Loyalty is a tricky concept.

One person's idea of loyalty might be someone else's perception of being restrained.

Take the state of West Virginia, for example.

Many college sports fans in the Mountain State seem to possess a rather narrow-minded sense of loyalty when it involves state athletes, born and bred, committing to major colleges outside the 304 area code.

Many fans didn't like it when Huntington High School's Billy Ross signed with North Carolina instead of West Virginia University or Marshall. The same situation occurred when Spring Valley High School's Riley Locklear chose Tennessee over an in-state school.

Why, new Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown brought his entire staff to Huntington High in hopes of swaying highly recruited Darnell Wright to decide to stay home.

It didn't work.

Wright also went to Tennessee.

The point is, some fans seem to believe state athletes who choose to pursue opportunities outside West Virginia are turning their backs on the Mountain State.

That is rubbish.

Those athletes aren't being disloyal, disrespectful, disobedient or any other "dissing."

Besides, what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? What about the Mountain State athletes who have dreamed about playing for the Mountaineers or Thundering Herd but aren't offered scholarships by WVU nor Marshall?

The loyalty card never gets played in that instance.

But it should.

Just ask Lonnie Warwick.

Remember the Mount Hope native? The burly Warwick signed a free-agent contract with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings in 1964 and became the starting middle linebacker for the legendary "Purple People Eaters" defense in the late 1960s and early '70s.

Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp once called Warwick "the meanest man" in football.

Well, before that legacy was established, Warwick was a senior football and basketball star for Mount Hope High School in 1959-60 who dreamed of playing football for WVU.

So, Warwick traveled to Morgantown to meet with new WVU coach Gene Corum.

"Coach came up to me and said, 'You're Warwick, aren't you, from Mount Hope?'" said Warwick during a recent interview. "I said yes. He said, 'Are you a fullback?' And I said yes. He said, 'And a linebacker?' And I said yes. Then, he said, 'Well, how much do you weigh?' I said, 'Well, I play at 200 (pounds) or 205.'

"He said, 'How much do you weigh now?' I said, 'Well, I boxed last night at 175 pounds.' I told him we had a heavyweight on our boxing team, so I got my weight down some to box light-heavy. He said, 'Well, let's go weigh you.' So I went over to the scales and I weighed 174 pounds."

That was the beginning of the end.

"He said, 'I don't know - 174 pounds?'" said Warwick. "He said, 'How do you expect to play at West Virginia University?'

"We had done drove all night long to get up there for me to meet with West Virginia's coach. I'll never forget it. The guy who took me up there was Sanford McNeely. He was the undertaker, so he owned a car. He drove me up there.

"Then, the coach said, 'I don't know if you can play at West Virginia University.' Boy, that flew all over me. It was about a six- or seven-hour drive from Mount Hope to up there. So, the coach said, 'Well, you all can stay overnight, but I don't know if you can ever play up here at West Virginia at that size.'"

Warwick had heard enough.

"I grabbed Sanford and said, 'Let's go. Let's go back home,'" said the 77-year-old Warwick, who still lives in Mount Hope. "Sanford said, 'No, we've got a room and everything.'

"But then I said, 'If you don't take me home, I'm hitchhiking back.' So, we got in the car and drove home. In the next two days, I visited Marshall. But I was so mad at the state of West Virginia that when George Cafego came to my house - he was the coach at Tennessee - I signed and went to the University of Tennessee. That's how I got out of the state of West Virginia."

And that's the other side of the story.

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


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