A style all his own
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If there was a best-dressed award at the Super Six weekend in Wheeling, Luke Salmons would not win it. His chances wouldn't be hanging by a thread, either.
No, Cabell Midland's coach is more concerned with comfort than style. Which is why he wears the same thing to every game - khaki shorts and a pair of Crocs, a lightweight foam shoe.
No matter the weather, even the sub-freezing climes of last week's semifinal victory against Morgantown, there's Salmons on the sideline in his usual get-up.
Expect more of the same at noon Saturday, rain or shine at Wheeling Island Stadium when Midland meets Martinsburg for the Class AAA championship. (For the record, the forecast calls for sunny skies and 56 degrees.)
"I kind of like Crocs,'' Salmons said. "I started wearing them when I coached in Kentucky, and they're comfortable. It's gotten to the point where if I didn't wear them, people would think something's wrong with me.
"The shorts? I don't know. It's part of me. It's one thing I've always done. I always wear shorts no matter how cold it is - even practice. Sometimes you don't want your kids to be cold and act whiny. I don't want to show them I'm tough or nothing. Just that it doesn't matter, and we don't change anything.''
The spotlight's been on Cabell Midland all season long, as well as the stadium lights.
The Knights (Nights?) haven't played a single daytime game this season or last under Salmons, their second-year coach.
Martinsburg, by comparison, is playing its third game with an afternoon kickoff just in this year's playoffs alone. Of course, the two-time defending champion Bulldogs will now have appeared in the noon title game at Wheeling Island Stadium three straight years.
"It's different,'' Salmons said. "Even back in August, when people are all practicing at different times, we always try to practice in the evening about 7:30 or 8. People ask me why, and I tell them that's when we play. You always try to make it perfect.''
Salmons and his players did get in some daytime practice time recently, owing to the Thanksgiving holiday break from classes, as Midland worked out all week with either a noon or 1 p.m. start prior to its semifinal game against Morgantown.
"The kids did good,'' Salmons said of the drills held under the sun. "What we preach to them is that it doesn't matter when we play, if there's 30,000 people or 500 people in the stands. If you're training to be a winner, you'd play in a parking lot. You compete to win.
"We try to instill that in them all offseason. It doesn't matter if it's raining or snowing or what the weather's like or the crowd that's there or what time we play. A lot of that comes from the stuff we do all year - January to June to August. It's all based around winning or losing and celebrating.''
George Washington running back Ryan Switzer, last year's Kennedy Award winner as the top player in West Virginia, might not even be the best player Martinsburg's seen this season.
In their Sept. 21 game at Westminster, Md. - a 36-33 loss that snapped the Bulldogs' winning streak at 32 games, four shy of the state record - they faced quarterback Deryk Kern, who threw for 351 yards and five touchdowns.
Kern went on to set a Maryland state record with 62 TD passes this season as his team finished 12-1.
Ansted, a Class A school in Fayette County that was swallowed up in the Midland Trail consolidation in 1976, won 36 in a row from 1970-73.
Martinsburg missed its chance at one state record with that loss to Westminster, but now has an opportunity at another.
Since West Virginia instituted the Class AAA division in the fall of 1958, only one team has captured three straight football titles at that level - Charleston High from 1968-70. In the 42 years since, there have been four schools that won back-to-back crowns, but never three in a row.
Bulldogs coach Dave Walker said he hasn't talked to his players about the possibility of the accomplishment, but realizes they've heard a lot about it, most likely from fans in the Eastern Panhandle community.
"I've not heard a lot of talk about it from anybody,'' Walker said, "but who knows? I know they're aware of it. We've not talked about it at practice. Our guys come in and go to work as they have every week. Hopefully, we can continue to do that and stay focused.''
The deadline for members of the West Virginia Sports Writers Association to vote on the Kennedy Award is today. What seemed like a slam-dunk for a Switzer repeat has become a bit more interesting with the late push by Martinsburg quarterback Justin "Cookie'' Clinton.
Clinton has run for 587 yards and 12 TDs in just his first three playoff games. On the season, he's accounted for 39 touchdowns (22 rushing. 17 passing).
"Cookie's had a great year,'' Walker said. "Switzer's a great player. I don't think you can go wrong with either one of those two. Switzer's not done anything not to win.
"Brandon Barrett won it two years in a row for us [2002-03]. If you win it as a junior, and you're close statistically, you're probably a lock for it. Switzer's the best I've seen all year. Justin's a great player, but statistically he doesn't have what Ryan's got.''
Also getting into the Kennedy conversation in recent weeks has been Midland running back David Gaydosz, who ran for 317 yards against Morgantown in the semis and has 2,203 rushing yards and 27 TDs on the season.
Walker is just glad to be playing someone different for a change in the postseason.
In the first round, Martinsburg met Woodrow Wilson - its opening-round opponent last year. In the quarterfinals, it was a rematch with Eastern Panhandle neighbor Musselman. In the semifinals last week, it was a second meeting with GW in less than a year.
Had Morgantown won last week's semifinal at Midland, it would have meant yet another rematch, as the Bulldogs beat the Mohigans 56-28 on Sept. 14.
"It is [better],'' Walker said. "I think our kids are a little more focused. They understand this is not someone we're familiar with and they've got to really be focused in practice and have a good week.''
If Saturday's game comes down to a place-kick, well, it might be going on for a while. Seldom has a championship game been staged with two more accurate kickers on opposing sidelines.
Martinsburg's Tyler DeHaven is nearly perfect this season, having made 59 of 60 extra points and all four of his field goal tries (with a long of 38 yards).
Midland's Chris Molina might be even better.
He's booted all 65 of his PATs through the uprights this season and has extended his personal streak to 75 straight extra-point makes. He also had three field goals, with a long of 48 yards.
A few AAA quick kicks:
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.