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Coal Bowl: Rivalry hits close to home for Marshall's Dobson, others

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall wide receiver Aaron Dobson loves playing West Virginia University. It's not just about the game on the field. For the South Charleston High graduate, it's also about the talk off the field.

"There are a lot of people from my high school up at WVU, so I get a couple of calls going back and forth," the senior said.

Is it really just a couple? With that question, the grin spreads across Dobson's face.

"A lot, actually," he said.

This game - to be broadcast the next, and possibly last, time at noon Saturday on FX - feels a little different for West Virginia natives like Dobson, linebacker Raheem Waiters and defensive lineman Blake Brooks.

Whether they're on campus or at home, people around them love to talk about the Marshall-WVU game.

When Dobson starred at South Charleston High, he didn't take sides with either the Mountaineers or the Thundering Herd. He just watched the game for the general excitement. But once he signed with Marshall, that view changed quickly.

"Before I wasn't biased to it," he added. "Now I'm with the Herd, it's different, to know I'm about to play this game, how big it is and how much it means to the fans and to the state. It's definitely different once you're a part of it."

Brooks, another South Charleston product, wanted to be part of it any way he could. He won the Hunt Award as West Virginia's top high school lineman in 2009, but when neither WVU nor Marshall offered a scholarship, he went to Fairmont State.

In the end, he changed directions and walked on to Marshall.

"I was looking for something bigger, more of a challenge," he said. "I really just had a goal to be a Division I athlete. When I first came here, they accepted me so well."

Growing up in the Charleston area put Brooks, Waiters and Dobson in the middle of a territory that doesn't sway 100 percent toward either school.

Whether they'd have gone to Morgantown or Huntington, they could walk into a high school reunion. Dobson has friends at both schools, so he admits to some good-natured ribbing as the game draws closer.

He also admits it can be a little tough to hear WVU fans talk about how the Mountaineers are unbeaten in the series.

"It's cool," Dobson said. "I just laugh and say, 'We're gonna see. We'll see how it goes.' "

Waiters, a Riverside graduate, said that in his neighborhood, he doesn't hear much pro-WVU or pro-Marshall talk.

"They do tell me they're for me," he said. "They want to see me do well and be successful."

Being a local player in the series can be a blessing and a curse. There's a built-in fan base, but there's also the fact they can never escape the talk. Out-of-town teammates can return to their homes in Florida or Ohio or Virginia and allow the conversation to die down for a while.

Players from West Virginia stay in the mix every minute.

And a lot of the talk this season has centered on the fact that this could be the last time the two teams play. Dobson hears it a lot, and he hears friends say they wish it wasn't the end.

"A lot of people ask me all the time, 'This is the last time y'all are playing?' " Dobson said. "And I'm like, 'Yeah, this is the last time, probably for a while.' People really like to see us play.

"People say this isn't a rivalry because we haven't won, but in the end, everyone in the state loves seeing us play the game against each other."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. - Marshall wide receiver Aaron Dobson loves playing West Virginia University. It's not just about the game on the field. For the South Charleston High graduate, it's also about the talk off the field.

"There are a lot of people from my high school up at WVU, so I get a couple of calls going back and forth," the senior said.

Is it really just a couple? With that question, the grin spreads across Dobson's face.

"A lot, actually," he said.

This game - to be broadcast the next, and possibly last, time at noon Saturday on FX - feels a little different for West Virginia natives like Dobson, linebacker Raheem Waiters and defensive lineman Blake Brooks.

Whether they're on campus or at home, people around them love to talk about the Marshall-WVU game.

When Dobson starred at South Charleston High, he didn't take sides with either the Mountaineers or the Thundering Herd. He just watched the game for the general excitement. But once he signed with Marshall, that view changed quickly.

"Before I wasn't biased to it," he added. "Now I'm with the Herd, it's different, to know I'm about to play this game, how big it is and how much it means to the fans and to the state. It's definitely different once you're a part of it."

Brooks, another South Charleston product, wanted to be part of it any way he could. He won the Hunt Award as West Virginia's top high school lineman in 2009, but when neither WVU nor Marshall offered a scholarship, he went to Fairmont State.

In the end, he changed directions and walked on to Marshall.

"I was looking for something bigger, more of a challenge," he said. "I really just had a goal to be a Division I athlete. When I first came here, they accepted me so well."

Growing up in the Charleston area put Brooks, Waiters and Dobson in the middle of a territory that doesn't sway 100 percent toward either school.

Whether they'd have gone to Morgantown or Huntington, they could walk into a high school reunion. Dobson has friends at both schools, so he admits to some good-natured ribbing as the game draws closer.

He also admits it can be a little tough to hear WVU fans talk about how the Mountaineers are unbeaten in the series.

"It's cool," Dobson said. "I just laugh and say, 'We're gonna see. We'll see how it goes.' "

Waiters, a Riverside graduate, said that in his neighborhood, he doesn't hear much pro-WVU or pro-Marshall talk.

"They do tell me they're for me," he said. "They want to see me do well and be successful."

Being a local player in the series can be a blessing and a curse. There's a built-in fan base, but there's also the fact they can never escape the talk. Out-of-town teammates can return to their homes in Florida or Ohio or Virginia and allow the conversation to die down for a while.

Players from West Virginia stay in the mix every minute.

And a lot of the talk this season has centered on the fact that this could be the last time the two teams play. Dobson hears it a lot, and he hears friends say they wish it wasn't the end.

"A lot of people ask me all the time, 'This is the last time y'all are playing?' " Dobson said. "And I'm like, 'Yeah, this is the last time, probably for a while.' People really like to see us play.

"People say this isn't a rivalry because we haven't won, but in the end, everyone in the state loves seeing us play the game against each other."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.


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