says, 'Now look at the guy next to you, they probably aren't going to be here in five years.' We're all like, 'Yeah, right.' He was not lying."
McAfee perused the 2005 roll call and offered explanations for various names, such as Rashad Rousell ("never met him"), Steve Slaton ("one of the top running backs in the NFL"), Jason Gwaltney ("really good kid if you knew him, just made some dumb decisions"), J.R. House ("my man, I still talk to him") and Melvin Marquis, who quit to try a musical career and left a scholarship open for starting left guard Greg Isdaner. Concluded McAfee: "That's crazy. Ridiculous. A lot of guys gone. Some guys ended up in the NFL. Some guys ended up incarcerated [Ed Collington of Penn Hills, James Ingram and Charles Pugh ran afoul of the law]. It's all the same thing."
Flying home from Louisville Nov. 22, McAfee took stock of the seniors section of the team plane: "I was looking around first class the last trip, and John Holmes is the only other guy I came in with. The rest of the guys quit."
For now, their focus is North Carolina (8-4) in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. -- one more victory for all time.
"It would be a nice feeling to leave the field with my teammates with a 'W,' end my career with a win," White said.
"It's another chapter I have to close," Ivy said, "then I have to go on to the 'for-real' world."
"I don't think winning a bowl game is going to make you successful in life," added Stanchek, who labeled earning his degree as his happiest college moment. "Getting that degree is getting you on your way to being successful in life. I don't think there's any comparison there. Football's a game. A degree's life."