On football weekends in Morgantown, Jake Kelchner maneuvers his camper onto the Green Lot near Mountaineer Field and fits in with thousands of other tailgaters.
A former West Virginia quarterback, Kelchner makes a full weekend of the tailgate experience, arriving on Friday and not leaving until Sunday. He might even meet up with other former Mountaineers like Bo Orlando and Tom Robsock, as he did for the Oct. 14 game against South Florida,
Kelchner, of course, is considerably more football battle-tested than most of his tailgating counterparts. As a man who quarterbacked West Virginia to an 11-0 regular season in 1993, including the memorable upset of No. 4 Miami, he's well-versed in recent Mountaineer lore and can speak first-hand of on-the-field glory, a quality that makes him an attraction on the Green Lot.
The Berwick, Pa., native lives in Ravenna, Ohio, and works as a salesman for Pittsburgh Forest Products, which specializes in plywood work. He's married to a Morgantown native, and they have two children, a girl, 7, and a boy, 6.
As he reflects on his Mountaineer football career, the friendships are especially meaningful, probably more so than even the victories.
"The team we had there was so tight, and we were such good friends throughout,'' he recalled recently. "That bonding was unbelievable. When you have a bunch of seniors like that, there's a lot of camaraderie, a lot of friendships that you make. A lot of us still stay in touch and go to the games together.''
The 17-14 upset of the Hurricanes in front of 70,222 fans in Morgantown that year still ranks among the school's greatest ever. It improved the Mountaineers' record to 10-0, elevated them from No. 9 to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll and, after a victory at Boston College in the season finale, allowed coach Don Nehlen to look ahead to the Sugar Bowl against Florida and talk about "a share of the national championship.''
Beating Miami also meant a delicious payback for Kelchner. As a redshirt freshman at Notre Dame in 1989, he witnessed the Hurricanes' infamous taunting and trash-talking before, during and after the Irish's 27-10 loss in Miami that year.
As the Mountaineers prepared for the Hurricanes' visit to Morgantown four years later, Kelchner saw his opportunity.
"The Miami game had special meaning to me,'' he said. "When I was at Notre Dame, we went down to Miami. Tony Rice was the quarterback and Rick Mirer was there, and I was redshirted. And it was brutal. You remember how the Miami players would come out before the game and taunt you. They were just ridiculous. And people were throwing oranges at the bus and the players. You don't forget stuff like that. I thought, 'If I ever get a chance ...' and then it happened in my senior year. It all came around. It came full circle. I was telling our team about it as we talked throughout the week.''
In the 1993 regular-season finale at Chestnut Hill, Mass., Kelchner missed much of the game because of a hamstring injury, but the No. 5 Mountaineers, led by quarterback Darren Studstill, defeated the No. 11 Eagles 17-14 on ESPN. In the Sugar Bowl, however, the Mountaineers suffered a 41-7 loss to coach Steve Spurrier's Gators to dismiss any West Virginia talk of a national championship.
Kelchner did most of the quarterbacking that year and compiled a passing efficiency of 164.02 to set a school record that still stands, but Studstill made an appearance in every game, flashing his speed as a runner to give the defense a different look.
"Darren was given a series or two every game,'' said Kelchner. "He came in at the end of the first quarter or the beginning of the second quarter and ran like a series or two. He was with the program before I got there. He had been the starting quarterback, and I think Nehlen had a lot of loyalties to Darren, and Darren helped mix things up a little bit. He was a tremendous running quarterback. So he gave the defense something else to think about.''