NEWTOWN — High school football players from Logan, Man and Chapmanville are used to facing off with each other on the gridiron.
Whether it’s the traditional Logan-Man opener, the intensity of the Chapmanville-Logan game or the pride that’s on the line in the Man-Chapmanville contest, all of the county games are sure to be big battles.
However, once a year, the Wildcats, Hillbillies and Tigers unite.
That’s when the gridders get to play on the same team in the annual Hatfield-McCoy Senior Bowl. This year’s bowl game, the 17th-annual contest, is set to kick off on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Mingo Central High School’s James H. Buck Harless Stadium.
The Hatfield-McCoy Bowl pits the southern West Virginia All-Stars against Kentucky in the annual border war. West Virginia All-Star players are also gathered from Mingo, Wyoming, Wayne, McDowell, Lincoln and Boone counties.
“When you think about everybody that we’ve got from Mingo Central and Wayne, who is the state champion and have some studs, it’s good to gather all of the players and play together for one time,” said Man’s Shane Browning, a wide receiver and defensive back for the W.Va. team. “After playing against each other for so long you gain a lot of respect for each other.”
Browning said he’s looking forward to playing on the same team as the Logan and Chapmanville players.
“It makes me happy,” he said. “When I grew up I wondered what it would have been like to be on the same team. I thought, ‘What an all-star team that would be.’ When we finally get to put it together I’m real excited. Kentucky’s going to throw Belfry at us but we’re going to throw Mingo at them. Whatever they throw at us we’ve got something to counter.”
Many of the Logan County players are linemen — big linemen.
“When you grab Chapmanville’s linemen with John Toler and Thomas Belcher and you bring in Matt Southers from Logan and the players from River View that just makes our job — the backs and the receivers — that much easier,” Browning said “You just have to find the holes.”
Logan running back Joe Street expects to play a major role in Saturday night’s Senior Bowl. He played last month in the North-South All-Star Classic and led the South to an OT win.
“I’m hyped and I’m excited. I can’t wait,” Street said. “I love football and every chance that I get to play in something like this I’ll play. In the North-South game I represented the South part of my state but this game I represent my whole state, so I’m pretty excited.”
Street still has all of the decals from the North-South game stuck to his helmet. Included in the bunch is a Lincoln County decal, an orange Chapmanville “C” and Wayne’s Wisconsin-like red “W.” Street teammed with Chapmanville’s Thomas Belcher and John Toler in the North-South and are on the same team again with the Hatfield-McCoy Bowl.
“I had Toler and Belcher on my team at the North-South but I’ve never been on the same team with the boys from Man and I’m excited about that,” Street said. “We’re friends but it’s going to be strange putting on the pads with each other.”
Street was kidded about the Chapmanville block “C” on his helmet.
“I didn’t see that. I didn’t do it. The guys from Chapmanville must have stuck that on there,” Street joked.
Logan lineman Matt Southers said it’s a good feeling to play alongside the Chapmanville and Man players. A total of 11 county gridders are on the West Virginia roster of the Hatfield-McCoy Bowl.
“It feels good not to be against them. We’re all pretty tough so I think that it’s a good combination,” Southers said. “I’m playing for my state and I’m not trying to embarrass my state. I hope that we can win.”
Logan’s Tyler Nelson, another West Virginia All-Star lineman, said he’s looking forward to strapping it on with the Tigers and the Billies.
“I think it’s pretty cool that we all get to play together,” he said. “We’re on the same team now.”
Marc Morris, yet another lineman from Logan, said all of the county players have put the old rivalries to rest.
“I didn’t know how it would be but they’ve been cool,” Morris said. “All of the old rivalries are in the past. We’ve got to work together and beat Kentucky. We’ve got some athletes and a lot of big guys.”
Logan tight end and linebacker Zach Ellis said joining forces with the Man and CRHS players will take some getting used to. Part of that transition was eased this week during practices at Harless Stadium.
“It’s going to be kind of weird but once I get used to it it will be fine,” Ellis said. “The team is looking pretty good and I think that we’ll play well on Saturday night.”
Toler, a 300-pound lineman from Chapmanville, is making his second all-star game appearance along with Belcher and Street.
“We’ve pretty much got the Chapmanville O-line here,” Toler said. “We’re just missing our right guard. We’ll see how it comes together. This year, we’ve got a pretty good group of guys.”
Chapmanville’s Thomas Belcher, yet another lineman, said he expects a good game on Saturday night. West Virginia leads the all-time Senior Bowl series 10-6 but lost 30-14 in last year’s game with Kentucky in a contest that really wasn’t even that close.
“We’ve got a good team,” Belcher said. “I think this game is going to be like a high school kind of atmosphere. In the North-South, there were a lot of college players. In this one there’s a lot of players who want to play one last high school game. I played with Joe and David (Toney) from Logan in the North-South and it was different but it is pretty exciting and it’s exciting to play on the same team with the boys from Man. There used to be a lot of trash-talking but not anymore.”
Man’s Jimmy Duba, a fullback and linebacker, is the second representative from the Hillbillies on the West Virginia All-Star team.
“We look really good and our line is really big,” Duba said. “We have great backs and our defense is looking very good.”
For many Senior Bowl players it’s the last time they will play in a football game. That’s the case for Duba.
“For me, this is it. I’m done,” he said. “I’m going to give it all that I’ve got.”
Chapmanville’s Michael Watts gives the West Virginia team still another lineman. He said W.Va. coach Joey Fields has put together a good roster.
“There’s a lot of talent on the team,” Watts said. “I think our line play is going to be great.”
This is also the last football game for Watts, who said he’s joining the United States Army.
“August 14th I report to Fort Jackson, South Carolina,” he said.