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Chuck Landon: The Mount Rushmore of Herd football

Jun. 08, 2013 @ 11:10 PM

There’s a sheer rock cliff standing silent sentry over the city of Huntington on Route 60 East.

What if this wall of rock near the entrance to Rotary Park were sculpted into a version of Mount Rushmore, honoring the four greatest figures in Marshall University football history?

Who would be etched in stone in our “Mount Thundermore”?

There are several deserving candidates, but this is my quartet.

n Chad Pennington: Is there a more beloved figure in the history of Marshall athletics than this former Herd star quarterback? No. That’s why he’s on a first-name basis with the Herd Universe.

The legend of Chad began in 1995 when he was supposed to be a fourth-string, true freshman quarterback. Instead, he led MU to the NCAA Division I-AA championship game, losing to Montana, 22-20.

But his senior year in 1999 was Pennington’s most memorable season, as he led the Herd to an undefeated 13-0 record and a No. 10 national ranking after dominating BYU, 21-3, in the Motor City Bowl.

 Pennington finished his career with 1,026 completions in 1,619 attempts for 13,423 yards and 115 touchdowns with only 45 interceptions.

n Byron Leftwich: No one ever will forget this courageous quarterback being carried down the field by two of his offensive linemen, so he could continue playing against Akron despite having a fractured left tibia.

Or how about the “Miracle in Mobile” when No. 7 led MU back from a 38-8 halftime deficit to an astonishing 64-61 double-overtime victory over East Carolina in the 2001 GMAC Bowl?

In his MU career, Leftwich completed 939 of 1,442 passes (65.1 percent) for 11,903 yards, 89 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. He amassed 12,090 yards of total offense on 1,632 plays, ranking second on the school’s all-time list behind only Pennington.

n Bobby Pruett: Only one man possessed the mixture of charisma and chutzpah to force arch-rival WVU to play a seven-game series against Marshall.

That was Coach Pruett.

This Beckley native’s resume is a testimony to success. From 1996 to 2004, he coached the Herd to a record of 94–23 (.803 winning percentage), completed two undefeated seasons, won six conference championships and five of seven bowl games while also capturing the NCAA Division I-AA national championship in 1996.

Pruett’s level of success never will be matched.

n Jackie Hunt: In 1940, this 6-foot, 192-pound running back scored 27 touchdowns in MU’s single-wing offense, including a stunning 21 in his last five games of the season. That total stood as an NCAA record for 31 years.

Thirty-one!

Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice once wrote, “For all-around ability, I doubt that there is a better back in the nation than Jackie Hunt, who with a better schedule might be a (Tom) Harmon or (Jack) Kimbrough. Hunt could do more things better than any other back, ball-carrying, passing, kicking, blocking and tackling.”

The Huntington native, who died in 1991 in nearby Proctorville, Ohio, was clearly the greatest player in Marshall’s first half-century of football.

That’s my “Mount Thundermore.”

Some folks will lobby for Troy Brown, Gunner Gatski, Randy Moss and Carl Lee among others. They are all legitimate candidates. But I’ll stand by Pennington, Leftwich, Pruett and Hunt.

Stay tuned for my basketball “Mount Thundermore.”

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827 or clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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