By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
It’s been nine seasons since Bob Pruett patrolled the sidelines at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, but make no mistake about it, the Beckley native still bleeds kelly green and white.
The longtime Marshall University football coach was in Oak Hill on Thursday night for the kickoff of the third annual Elsie Pruett Scholarship Golf Tournament, being held at White Oak Country Club in Oak Hill.
“This is the third year, and it’s great event. Oak Hill is always a favorite place of mine,” Pruett said.
The event has raised over $60,000 for an endowment scholarship in the name of Pruett’s wife and mother-in-law with hopes of going over $100,000 by the end of the weekend.
But for Pruett, the event serves as much of as a homecoming reunion than it does a golf outing.
“It’s always good to come home. This is home,” Pruett said of southern West Virginia. “I still live in Barboursville, but this is home. It’s always great to see all our old buddies and laugh and giggle and have a good time.”
As the festivities were beginning, Pruett was rubbing elbows with old friend Lonnie Warwick, a Mt. Hope native who spent 10 seasons in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons, and former Marshall and Chicago Bear long snapper Chris Massey. It didn’t take much to get Pruett to recall the ‘good ole days’ of his time in Huntington.
“We were very fortunate and lucky to have great players. I have a picture with 57 NFL players that either played for me or were recruited by me at Marshall,” Pruett said. “That’s very special.”
Pruett recalled beating Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan. — the first loss for KSU to a non-conference opponent in nearly a decade and the infamous come-from-behind defeat of East Carolina in the 2001 GMAC Bowl. He had a hearty laugh when talking about beating Clemson 13-10 in Death Valley during the 1999 season.
“I remember when we beat them, I declared we’d beaten Wofford, South Carolina, Clemson and Furman,” Pruett said with a giggle. “I said that means we’re the South Carolina state champions, then!”
Even though Pruett is more involved with the Friends of Coal, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Boy Scouts of America now than the current Marshall program, he feels their on the right track to return to their former glory.
“I think they’re going to be the best team in (Conference USA),” Pruett said. “They could maybe have one of those 10 or more win seasons (this year.)
“I think Doc (Holiday) has done a good job of recruiting people. They’ve got some key games that I think they need to win. Playing Ohio in (Athens) is always a tough game and so is Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. They have Middle Tennessee on a Thursday night and then Tulsa at Tulsa. The rest of the big games are at home. I’m not trying to put a hex on them, but I think if the cards fall right, I don’t see anybody that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility they can’t beat.”
Pruett feels the play of standout quarterback, Rakeem Cato will go a long way towards determining the deck the Herd are dealt.
“I think he’s an absolutely fantastic quarterback,” Pruett said. “He’s going in to his third year, and he’s grown both physically and mentally. He led the nation in some categories, and I don’t see that changing. They’ve got some excellent receivers and running backs. They’ve got their offense back.”
Pruett also praised the work of new Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, who will have his hands full in 2013. The Thundering Herd defense ranked 101 out of 120 schools in 2012.
“I’m very optimistic; that’s the way I’ve always been,” he added. “But if the cards are right, I’m going to be for them in every game this season.”
The golf tournament was staged Friday, and Pruett expected several former players to be in attendance, including former New York Jet and Heisman Trophy finalist Chad Pennington and former Marshall lineman and Woodrow Wilson alumni Mike Guilliams.