Usually, an assistant coach from Matewan High School — the site of the yearly all-star football game – ends up leading the West Virginia All-Star team.
Bowl game founder Yogi Kinder, the head coach at Matewan, has even coached in the game himself.
But this year, Matt Stanley is the head mentor.
Stanley, a former coach at Tolsia High School and the school’s principal, is set to lead the West Virginia All-Stars in the 15th-annual Hatfield-McCoy Senior Bowl on Saturday night at Matewan.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.
The last two years, Matewan assistant John Fry led West Virginia to 30-12 and 20-12 wins.
West Virginia has won the last six games and leads the all-time series 9-5.
“I’ve been coming to the games forever with Coach Kinder and Coach Fry,” Stanley said. “I don’t know why they picked me to do it but they asked me. Coach Kinder and I are good friends. He asked me if I was interested and said that nobody from Tolsia had ever done it before. He asked me if I would do it one more time and I said that I would love to. Any time that you get get the best of the best from West Virginia you know that it’s going to be fun. I’m going to jump on any opportunity like this that I can get.”
Last year, 30 graduated senior all-stars donned the West Virginia roster.
This year, only 21 have signed up.
Part of the challenge each year for the West Virginia All-Star team is getting all of the players together from all of the different schools and getting an offense in place.
With only five days of practice, there’s not much time.
“It’s always a pleasure to have this much talent,” Stanley said. “But the challenge is to evaulate that talent very very fast. That’s what we have been trying to do – to people in those spots. The players have been awesome.”
What West Virginia lacks in numbers should be made up in talent.
On the roster are four Man High School players – lineman Tyler Dunigon, tight end/kicker/linebacker Derrick Earnest, running back Andrew Hale and quarterback Ryan Crym. The four helped lead the Hillbillies to a 12-2 record last fall and a berth in the Super Six at Wheeling Island Stadium.
“The Crum kid from Man is good. He will do anything that’s asked of him. He’s real quick,” Stanley said. “He played in the Super Six last year and took his team all the way to the state championship game.”
West Virginia also has two more talented quarterbacks — prolific passer Cody Varney from Tug Valley and Burch High School’s Ryan Hatfield.
“We’ve also got Cody Varney from Tug Valley and he can do it all, too,” Stanley said. “He does a good job of throwing the ball around. Of course, we have to throw the ball 10 times (by rule). We’re going to try to let them use the talents that they have.”
Four players hail from Gilbert – Josh Carter, Cody Houck, Cameron Ellis and Chris Carter.
Also on the team are: Cody Crum and Jacob Stratton from Burch; Nathan Carlin, Caleb Stacy and Jordan Cisco from Williamson; Adam Finley from Tolsia; Michael Harless from Westside; and Jeff Mullins, Brandon Urban, Timothy Runyon and Chase Baisden from Tug Valley.
“They have stepped up,” Stanley said. “I think that we’ve got a lot of football players. We have a lot of size and they pick up things really quick. I think that we’ve got some horses. I think that we will be able to do some things to use our talents to the best of our abilities.”
The X-factor could be talented tailback Dustin Wilkerson from Hurricane, who is also on the team.
“He’s orginally from Williamson,” Stanley said. “The coaches from Matewan think a whole lot about him.”
This year, no players from Chapmanville Regional High School or Logan High School have signed up.
There’s also no players from Matewan, Lincoln County, Wayne, Scott, Sherman, Iaeger or Van.
Stanley’s West Virginia All-Star staff is made up of Tolsia High School assistant coaches Eric Crum, Bebo Thompson, David Thompson, Nick Crum, Jason Meddings and Roscoe Spaulding. Crum is the offensive coordinator, while Bebo Thompson is the defensive coordinator.
The Hatfield-McCoy Senior Bowl, the unofficial kickoff to the high school football season, pits the best graduated senior players from southern West Virginia (“The Hatfields”) against those from eastern Kentucky (“The McCoys”).
The game is always held either the last Saturday in July or the first Saturday in August. Official high school football practices are slated to begin in West Virginia two days later on Aug. 2.
Melvin Cunningham, a former Matewan and Marshall University player and Tug Valley High School head coach, has also coached the H-M Bowl in the past. Cunningham also played for the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League.
Gordon Carter of Gilbert and current Chapmanville coach George Barker have also been the head coach of the West Virginia All-Stars.
Barker’s 2003 team, which lost a 40-36 shootout to Kentucky, is the last West Virginia Squad to lose to the boys in Blue and White. West Virginia has reeled off six straight wins in the series since.
The Mountain State All-Stars won 22-14 in 2007, 32-19 in 2006, 7-6 in 2005 and 6-0 in 2004.
West Virginia all-star players are gathered from Mingo, Logan, Wyoming, Wayne, Boone and Lincoln counties.
Kentucky all-star players come from the eastern counties of Pike, Martin, Johnson, Letcher and Floyd.
The Hatfield-McCoy Senior Bowl, which made its debut in 1996, takes its name from the infamous feud along the state border.
The forerunner of the bowl game was the Kiwanis Bowl, which began in the 1950s and was played at Williamson’s Lefty Hamilton Park.
The Hatfield-McCoy Bowl allows high school seniors to play one last football game. The vast majority of the players on each side of the ball are suiting up for the last time, however, for a lucky few the game offers a chance to play in front of college scouts. A handful of scholarships have been awarded by college coaches who have seen players take part in the bowl game.
A Hatfield-McCoy Bowl queen will be awarded at halftime and graduated senior cheerleaders from West Virginia and Kentucky are also invited to form all-star cheer squads.