MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Jake Spavital idolized Justin Fuente. And the best traits about our childhood paragons is how the admiration never truly fades.
Spavital admitted as much earlier this month, when we spoke about West Virginia and Virginia Tech shifting September’s opener to prime-time Sunday night on Labor Day weekend. Fans rightly will fixate on FedEx Field for what beckons to be a revealing top-25 game, yet any Spavital-Fuente interaction always rewinds them back two decades, back to Union High School in Tulsa, Okla.
That’s where Fuente became one of the nation’s top-rated quarterback recruits, and a hero to a certain 9-year-old.
“I was his ballboy,” said Spavital, retelling the story for MetroNews “Sportsline” on Thursday night. “He was an unbelievable quarterback. Him and Daunte Culpepper were the top quarterbacks in the country.”
And Union fielded an elite team in 1994, with Spavital’s father Steve serving as defensive coordinator. The Redskins were strong enough to reach the Class 6A state title game but lost 21-13 to undefeated Midwest City.
“I cried like the whole way home,” Spavital said.
Fuente signed with Oklahoma only to leave after his sophomore season. He transferred to Murray State, reset all the program’s passing records and became one of Division I-AA’s top players.
A few years afterward, Union High finally claimed its first football state championship — with Spavital playing quarterback.
“It didn’t happen for us until I had to take over the reins,” he joked, vowing never to let Fuente live that one down.
Now, Fuente’s ascension from Andy Dalton’s offensive coordinator at TCU to Virginia Tech’s head coach — sandwiched around a stunningly successful stint at Memphis — gives Spavital yet another trajectory to follow. Spavital
Their matchup on Sept. 3 gives game-within-a-game juice to a rivalry simmering with history from both fan bases.
“Justin’s an unbelievable person, an unbelievable guy. You always root for him and wish him the best, but not on that Sunday night game,” Spavital said. “It’s going to be a flat-out war.”
While the loser won’t cry all the way home, neither will he live it down any time soon.