MORGANTOWN-Gene Lathey, a three-year starting guard on West Virginia's football team in 1954-55-56, is still going strong at the age of 78.
He still resides in Dunbar, W.Va., and continues to own and operate an insurance agency in Ripley-some 10 miles from his home.
"I was thinking recently about all the great college football teams that have been around for years," he said. "But I would not have traded our team for any other."
He said it was "a lot of fun" playing for Art "Pappy" Lewis, who served as WVU head coach from 1950-59. Lathey played at 5-foot-10 and 205-pounds.
"You had to have a good skin and a good sense of humor to play with the guys I played with," Lathey said. "They all were tough players. But we got along very well together."
Teammates included quarterback Fred Wyant, halfback Bob Moss, fullback Joe Morconi and fellow linemen Bruce Bosley and Sam Huff.
Lathey had played in the annual North-South all-star game in Charleston with and against some of those he joined at WVU in 1952, his redshirt year. "In fact, I played across the line from Huff and he cut my lip," Lathey chuckled. "And he didn't even apologize to me."
While a guard was his special position on offense in college, he also played linebacker on defense. This was a period when all gridders played both ways.
Lathey made the All-Southern Conference team. He also is a member of the WVU all-time team for 1950-59.
He helped West Virginia to 8-1, 8-2, and 6-4 records and three Southern Conference championships. Besides a redshirt year as a freshman, he sat out another season because of injury before becoming a full-time starter.
Lathey pointed out that his teams were as close to being home-grown as any in the mid 1950s.
"I counted 25 guys from West Virginia, 20 from Western Pennsylvania and a couple from Ohio," he remembers. "Those years at WVU were some of the best of my life. It was a great time for me," he admitted.
He received his degree from WVU in mid-year of 1957.
Then he served a few years in the U.S. Army after graduating.
"Coach Lewis was from a different mold," Lathey said. "But he was a straight shooter, and he would tell you up front what he thought."
He recalled that he hit Ted Holmes hard in open field practice in 1953 and the force of that cracked his helmet. It apparently impressed Coach Lewis because at the start of the 1954 season Lewis moved Huff to tackle and replaced him at guard with Lathey.
He remained a starting guard the rest of his college career.
Wyant thought Lathey was outstanding in West Virginia's 26-6 upset at nationally ranked South Carolina in the 1954 season's opener.
"He outplayed an All-America lineman named Mincevich the whole night," Wyant recalled.
Lathey and wife Christine have been married 51 years. They have two grown daughters, Gina and Gail, and three grandchildren.