NEW RICHMOND - It was one of those landmark statistical events, and coming in the state championship game like it did only magnified the moment.

In Wyoming East's 1999 state championship victory over Bluefield, Ashley McNeely had 20 tackles.

McNeely always did like the big stage.

"Ashley and I competed with tackles," his teammate Davy Harris said. "The game I get 18 tackles in, he ends up getting 20."

His former teammates and family members remembered McNeely Friday when the 1999 state championship team was honored at halftime of the Warriors season-opening 44-14 victory over Westside.

McNeely passed away on May 2, 2017. His father, Butch, and sister, Hope, were on hand and received a vintage 1999 No. 52 jersey.

The family of Nick McCroskey also received a jersey. McCroskey was killed in the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in April 2010.

"I can say this still today: Ashley was the best linebacker I ever played with, and I have had a chance to see a lot of Division I linebackers," said Tank Tunstalle, a star sophomore running back on the team and one of three 1,000-yard rushers that season. "He was crazy, but that is one of the things we loved about him."

"He was a wild man, but he was also a great teammate," said Caleb Cooper, a senior tight end that season. "When it came to football Ashley got after it. But he would also be the first one cheering on other guys. I will always remember that."

"He loved all these guys and he would love to have been here if he had stayed healthy," Butch McNeely said. "These guys were like brothers."

McCroskey was remembered as a jokester of the bunch.

"Nick was a jokester, he was always getting us going," said Hill, another one of the 1,000-yard rushers. "He played mostly special teams that year, but he got after it."

"It seemed like he had every tackle on special teams," Cooper said. "He was a guy who we would give it to, but he could take it."

A lot of people forget that the Warriors' undefeated season was nearly derailed before it started, after a close season-opening victory over Iaeger. But as the season progressed, the wins kept building.

Hill recalled twisting an ankle, which pressed Tunstalle into action against Greenbrier East.

"And you have to give Tank credit because he really stepped up and got the job done," Hill said.

"I remember coach (Kevin) Grogg (now an assistant at Independence, forcing him to miss the event) seemed like he had a lot of faith in me," Tunstalle said. "And all the guys. Michael Hill, even though he got hurt and it allowed me to play more, pulled for me as much as anyone. We had that camaraderie."

The Warriors really took off in the playoffs, outscoring opponents 204-70.

But the James Monroe game, pitting a No. 2 (Wyoming East) vs. No. 3 (James Monroe) was one for the ages.

The Warriors came back and beat the Mavericks and Kennedy Award finalist Ben Thornton when Robert Gunter busted off a long run around the left end at Flying Eagle Stadium.

"I remember being in that huddle for that whole drive," Cooper said. "I kept telling Tank, 'don't drop the ball. Don't fumble. We will get you there.' I don't remember that play call. For me, it was an honor just being in the huddle."

Davy Harris, a receiver, recalled the game for a little different reason.

"Coach Grogg always told us to have a backup helmet ready, somebody else who had a helmet the same (size) as the one we wore," Harris said. "(James Monroe's Ben) Thornton took off down the sideline at one point and I came across the field and hit him in the knee cap. I got up and my face mask was on the side of my cheek. That is the only time I had to use my backup helmet."

All recalled the team as that band of brothers that is often the analogy used to describe teammates.

"We were just a bunch of guys who really cared about each other and that was the secret of that team," Tunstalle said. "We enjoyed spending time together. That's the way it was."

"It's hard to believe it's been 20 years," Hill said.

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