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West Virginia Football: The 10 Most Underappreciated Players in School History

Oliver Crawford IIICorrespondent IIIApril 2, 2012

West Virginia Football: The 10 Most Underappreciated Players in School History

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    Let's rewind to about 10-20 years ago—back when football had a swagger about it.

    There were teams that were extremely talented and incredibly entertaining. From the bad boy Miami Hurricanes to the golden era of Notre Dame football, college football was a spectacle during this era.

    There were football stars all over college football, and one program that seems to have been overlooked is the West Virginia Mountaineers.

    WVU is among the most successful programs in NCAA history with over 700 wins.

    Today, football is America's pastime, and it was the 80s and 90s that paved the way for the booming industry and growing product you see today.

    Football's popularity is at an all-time high, and the sport is making more money than ever. With so much talk about conference realignment, it's easy to forget about some old-time greats in college football history.

    Throughout this slideshow, I hope to kick some knowledge about some of the best players to ever play on Mountaineer Field.

    Let's go on a trip ESPN Classic style and take a look at some of the most underrated players in Mountaineer history.

Artie Owens (1972-1975)

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    Artie Owens was extremely talented in high school and was an All-American coming out of Stroudsburg, PA. Owens had an outstanding career and was in the same class as Pennsylvania great Tony Dorsett.

    This speedy running back was one of then-WVU coach Bobby Bowden’s prized recruits, and the Pennsylvania native didn’t disappoint. During his time in Morgantown, Owens became the first Mountaineer tailback to rush for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

    In his final two seasons in a WVU uniform, he rushed for 2,185 yards and 12 touchdowns. Owens was also a track star for the Mountaineers who recorded a sub-10-second 100-yard dash. He currently has the fourth-most rushing yards in program history.

    Owens was a multidimensional athlete who saw action at running back, wide receiver and kick returner. In 1976, he was drafted in the fourth round by the San Diego Chargers.

Avon Cobourne (1999-2002)

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    This kid was a grown man on the field back when the Big East actually played football (sorry Rutgers, no more Greg Schiano).

    These years were during the Golden Era of the Big East, when the league featured teams such as Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College just to name a few. The Big East pumped out a ton of NFL players, and Cobourne was one of several Mountaineers to play on Sundays.

    Cobourne had over 5,000 yards rushing in his collegiate career and had one of the best careers for any running back in NCAA history.

    He earned All-Big East honors in 2000 and 2001during a time in which the league was extremely competitive. Cobourne was a four-year starter and burst on the scene as a freshman rushing, leading all first-year players and coming in 13th nationally with 1,139 yards. 

Jerry Porter (1997-2000)

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    Jerry Porter was a flat-out athlete, in every sense of the word. This guy could flat-out fly and was said to have a 40-inch vertical to go along with a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash. Porter was yet another example of West Virginia looking to the Washington D.C. area for talent.

    Porter or “Superman" was a three-year player for the Mountaineers.

    He spent time on both sides of the ball for West Virginia and eventually wound up a second-round pick for the Oakland Raiders in 2000.

    Porter was somewhat of a legend and was arguably one of the best athletes to ever play for WVU.

    He could play just about any position on the field aside from the line…seriously. Legend has it that he could throw the ball 80 yards on his knees.

Renaldo Turnbull (1986-1989)

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    Renaldo Turnbull was yet another example of the Mountaineer coaching staff taking a chance on a prospect that far exceeded expectations.

    Turnbull, a native of the Virgin Islands, developed into one of the best pass-rushers in school history and eventually was a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

    He was originally recruited to play tight end, but the coaching staff opted to switch him to linebacker—a position in which he was one of the program's all-time greats.

Jim Braxton (1967-1971)

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    Braxton is your traditional “old-school” football player. In college, he played both running back and tight end and became an All-American as a senior at WVU tallying over 500 yards receiving with eight touchdowns.

    Perhaps, his most significant accomplishment came as a pro, when he played several years with the O.J “The Juice” Simpson, for the Buffalo Bills during the 70s.

    Braxton was an all-time Mountaineer great who was lost at an early age of 37 to cancer.

Danny Buggs (1971-1974)

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    Buggs was another Bobby Bowden recruit who had a huge impact on the program. This talented receiver out of Georgia was one of the best wideouts in program history and in 1973 was named an All-American.

    In 1972, he was a beast on the field and scored a touchdown once every five times he touched the ball.

    He had the ability to make something out of nothing, whether it was at running back, wide receiver or kick returner.

    The speedster had one of the biggest individual plays in WVU history when he had a 96-yard touchdown reception against Penn state in 73. After a great college career, he went on to become a third-round pick in the NFL draft.

John Thornton (1996-1999)

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    Thornton was an absolute beast on the defensive line for the Mountaineers being named a two-time All Big-East selection as a junior and senior and an All-American.

    Thornton was one of several stars to play under Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen and went on to have a 10-year career in the NFL.

    This massive defensive tackle out of Philly was one of the best defensive linemen to ever play for WVU. In 1999, he was a second-round pick to the Tennessee Titans and also played for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Canute Curtis (1993-1996)

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    Curtis was an animal for the Mountaineers, and in 1996, he anchored the nation’s top-ranked defense, leading the way with 16.5 sacks.

    His senior year, he was named a consensus All-American and also was the Big East Player of the Year on defense.

    The New York native was a great defender for WVU and was a sixth-round pick in the 1999 NFL draft.

    Today, he's a defensive coach for Towson University.

Robert Walker (1992-1995)

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    Robert Walker was a hometown story for the state of West Virginia. He grew up in Huntington, West Virginia—ironically, the same town as in-state rival the Marshall Thundering Herd.

    He was very solid for the Mountaineers and had a brief stint with the New York Giants.

    Although his numbers dropped off late in his career, Walker can hang his hat on his sophomore season—a campaign in which he tore it up, running for 1,250 yards with 11 scores—not bad for a sophomore.

    Not to mention, the Mountaineers had one of the best seasons in school history, going undefeated for just the second time in the program's history.

    Walker's claim to Mountaineer fame came in 1993, when he had the game-winning touchdown against the Miami Hurricanes. 

Owen Schmitt (2005-2007)

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    Schmitt is one of my all-time favorite Mountaineers, and he's a player I had the opportunity to see several times in college.

    The Wisconsin native came to Morgantown in 2005 after playing one season of Division III ball.

    He's a testament to what hard work will do for a person as he came to WVU as a walk-on and left as a legend.

    Any true Mountaineer fan is aware of the records he set in Morgantown, and not just on the football field ( Mario’s Fishbowl anyone?).

    He became a starter as a sophomore and was a very dynamic player for the Mountaineers.

    He was a hellacious blocker and was also an underrated athlete. He was a part of the three-headed rushing attack that featured fellow Mountaineer greats—Pat White and Steve Slaton.

    Today, he's a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.

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