PARKERSBURG - "It's a sad day to be a Mountaineer.''
So said West Virginia University senior offensive lineman Josh Jenkins, after learning of the death of his former head coach, Bill Stewart, the man who ultimately enticed the three-year starter to commit to WVU.
Jenkins, one of only two Parkersburg High School football players to be named to the Class AAA all-state three times, had verbally committed to continue his football career at WVU while Rich Rodriguez was the head coach in 2007.
Former West Virginia football coach — and New Martinsville native — Bill Stewart died Monday of what athletic department officials said was an apparent heart attack.
Then, following WVU's 13-9 loss to Pittsburgh in the regular season finale Backyard Brawl, Rodriguez left to become the head coach at Michigan.
Jenkins began having second thoughts.
"I was going to de-commit,'' he confided.
But Stewart kept encouraging him to stick with WVU, and Jenkins listened.
"Bill had recruited me my junior and senior year,'' said the only two-time winner of the Hunt Award, given annually to the state's top high school lineman. "He told he was trying to get the job and for me to hang with him.''
Stewart was so persuasive, Jenkins listened. Ultimately, Stewart got the job and also won the biggest recruiting battle in the history of Parkersburg when Jenkins became a Mountaineer.
Although the two were close during the recruiting process, they became even closer after Jenkins became a member of the Mountaineers.
"I got to know him as a person away from football,'' Jenkins said. "He taught me how to be a man. He taught me how to respect other people. When I met him I was a young, immature kid. He developed me into a man.''
Jenkins said fans and those who are not a part of the program tend to judge coaches on their won-loss records.
"I got to know him as a man. He was a great man. He was a great husband. He was a great father. My heart goes out to Karen and Blaine.''
Asked about his fondest memory of coach Stewart, Jenkins said there were "so many.''
He then told of the day when Stewart walked into the dressing where the members of the offensive line were gathered. He looked at the collective group of linemen and said to them "Pony Express''.
"Nobody knew what he meant,'' Jenkins said. "But we all that it was funny.''
Jenkins talked almost exclusively about the man rather than the coach, but he did praise Stewart's knowledge of the game.
"I learned a lot from him,'' Jenkins said. "I am really going to miss him.''
So will Mick Price, the long-time head basketball coach at Ravenswood High School, who will become the Red Devils head football coach this fall. Price and Stewart worked together years ago at tiny Sistersville High School and have been great friends for decades.
"Bill could remember every person he ever met,'' Price said. "You'd be with Bill and run into somebody and we would know their name and where they were from.''
Stewart had a zest for life that was contagious.
"Bill not only loved life, but he loved people and the state of West Virginia,'' Price said. "He was a great ambassador for the state wherever he went.''
When Price thinks of Stewart, he thinks of the man.
"He was a wonderful husband and father,'' Price said. "Football comes after that.''
It was an emotional day for those who knew and loved Bill Stewart.
As Jenkins said, Monday was a sad day to be a Mountaineer.