Published Nov. 12, 2009

What if?

Every year during this particular week of November that eerie question echoes through the caverns of Dave Morris' mind.

How could it not?

If the Wayne native had made different decisions, Morris might have been aboard the tragic flight that crashed and killed most of Marshall's football team on Nov. 14, 1970.

But he wasn't.

Talk about twists of fate.

Morris was the best prep football player in West Virginia during his senior season at Wayne High School in 1968. As a result, the outstanding running back was the 1969 Kennedy Award winner.

No Huntington area athlete since Morris has won that prestigious award.

So, it came as no surprise that many college recruiters were knocking on Morris' door. One of them was Marshall assistant coach Red Dawson.

"Yes, Red recruited me," said Morris, who still works and resides in Wayne County as a successful realtor. "I also was recruited by West Virginia University and Tennessee.

"It mainly came down to WVU and Tennessee. I wanted to go to a little bigger school."

He eventually signed with WVU.

While sitting out his freshman year (there was no freshman eligibility in those days), Morris switched positions from running back to defensive back.

"At the end of practice in the spring, they moved somebody ahead of me at running back," remembered Morris. "I just kind of saw the light, so I had them put me back on defense.

"And that's where I ended up."

That's where he had been playing that day, that fateful Nov. 14 in 1970. The Mountaineers defeated Syracuse, 28-19, on that rainy, overcast Saturday on old Mountaineer Field at Morgantown.

After their game, Morris and his teammates learned of the horrific Marshall crash.

"It was after the ballgame," recalled Morris. "And it was just a shock. Of course, everybody was more or less in shock. Several of the players on our team had friends on Marshall's team.

"It hit them pretty hard."

Morris included.

"I had several friends on Marshall's team," he said, "but none of them were on the plane. There were Howie Carroll from Buffalo and Mike Smith from C-K (now defunct Ceredo-Kenova High School).

"I thought they were both gone. I figured they would have been on the plane."

But they weren't.

"I think both of them were hurt," said Morris.

So, at least initially Morris thought two close friends had perished in the crash.

"Yeah, I did," he said.

More than anything else, that's what Morris remembers about that fateful day.

"Basically, I just remember the people that I thought were on the plane that didn't end up being on there," he said. "I was glad to find that out.

"It was a sense of relief."

Morris went on to become a letterman at WVU in 1970, '71 and '72. But he never forgot that day.

And, now, even 39 years later, as the crash anniversary approaches on Saturday, Morris thinks "What if?"

"Oh, yeah," said Morris. "Quite a bit. You just never can tell which direction you're heading in. It's one of those things."

Suppose Morris had gone to Marshall instead of WVU. He might have been on the plane like Mike Blake from Huntington East or not on the plane like Carroll and Smith.

"Exactly," said Morris. "Who knows?"

That's why "What if?" is never answered.

"Oh, no," said Morris. "When the crash anniversary comes around it goes through my mind. It comes up every year. And it should."

Yes, it should.

As a reminder of just how fragile life is.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch.

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