Gary Mullins has come full circle.
In 1997, Mullins played in the Hatfield-McCoy Senior Bowl and quarterbacked the West Virginia All-Star team after graduating from Logan High School.
Now, Mullins is returning to the Senior Bowl.
This time as the head coach.
Mullins, Logan High School’s football coach, will lead the West Virginia All-Stars in their annual border clash with the Kentucky All-Stars on July 26 at Mingo Central High School’s Buck Harless Stadium.
Mullins, who has coached the Logan Wildcats since 2004 and is entering his 11th season this fall, said he is excited about coaching in this summer’s Hatfield-McCoy Bowl.
Mullins has a good track record at Logan and has led the Wildcats to five out of the school’s six all-time playoff appearances. He indicated he would resign as Logan’s head coach near the end of last season when Logan went 7-4 and lost 41-14 at Point Pleasant in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs but ended up staying on.
“It’s always exciting to be able to have a chance to coach the best players in southern West Virginia. It’s an opportunity that might be once in a lifetime,” Mullins said. “I played in the game in 1997. It’s exciting to be able to come back to the game and hopefully we can lead West Virginia to victory.”
The West Virginia All-Stars lead the all-time series 12-6 and have have dominated Kentucky in recent years, taking nine out of the last 10. West Virginia beat Kentucky 32-7 in last year’s Senior Bowl.
Mullins said he’s been a fan of the Hatfield-McCoy Bowl, which traditionally gathers graduated senior players from the southern West Virginia Coalfield counties of Mingo, Logan, Boone, Wayne, Wyoming and McDowell counties against their counterparts from the eastern Kentucky mountain counties of Pike, Martin, Johnson, Floyd and Letcher.
“We’ve gone to the Hatfield-McCoy Bowl just about every year,” Mullins said. “It’s usually held the Saturday before the start of the football season and the first practices in West Virginia. It gives you a little prelude before the season.”
Mullins is the first Senior Bowl head coach from Logan since 2003 when then LHS head coach George Barker led the West Virginia All-Star team. That year, Kentucky downed West Virginia 40-36 in the highest scoring Senior Bowl to date. West Virginia then reeled off seven straight wins from 2004-2010 before Kentucky scored a 30-14 win in the 2011 game, which was the last Hatfield-McCoy Bowl to be held at the old Tiger Stadium at Matewan High School.
The Senior Bowl was moved onto the Field Turf at Mingo Central in 2012 as West Virginia won 37-12 over the Kentucky All-Stars.
In the 2012 Senior Bowl, Kentucky All-Star head coach David Jones broke from tradition and tapped into football-rich areas of the Bluegrass State to the west of the normal five-county area. The result was a lopsided game in favor of Kentucky.
The next year, Mingo Central assistant coach and West Virginia All-Star coach Joey Fields followed suit, expanding West Virignia’s Hatfield-McCoy map into the Huntington, Beckley and Charleston areas.
Fields did so again last year.
Mullins isn’t ruling out following Fields’ formula but said the core group of West Virginia All-Star players will still come locally from local and regional schools in the southern part of the state.
“My goal is to get the best players in southern West Virginia,” Mullins said. “Then, we’ll see where we go from there. There’s a lot of great players and a lot of great coaches. We’re going to try to get some of the best players we can get that will give us the best shot at putting a good team out there on the field.”
Some of the Hatfield-McCoy Bowl All-Star players will be going on to play at the collegiate level. But for many, this will be the swan song. This will be the last time they will strap on the pads, the cleats and the helmets.
Mullins said making it fun for the players and fans and keeping the fun aspect of the game alive since it is an all-star game is one of the goals.
“For a lot of the guys it’s the last time that they will ever play football,” he said. “They are going to give everything that they’ve got because some of them know they will never play again. It’s definitely a fun game and I was able to play in it. At the time, I knew that I was going to be going on to play in college. It’s good for some of the players to get a chance to play with guys from the other schools that they wouldn’t normally get a chance to play with.”
Mullins, will almost certainly, take along many of his Logan players, along with gridders from host Mingo Central, Logan’s rivals Man and Chapmanville and a number of other schools.
For Logan County’s football players, it’s a unique and rare chance for the Logan Wildcats, the Man Hillbillies and the Chapmanville Tigers to unite on the same team.
As a show of unity, players often trade helmet decals during the weeklong practices leading up to the Senior Bowl.
Two years ago, Logan’s Joe Street famously donned a Chapmanville block “C” on his helmet along with the script Man sticker.
The trading of decals is a longstanding tradition in college all-star games dating back to the old Blue-Gray Game which used to be held on Christmas Day.
“Hopefully, we can get a lot of the county players and a lot of players from southern West Virginia,” Mullins said. “I hope to have the majority of the team from southern West Virginia because I know that’s the way it was when the game started. I think that we have some great players down here and we can field a quality team. It’s always fun to see Man, Chapmanville and Logan out there on the field together after going a whole career trying to beat each other. It gives you an opportunity to have some respect for those players and you get to see how good those players are and how good they practice. You get to be with them for a week instead of trying to beat them on a Friday night.”
West Virginia’s All-Star team has, over the years, embraced the team concept and have let all of the old rivalries go. Mullins said he wants to do that again this year.
“It’s about coming together. We want West Virginia to win,” he said. “We want them to put aside their old rivalries for a week because we want to make sure that we are on the right side of the scoreboard on that Saturday night.”
Mullins said he’s in the beginning stages of contacting players from several of the schools to gauge interest.
He’s sure to get a bunch from Logan County and also from host Mingo Central and other schools such as state powerhouse Wayne, Tolsia, Tug Valley, Wyoming East, Westside, River View, Scott, Van, Sherman, Mount View and other high schools further out.
Logan had 18 seniors on last year’s team and Mullins will most likely nab several for the Senior Bowl. Graduating Wildcats from last year’s team included: Brynden “Worm Street, Tyler Vernatter; Daniel Hanks; Tyler Workman; Tyler Vance; Stephen Dilly; Brynden “Worm” Street; Clayton Marcum; Brett Musick; Josh Rein; William Browning; Kyle Runyon; Preston Hepler; Jacob Vance; Jody Butcher; Chance Ooten; Ty Yeager; Daniel Miller; and Daniel Faine.
Last season for the Wildcats, the Class AAA all-state Street rushed for 1,444 yards on 167 carries and scored 14 touchdowns. Vernatter ran 77 times for 435 yards and eight touchdowns. Both were key on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Street, also a fine basketball player, has also been invited to play in the North-South All-Star Basketball Game in June at the South Charleston Community Center.
Rein caught 38 passes for 603 yards and seven touchdowns last season for Logan. He also played quarterback some, rushing for 220 more yards and passing for 132.
Marcum was one of Logan’s leading tacklers last year. Workman led the Cats with five interceptions a year ago.
Chapmanville Regional’s Brady Cox and Gabe Maynard (6-4, 280) are Senior Bowl possibilties as well. Both have been named recently to play in the annual North-South All-Star Game in June.
Cox, a 6-foot-5 wide receiver, had an outstanding 2013 season for the Tigers as the all-stater reeled in 48 passes for 746 yards and scored eight touchdowns.
Other seniors such as Tyler Brewster, Jordan Toler, Paul Workman and Matt Chapman could also help bolster Mullins’ roster. Brewster and Cox are headed to play at West Virginia State. Maynard has signed on with Glenville State.
Down at Man High School, the Hillbillies have a pair of wide receivers in Tracy Jones and Cayce Mullins who would fit well into West Virginia’s plans. Jones had 41 catches for 697 yards and scored nine touchdowns last season for playoff-bound Man. Mullins had 50 grabs for 569 yards and five scores.
Man was also blessed with a senior-laden line, including Dakota Toth, Jeremiah Beavers, Thomas Holt, Justin McDaniels and Joey Buchanon and many of them may be called on to play in the Senior Bowl. Noah Maynard, a linebacker, is also a senior.
Man turned it around last season, finishing 9-2 and falling 21-16 at home to Bishop Donahue in the first round of the Class A state playoffs.
Mullins said Mingo Central’s Harless Stadium is the perfect venue for the annual Senior Bowl. This summer will mark the third time the game will be played at the Miners’ home.
In years’ past, the game was played on Matewan’s grass field and rainy weather and muddy conditions were often the norm. That’s not the case on MC’s Field Turf.
Mullins last played at Mingo Central last October as his Wildcats lost to the Miners on a freezing cold 38-degree, soggy night.
Harless Stadium holds 5,000 fans and at least 4,000 gathered for last year’s Hatfield-McCoy Bowl. The game is a big hit every year with fans on both sides of the Tug River as it is the official kickoff to the new season.
“It’s one of the best facilities in the state,” Mullins said. “It’s going to be odd for us because we might actually get a chance to go up there and play when it’s warm. I’m so happy to be able to coach in this game. We’ll give it our best effort.”
The Hatfield-McCoy Bowl began with an idea by Danny “Yogi” Kinder back in 1996.
Kinder wanted to bring back the old Kiwanis Bowl, which dated back to the 1950s and used to be played at Williamson.
Kinder reorganized the game and brought it to Matewan with a new name, the Hatfield-McCoy Bowl, named after the infamous feud across the Tug in the 1870s and the 1880s.
In 1996, the first Hatfield-McCoy Bowl was played as Kentucky, led by Pikeville (Ky.) head coach Hillard Howard, beat West Virginia 7-0.
Kentucky would go on to win four out of the first five games.
The next year in ‘97 in the game Coach Mullins played, West Virginia won 11-0 over Kentucky.
Last year, West Virginia rolled to a 32-7 win in the Senior Bowl. Bolstered with a roster including some of the best of local Coalfield talent and players from the Kanawha Valley, Cabell Midland and Beckley, West Virginia dominated play and silenced all of the fiery talk from across the Tug.
The West Virginia All-Stars outgained Kentucky 343-104 in total yards and took advantage of four turnovers by the Bluegrass State team.
West Virginia was 9-for-20 passing for 139 yards and also rushed 37 times for 205 more yards. Kentucky was held to 4-of-14 passing for only 19 yards and was limited to 28 rushes for 85 yards.
Wayne High School running back Brandon Spurlock was the West Virginia Offensive MVP as he ran for 84 yards on 17 carries and scored on touchdown runs of 4 and 6 yards. Spurlock had led Wayne to back-to-back Class AA state championships and was the 2012 Double-A State Player of the Year.
The John Fry Award winner for best offensive lineman was Spurlock’s Wayne teammate Anthony Bryant.
West Virginia’s Defensive MVP was Cabell Midland’s Gage Gould.
Kentucky’s award winners were: Derrick Jude of Belfry, Ky. (John Fry Award); Richard Trent of Breathitt County, Ky. (Defensive MVP); and Ronnell Colbert of Louisville Doss High School (Offensive MVP).
Logan County was represented in the game by five players: Logan High School’s Chris Marcum, Brian Craft and Teddy Nelson; Man High School’s Marcus Murrell; and Chapmanville Regional High School’s Austin Watts.
Marcum was West Virginia’s backup quarterback and scored on a 64-yard keeper. He had four carries for a net 63 yards, made several tackles on defense and had an interception.
West Virginia All-Star quarterback Andrew Johnson of Beckley Woodrow Wilson High School was 9-for-18 passing for 139 yards with a touchdown and a pick. He also rushed for another 29 yards on eight carries and had another score.
All-Time Series (West Virginia leads 12-6)
2013: West Virginia 32, Kentucky 7
2012: West Virginia 37, Kentucky 12
2011: Kentucky 30, West Virginia 14
2010: West Virginia 20, Kentucky 0
2009: West Virginia 30, Kentucky 12
2008: West Virginia 22, Kentucky 14
2007: West Virginia 22, Kentucky 14
2006: West Virginia 32, Kentucky 19
2005: West Virginia 7, Kentucky 6
2004: West Virginia 8, Kentucky 0
2003: Kentucky 40, West Virginia 36
2002: West Virginia 14, Kentucky 12
2001: West Virginia 14, Kentucky 6
2000: Kentucky 6, West Virginia 0
1999: Kentucky 18, West Virginia 12
1998: Kentucky 22, West Virginia 19
1997: West Virginia 11, Kentucky 0
1996: Kentucky 7, West Virginia 0