Derek Taylor: Keyser coach is restoring program to past glories
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. - There's something that sets Sean Biser apart from the rest of his peers heading into the Super Six, and it has nothing to do with the Keyser football coach being a former WVU Mountaineer.
Biser, who led Hampshire to a pair of rare Class AAA playoff appearances in 2000 and 2001, left the Trojans to take over at Keyser in 2004. Since taking over the Golden Tornado program, Biser is 72-33 while the team consistently plays one of the toughest schedules in Class AA.
Keyser (12-1) takes on top-seeded and defending state champion Wayne (13-0) in the Class AA state championship game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Biser is the only coach in the Super Six field who is an alumnus of the school he coaches. His adversary Friday, Wayne Coach Tommy Harmon, is a Buffalo (Wayne) graduate.
Cabell Midland's Luke Salmons was a Hunt Award winner at Ravenswood, and Martinsburg Coach Dave Walker was a standout at Pineville before a college career playing for former Charleston High School Coach Frank Vincent and later Lou Nocida at Glenville State College.
Wahama's Ed Cromley is a Point Pleasant graduate, and Madonna's Doug Taylor went to Oak Glen.
"I grew up a Keyser football fan. My uncle played at Keyser when I was a kid, my oldest son played there, I played there, my brother played there," said Biser, who was a guard for WVU teams coached by Don Nehlen from 1990-92.
"It's one of those things where it means a little more to you. Our community is definitely a football town and a football community."
Keyser, like the other five teams that will play in three title games over two days in Wheeling, is in a border county (Mineral). Unlike its eastern cohort Martinsburg, however, the town's population has dwindled in the last two decades. The Golden Tornado won Class AA state championships in 1956, 1962 and 1969 then spent a significant amount of time in Class AAA, including during Biser's years as a student there.
Since the mid-1990s, however, the school has remained one of the larger Class AA schools in the state. Its geography - Frankfort, Berkeley Springs and Petersburg are the only in-state Class AA schools within 75 miles - has forced the team to keep many of its rivals from its Class AAA existence, often leading to misleading won-loss records.
That hasn't changed the ferocity with which the area follows prep football or supports its local team, Biser said.
"It's kind of like a steel mill-type attitude there. We had the paper mill there and we had a glass plant and industry," Biser said, recalling his playing days. "It's just a hard-working area, and we kind of pride ourselves on that, and on Friday nights everybody comes out to watch football games.
"To be able to be from Keyser and come back to Keyser after being away then be the guy who's fortunate enough to be in charge when they end up making this leap is huge to me."
The Super Six has not been devoid of alumni coaching their alma maters with championships on the line. George Washington graduate Steve Edwards Jr. has guided the Patriots to the Super Six twice, in 2008 and again last year, when Point Pleasant graduate and Coach David Darst was also in the field.
Magnolia's Mark Batton won his alma mater's first state title since 1964 when the Blue Eagles claimed the Class AA crown in 2010, and Derek Christian coached St. Albans to a Class AAA runner-up finish in 2007. Wheeling Central graduate Mike Young has coached the Maroon Knights to five Class A titles.
A common trait of three of these coaches - and Biser makes four - is that they took over at their alma maters during low points for their schools and rebuilt those programs into successes. Only Batton and Young had much of a foundation to build upon.
"When I was in high school we didn't make the playoffs. We had some good teams but they didn't take as many teams as they do now," Biser said. "Then they kind of went through a dry spell. We were one of the smallest triple-A teams and we played Morgantown, Martinsburg, Jefferson, all those big schools.
"We've been close a couple times, but never made it this far. It makes it really special to me."
For the better part of the last 25 years, Keyser has been best known in the sports world as being the alma mater of former Major League All-Star first baseman and current ESPN analyst John Kruk, who was actually born in Charleston.
Should the Golden Tornado pull off an upset Friday night and the football-crazed town of Keyser have its championship drought ended, that perception - among Mineral County residents, at least - could very well change.