By Shawn Rine, The Intelligencer, for the West Virginia Sports Writers Association
WHEELING, W.Va. — Mike Young remembers it like it was yesterday. It happened during Wheeling Central’s football heyday, when state championship trophies were piling up faster than used athletic tape.
If you look at the old photos after the Maroon Knights captured either the 2010 or 2011 title — they won both, and that’s the one part Young doesn’t remember precisely — you’ll notice a grade schooler in the picture amongst the bigger young men he looked up to.
“He told his mom or dad he was going to be in a picture like that at Central,” Young recalled recently.
As it turns out, that little guy was right. Linebacker Adam Murray led a dominant playoff defense that helped produce yet another West Virginia Class A state crown.
For his efforts, Murray has been named the W.Va. Sports Writers Association’s 24th recipient — the first sophomore and first player from Wheeling Central — of the Sam Huff Award, which is presented to the state’s top defensive player.
“I feel so honored to even be talking about that I coached a Huff Award winner” Young said. “It was such a miracle year and he’s such a great kid. It’s the icing on the cake for me.
“He bought into what we are doing lock, stock and barrel.”
And as a Maroon Knight, that means winning titles. The school hadn’t captured one since that 2011 season, but Murray proved to be a big factor in rectifying the situation.
The 6-foot-1 218-pounder had what is believed to be a state-leading 181 tackles — 12.9 a game — in 14 games. Of that total, Murray registered 80 solo stops, five sacks and recovered a fumble. For good measure, he was the state title game’s leading tackler with 14.
All of this came against what many have argued was the state’s most difficult Single-A schedule.
“We went against some pretty challenging runners in (Martins Ferry’s Dalton) Hoover, (South Harrison’s Freddy) Canary, (St. Marys’ Jaiden) Smith, (East Hardy’s Brett) Tharp, and (Shadyside’s Connor) Banco and (Alex) Krupa,” Young said. “Our defense was challenged and stepped up and answered the bell.
“His motor never stops. It’s constant. He’s a coach’s dream as far as playing to the whistle, asking questions, wanting to get better.
“Those are all the products that make him not just a good linebacker, but a great one.”
Even Young admits, however, that there is only so much a coaching staff can do. A player has to come with the prerequisite “it” factor in order to get to the level Murray, who was also the Maroon Knights’ leading tackler as a freshman, has achieved in such a small amount of time.
“He’s definitely a first at his level, at that age,” Young said of his coaching career that spans more than 40 years. “His focus and intensity is key. Believe it or not, I see him getting even better.
“There are some areas of technique and leverage we can help him on.”
That’s a scary proposition when combined with an eager attitude, which Young said Murray had upon entering the program. It’s something that tends to rub off on teammates.
“We want that to be contagious, in terms of his work ethic,” Young said. “It’s lifting, working out, going to the gym and eating right.
“To top it all off, he is a quality student and a gentleman.
“He works hard at getting bigger, faster and stronger. He’s very, very focused and very humble in terms of his peers. He is not a bragger or a boaster.”
Still, becoming the first sophomore and player in school history to win an award? That has to be something to talk about, right?
“He would be the first to give credit to the guys in front of him,” Young said. “We try to free him up to make those tackles. Our defense is based around having our linebackers free to move around.
“To have a kid of that caliber as a sophomore, is phenomenal. To have a kid that is that focused and has a nose for the ball, is huge.”
Murray will be presented with his Sam Huff Award, which is sponsored by Winner’s Choice of Fairmont, on May 6 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston, as part of the Victory Awards Dinner.
SAM HUFF AWARD WINNERS
2017 – Adam Murray, Wheeling Central
2016 – Tavis Lee, Martinsburg
2015 – Reese Donahue, Cabell Midland
2014 – Isaiah Honesty, Martinsburg
2013 – Geremy Paige, Wheeling Park
2012 – Elijah Wellman, Spring Valley
2011 – Logan Jenkins, Martinsburg
2010 – Ryan Lazear, Brooke
2009 – Alex Sutton, Bridgeport
2008 – Aaron Slusher, South Charleston
2007 – Rodney Hudson, George Washington
2006 – Xavier Peters, Martinsburg
2005 – Adam Parkulo, Woodrow Wilson
2004 – Zac Cooper, Weir
2003 – Ben Gum, Parkersburg South
2002 – Will Albin, Princeton
2001 – Joey Spano, George Washington
2000 – Ashley McNeely, Wyoming East
1999 – Al Hammell, Parkersburg
1998 – Eric Grimm, Parkersburg
1997 – Ben Collins, North Marion
1996 – Yubrenal Isabelle, Blufield
1995 – Nathan Kirby, Parkersburg
1994 – Bobbie Howard, DuPont