By Kyle Lovern
Williamson High School Hall of Famer Mike Slater still holds the single game record at West Virginia University for the most interceptions in one game.
Back in 1969 Slater and his WVU teammates went up against a border rival, the Kentucky Wildcats.
When the game was over, Slater had picked off four passes from his defensive back position, including a “Hail Mary” on the game’s final play to help defeat the Wildcats 7-6.
Slater had some extra incentive going into the contest. Since he grew up in the Tug Valley on the Kentucky border, he knew a lot of diehard UK Wildcat fans.
“I remember the summer before that season I saw Dom Gentile in Williamson,” Slater recalls. The late Gentile, who ran Mingo Bottling at the time, was a big UK fan.
“He put his arm around me and said ‘Slater, you know we play you this year. I hope you have a good game, but I hope Kentucky wins,’ Slater recalls. “Of course we won the game 7-6.”
Slater remembers that the weather was horrible and it rained the entire game at old Stoll Field in Lexington, Kentucky.
“It rained like crazy,” Slater said.
“There were a lot of turnovers in the game,” he recalled. “I can still remember that game quite vividly. I think we had six interceptions in the game and recovered a couple of fumbles.”
UK had a chance to go ahead with WVU leading 7-6, Slater said. “They went for two on the conversion and they called the first one back on a penalty.”
Slater said then safety Ron Pobolish intercepted the second 2-point conversion try.
“I remember the first person I saw when we walked off the field was big Rick Kestner,” Slater said. Kestner, a former high school star at Belfry and UK, went on to play for the Baltimore Colts. He had traveled to Lexington to watch the game.
Kestner congratulated his fellow Tug Valley area resident. Kestner was a big tight end who played for the Cats from 1963-65.
The four interception game is probably Slater’s most fond memory of his great career at WVU. But, he has many other good memories.
He intercepted two passes against arch rival Pitt in his sophomore season.
In 1969 he and his Mountaineer teammates won the Peach Bowl upsetting a heavily favored South Carolina team.
That season the Mountaineers went 10-1, with their only loss coming to Penn State.
“In the last game of the regular season against Syracuse I was knocked out,” Slater recalls. “I had a bad concussion and didn’t remember a lot heading into that game. I didn’t even recall the trip up there.”
But, he recovered and helped WVU beat the SEC’s South Carolina squad 14-3.
Former star running back Bob Gresham scored one of WVU’s touchdowns, while the late Jim Braxton, who played fullback and tight end, scored the other. Braxton also booted both extra points. Both went on to have solid NFL careers.
WVU’s defense held their opponent to only a third period field goal.
“It rained during that game too,” Slater recollects. “They let us go out and check out the field the night before. I remember thinking how nice the field was with the fresh cut grass. It was one of the nicest fields we would have played on. But, it rained the entire game.”
Slater said by halftime their uniforms were a muddy mess, covered with brown muck from head to toe.
He remembers that former Mountain State Governor Cecil Underwood was on the sideline for WVU and was handing players towels as they would come off the field.
“When South Carolina came out of the dressing room after halftime, they had new, clean uniforms on,” Slater recalls. But it didn’t matter; the Mountaineers were too much for the Gamecocks on that day.
This was an era where there were only a handful of bowl games. To make it to a post season game and to win one was something very special.
WVU only had one pick in the bowl game. Slater batted the ball away from the receiver and Pobulish came up with the interception.
Slater was a 3-sport standout for the Wolfpack in the mid-1960s. He played football, basketball and baseball, graduating in 1967.
He was recruited to WVU by Coach Jim Carlen as a running back, but due to his size, he was switched to the defensive side of the ball. “I only weighed about 173 pounds when I went up there,” Slater said. “I was just too slight to be a running back.”
But, the move to cornerback was a good one for WVU and Slater.
He then went on to have a stellar career for West Virginia and played varsity football for three seasons. (Freshmen were not eligible to play during that era.)
Carlen left after the Peach Bowl win and assistant coach Bobby Bowden took over the program. Slater played his last season, the fall of 1970, for the now legendary coach, who eventually went on to Florida State to win two national titles and a boat load of bowl wins.
These days the former Wolfpack standout is enjoying retirement in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. After graduation at WVU, he returned to Williamson where he taught high school and was an assistant football coach under Dick Roddy.
He later became a State Farm insurance agent and held that position for several years before hanging it up.
“I play a lot of golf now,” Slater said of his retirement years. “I try to play on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”
Every April some fellow WHS grads, who head down south for a visit, get together and hit the links with Slater. That is always an enjoyable time for him and they can reminisce about the good old days.
He and his wife Susie are active in church and Slater teaches Sunday School.
The couple also enjoys riding their motorcycle around the vacation community.
Slater says he still keeps up with the local area, WVU sports and the WHS Hall of Fame.
He has many countless memories of his days of playing for the Wolfpack and the Mountaineers.
Slater is a true legend when it comes to athletics in both Williamson and Morgantown.
(Kyle Lovern is the Sports Editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or on Twitter @KyleLovern.)