Orange Bowl: Dunlap recalls 1989 trip to Clemson
MIAMI SHORES, Fla. -- West Virginia and Clemson have met only once previously in football, and Steve Dunlap was there.
He had that previous Mountaineer bowl experience connection with the ACC program, too.
If you dig back in the files 14 seasons prior to Clemson's 27-7 triumph over WVU in the 1989 Gator Bowl, you'll see that the Mountaineers went to Clemson, S.C., to practice prior to a 1975 Peach Bowl date against North Carolina State.
Dunlap was a senior linebacker on that team that defeated the Wolfpack 13-10 at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium.
Who knew it then, but it was a future College Football Hall of Fame coaching matchup between Bobby Bowden - in his last game at WVU before heading to Florida State - and Lou Holtz.
"We went to Clemson on the way to the Peach Bowl, spent about a week there I guess," Dunlap said Sunday before WVU's Orange Bowl workout at Barry University. "We didn't have any facilities, much to speak of, in Morgantown, and it was cold.
"I thought that was a heck of an idea, and it was a great adventure for me because as a little country boy from Hurricane, we never did much of anything.
Then the second day I was there got kicked in the Achilles, then I couldn't do anything the next three days or four, so ... "
Dunlap, who to this day is WVU's single-season tackles leader (190 in 1974, his junior season), was the Mountaineers' secondary coach for thast '89 Gator loss to the Tigers.
In the fourth year of his second sideline stint at his alma mater, Dunlap - who coaches safeties in the 3-3-5 alignment - will have one of the key decisions for the Mountaineers for Wednesday's 8:30 p.m. kickoff against the ACC champs at Sun Life Stadium.
With 25-consecutive game starting spur safety Terence Garvin out following knee surgery, Dunlap will make the call on who fills the void. It won't be one of the other season-long starters, Eain Smith (free) or Darwin Cook (bandit).
Nor will it be sophomore Travis Bell, who stepped in for Garvin when needed in WVU's win at Cincinnati. Dunlap didn't like how that worked out, so Bell continues to back up Smith.
Whoever gets Dunlap's nod will be a freshman making his first career start - and in a BCS bowl game - Wes Tonkery of Shinnston or Shaquille Petteway of Steubenville, Ohio.
Last season, Garvin and free safety Robert Sands - now with the NFL Bengals - started all 13 games. Smith started the 2010 opener, and then senior Sidney gtlover got the last 12 starts.
Dunlap hasn't had to do much shuffling at his positions, at least none on this large a stage.
"It's always a quandary," said Dunlap, who has been a defensive coordinator at WVU, Syracuse, N.C. State and Marshall. "You don't know, you shuffle things two or three times, and you weaken two positions, and that sort of thing.
"By minimizing moves, you try to replace Terence Garvin, who played entire season. It's going to be (Petteway or Tonkery) starting at the spur."
When will he decide?
"You'll see it when we walk out (for the game's first defensive series)," Dunlap said, grinning. "I really don't know. One day I like one better and the other day, the other. They're both inexperienced players and both young, one a true freshmen (Petteway), one a redshirt freshman.
"We'll have to wait and see. We've been alternating them every day. Petteway brings physicality; he was a linebacker in high school, a more physical player. Tonkery is a smartrer player, a makes-less-mistakes player. He's been around another year. He hadn't played that much but at least he's been around."
As for being around ... This is the 18th bowl bid as an assistant coach for Dunlap, 58 - and one of the biggest.
His only previous two postseason trips at what is now the BCS level were on WVU Coach Don Nehlen's staff for the Fiesta and Sugar Bowl losses with unbeaten regular-season finishers in 1988 and '93, respectively.
"Sure, it's big, it's the BCS," Dunlap said. "Anytime you go to the BCS it's big deal to me. I've only been to three of those in 35 years of coaching. I think it's a real big deal. It's always an exciting moment to get to go to one of these.
"I was thinking about that the other day. There are 120 (major college football) schools, and 10 get to play in BCS. I don't know what that percentage is, 8 or 9 percent, but that's very select company. I feel privileged and honored to get to do that ... very select company."
Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at email@example.com or 304-348-7949.