MORGANTOWN-To the 17 West Virginia players that call the Mountain State home as well as the 13 instate standouts that are listed on the Thundering Herd's opening day roster, Saturday's final edition of the Friends of Coal Bowl is more than just the first game of the year for the state's two NCAA D-I football programs.
"As a West Virginia native, it (the Friends of Coal Bowl) is always a nice way to begin the season," explained sophomore Michael Molinari, who played his high school football at Parkersburg South. "I can feel the intensity on the sideline. My job remains the same, however, who ever we play and that is to execute the perfect hold every time."
The 12th meeting all time between WVU and Marshall-the Mountaineers have won all 11 of the previous meetings-has even a bigger meaning for former-Parkersburg High standout Josh Jenkins.
"This game is real big for me," explained the senior offensive lineman. "Bigger than any other game because it is my first game back on the field. It's been a crazy journey. I've never been so excited to be back on the field."
Jenkins, the state's only two-time recipient of the Hunt Award as the team's top offensive lineman, missed the entire 2011 season recovering from knee surgery that he had after hurting his knee in the Gold/Blue scrimmage following his junior season. He was awarded a medical redshirt giving the 300-pounder one last time to face the coach-Marshall's John 'Doc' Holliday-that recruited him during his final season as a Big Red.
"He (Holliday) did recruit me quite a bit," continued Jenkins. "Nothing against him, but he's on the opposite sideline now."
Both teams are coming off of impressive bowl victories as Marshall took care of Florida International by a 20-10 score to win the Beef O'Brady Bowl while West Virginia's offense posted 70 points in a 37-point, 70-33, win over Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.
"It's game one," continued Molinari, who will serve as the team's holder and backup punter. "We (the players) are just excited to be playing football, to be playing a game instead of beating up on one another."
Saturday's contest, which will be televised on FX, is slated for a noon kickoff at soldout Milan Puskar Stadium. Weather played a major role in last year's contest as the Mountaineers overcame a slow start and more than four hours of delays to post a 34-13 victory.
In addition to Jenkins and Molinari, the opening day roster for the old gold and blue contains Tyler Anderson (Morgantown), Connor Arlia (Weirton), Justin Arndt (Martinsburg), Dustin Brown (Craigsville), Cody Clay (Alum Creek), Anthony Gutta (Morgantown), Mike Hall (Nitro), J.B. Lageman (Huntington), Travis Maraney (Morgantown), Logan Moore (Fairmont), Ryan Nehlen (Morgantown), Taige Redman (Keyser), Corey Smith (Inwood), Wes Tonkery (Bridgeport) and Anthony Vecchio (Morgantown).
Marshall players who call West Virginia home include Aaron Dobson (Dunbar), Raheem Waiters (Quincy), C.J. Crawford (Huntington), Derek Mitchell (Point Pleasant), Zach Wellman (Huntington), Stephen Roush (Parkersburg), DaVonte Edwards (South Charleston), Seth Doss (Marlington), Clint Van Horn (Beckley), Joe Woodrum (Bluefield), Blake Brooks (Charleston), Tom Collins (Williamstown) and Ryan Riedel (Huntington).
"I grew up with him (Roush)," said Molinari. "The ironic thing is that he will be wearing No. 48 for them (Molinari's number with WVU). I'm looking forward to seeing him and playing against him."
The game will represent the final opportunity for Roush, a sophomore safety, to beat his childhood friend.
"He (Roush) has never beaten me. He transferred to PHS and we (Parkersburg South) beat the Big Reds my junior and senior year. I didn't play as a sophomore."