Orange Bowl will be bittersweet for player’s parents
MIAMI SHORES, Fla. — In December 2008, West Virginia had just beaten North Carolina to win the Meineke Car Care Bowl. John and Debra Stanchek were celebrating the victory, which was also their son Ryan's final football game with the Mountaineers.
But amid the revelry, the Stancheks had a warning heeded by Don Barclay Sr., the father and namesake of WVU's All-Big East offensive left tackle.
"It goes by so fast," they told him. "Make sure you take advantage."
Don and his wife Dana check in today at the Mountaineers' team hotel, the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. Wednesday night No. 23 WVU (9-3) plays No. 14 Clemson (10-3) in the Orange Bowl (ESPN).
It will be the fifth bowl game they've traveled to with their son on the roster. It will also be the last.
"I remember Ryan's parents saying that and I remember thinking, 'Man, I'm never missing anything,' " Don said. "We've always had a ritual where we go down in the stadium an hour before the game and we watch him warm up and all that and there's not been one time I didn't go down there and say, 'Thank God.'
"I can't believe we've been able to do this and that he's been able to do this for as long. It's been a blessing. But at the same time, this is kind of sad."
The Barclays have been coming to games for years and years.
Dana's sister is married to Al Pisula, a WVU defensive lineman from 1976-79 who made 116 tackles in his career and recovered four fumbles in 1978. He, too, arrives for the bowl today.
"I can't tell you how much I love West Virginia," said Pisula, who's from Scottdale, Pa. The thought of seeing his nephew, Don Jr., playing for nearby Pitt gave him nightmares.
"I probably love West Virginia more than he does. It's been everything for me. So this is going to be sad. I've been doing this since I got done in 1980 and we've been tailgating there for I don't know how many years now. But when he got down there, we took it to a whole other level.
"We got an RV. We have 50 or 60 people to every game. I think we're all going to be sad when it's done."
Though Don Jr. didn't play as a freshman in 2007, instead taking his redshirt season, he was in uniform for all the games and made all the road trips, including the Fiesta Bowl. All the while, his family was there, too.
"You're thinking, 'Man, we're going to do this every year,' " Don Sr. said. "Going through all the hoopla and the buildup and the atmosphere was just incredible. It's unlike all the other bowls."
He would know. The Barclays have been to the Car Care, Gator and Champs Sports bowls. Through the years, he said they've missed "two, maybe three" games and all of them were on the road.
The home games are easy. The Barclays live outside Pittsburgh, in Cranberry Township, Pa. They could be much farther away and they would still come to watch Don Jr. and to do what they love to do.
"It's been a lot of fun," said Don's younger brother, Beau. "I can remember when we were little kids, me and Donny would always go to a couple games every year with my uncle.
"Then when Donny was getting recruited, we'd always come down and watch practice. When he started playing, it became even more fun and when it got to the time when he was starting, we'd go everywhere. We didn't miss anything. It's going to be weird now."
Beau is a freshman at WVU and a manager for the football team.
"I wanted to spend his last season with him," Beau said. "I've always loved West Virginia football and I always wanted to be involved with it."
Beau lived with his brother during preseason practice before the dorms were open. They hang out or eat dinner after practice. They're cramming in meals and quality time when it's possible here. Beau isn't looking forward to the warm-up Wednesday.
"I always tell him before every single game on the field, 'Keep playing. This is your last one of these,' " Beau said. "You know, 'This is your last home opener.' I remember before the Pitt game saying, 'This is your last home game. This is your last time against Pitt. This is the most important game you've played in.'
"Now it's the last time I'll be on the field with him. It's the last time he'll be in a West Virginia jersey. I don't know what I'll say. It's sad. This is it."
Before all of that, though, is a celebration. Don Jr. has started 38 straight games and become one of the best linemen in the Big East. He leaves WVU playing in a BCS game, the sort of occasion Don Sr. makes sure his fellow parents cherish when he's the one doling out advice.
And just getting here this season was an achievement. The Mountaineers needed to win their final three games and get a lot of help to win a share of the Big East championship and the tiebreaker to get into the BCS.
"The difference between a BCS game and another bowl game is difficult to explain," Don Sr. said. "I try, but I just tell other people to wait to see it when they get here.
"And Donny, the one thing he wanted to do was go back to a BCS game. After the Louisville loss (Nov. 5), he was pretty distraught and he didn't think it was going to happen. All he wanted to do was get back to one and play in one. Now that it's worked out, we're all pretty happy."
He speaks for himself and his wife. And his parents. And his wife's parents. And Don and Beau's sister, Brooke. And Don's girlfriend. And Pisula and his wife. They'll all be at the game.
Don and Dana have been in Fort Myers, Fla., staying with family since Thursday, but have been looking forward to their stay at the world-famous Fontainebleau since they booked the room.
"I've heard it's just beautiful," Don said. "I've been getting so many phone calls about all these stars over there now that my wife and daughter have been going nuts."
When the game ends, so too does the time the Barclay family has spent as a part of something special. They say they'll still come back for WVU games. They hope to watch Don Jr. in NFL games.
But that's all in the future.
"We're all going to have fun and enjoy this one," Pisula said. "I fly back early Thursday morning, so I probably won't go to sleep. And if we win, we're really going to have some fun."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.