MORGANTOWN - Bill Stewart admittedly has a soft spot in his heart for West Virginia Conference lineman because, after all, he was one himself many moons ago at Fairmont State. He knows how the odds are stacked against a person trying to make the jump from small-town high school football to the collegiate level.
That's why he's pulling for Blaise Arbogast, a relatively unknown offensive lineman from Webster County who walked away from a full scholarship at West Virginia Wesleyan College to pursue his dream of becoming a Mountaineer.
"He's a good boy, a really nice guy," Stewart said. "I hope he has the chance to help us this year. It would be a great success story."
The Inter-Mountain Photo by John Wickline
Former West Virginia Wesleyan lineman Blaise Arbogast is trying to earn some playing time for West Virginia this spring.?The limited depth on the offensive line may give Arbogast an opportunity this fall.
Arbogast, at 300 pounds, certainly has the size to be a Division I lineman. With the Mountaineers' limited prospects at those position, he will certainly have his opportunities this spring to show the brand-new coaching staff what he can do.
"He's doing a pretty decent job," said offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. "He's going to get his chances. It's a good situation for him."
That's music to the Hacker Valley native's ears. Arbogast had enrolled at West Virginia University during his senior year of high school, never thinking that football would enter the equation. College coaches don't exactly flock to Webster Springs in search of prospects.
"I'm literally from the middle of nowhere," Arbogast said, noting that there were only 70 students in the pre-school through eighth grades in his hometown.
Just prior to his starting college, he received a telephone call from new Wesleyan football coach Denny Creehan. Arbogast mailed a highlight tape from his high school career to Buckhannon, came up a few days later to work out for the staff, and was offered a full scholarship to attend the Division II school.
He saw only minimal action his freshman season, but worked his way into a possible starting role during spring drills. So he decided to take his red-shirt season, haul his things to Morgantown, and enroll in the state's flagship university. Fortunately, he had the Promise Scholarship to fall back on, but still had to take out student loans for his living expenses.
"I always saw myself as a student at WVU," Arbogast said, "even if I never played football."
He admits leaving the full scholarship and the significant playing time aspect was tough, but he knew he made the right decision. He walked into the WVU football offices after classes started in Morgantown to see if there was any possibility of suiting up in the old gold and blue.
"Once I got here and got into the program, I started getting some people in my corner," he said. "The coaches told me they really liked my work ethic."
Arbogast readily admits he was and never will be the most talented guy on the field. But he knows that hard work will always beat talent that is hardly working. He remembers himself as the pudgy kid who could only bench press 150 pounds despite packing 280 on his body frame, a frame that needed more than 8 seconds to cover the distance in those 40-yard wind sprints.
"I've had to work hard for everything," said Arbogast, who eventually became an all-conference selection as a senior and the team's captain.
Arbogast did take some time off from the Mountaineers' winter conditioning to deal with some family issues.
His uncle recently passed away, and while the Arbogast family was dealing with that illness, his grandfather suffered a mild heart attack.
"He's very mature for such a young age," Stewart said. "He's had a lot on his plate."
Arbogast said the support from Stewart was "unbelievable," and he said Stewart was a source of comfort for the family during those trying times.
He hopes to be able to repay those thoughts by stepping out on to the field as a contributing member of the team.
He is the first Webster County product in about 25 years to try to play for WVU. He said his school has had four others try to walk on to the Mountaineers.
"No one has ever seen the field (in a game)," Arbogast said. "I've got a lot of people back home pulling for me. To play would be like a dream come true."
Contact John Wickline at firstname.lastname@example.org