INSTITUTE, W. Va. — You just had to be there, and it was indeed great times.
For Point Pleasant’s Grant Safford and Zach Wamsley, one last great time that you don’t wanna miss comes Saturday night — when the Big Black football standouts take the field together for one final tilt.
That’s because both Safford and Wamsley will be members of the South squad — as part of the annual WCHS-Fox 11 North-South Football Classic, held at Laidley Field in Charleston.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Safford and Wamsley were Mason County’s only selected players, and marks the fourth consecutive contest in which a Point Pleasant player has been chosen.
Both Safford and Wamsley are listed at exactly six-foot tall, while Wamsley weighs 225 pounds and Safford stands in at 210.
Both are expected to play both defense and offense on Saturday night, as Wamsley will play along the lines — while Safford is a standout linebacker and running back.
During Tuesday’s Media Day activities on the West Virginia State campus, Wamsley and Safford stressed the importance of being selected for the game.
“It’s really a great honor just to be here and to play in a game like this. They say we’re the best of the best in the state. It’s an honor to be selected for the game, and we’re the only two from Point,” said Wamsley.
“It’s an honor to be able to go out there and perform for our town and Mason County and represent them that way. We need to go out there and perform to our best,” added Safford. “It is an honor just to be selected in this game, because it’s of THE best in the state.”
Indeed, the South Cardinals and North Bears make up the top football players in all of West Virginia.
This week, that mass of talent took up residency at West Virginia State — participating in the mandatory week-long camp prior to the game.
Both Point Pleasant players said the camp is well-structured — with both the Bears and Cardinals having morning and evening practices on opposite ends of the campus.
“The camp is run extremely crisp. Everything is on time and on schedule. Just go by the schedule and you will be good,” said Safford.
“The camp has gone very smooth. We’ve done a lot of drills, and we’ve learned quite a bit since we’ve been down here,” added Wamsley.
Yogi Kinder, of last season’s Class AA state champion Mingo Central, coaches the Cardinals —while the Bears are headed up by Chris Daughtery of Wheeling Park, whose team won the Class AAA state championship two years ago.
Point Pleasant played at AAA for four years, before returning to AA last season.
Safford was a repeat all-state selection in 2015 (AAA) and 2016 (AA), having rushed for 1,755 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior.
He actually earned all-state accolades on the defensive side of the ball — being a first-team utility player selection.
Wamsley was chosen to the Special Honorable Mention all-state squad —the only Big Black to make that list.
But both players said the best part of Point Pleasant football was feeding off the fans’ support, as the Big Blacks have not lost a regular-season game for four years.
In fact, Safford and Wamsley were part of the Big Blacks’ ongoing — and amazing — 43-game regular-season win streak, which stands as the longest in the state.
Last season stretched their consecutive playoff appearance streak to nine, as Point Pleasant followed a 12-1 campaign two years ago with an 11-1 mark of last year.
“We don’t know what it’s like to lose in the regular season because we never did it. We were very fortunate to be in a tight-knit community that’s always backing us and going to every game. It kept us going. All of that support helped us so much to win all of those games and go into those playoff appearances,” said Wamsley. “You just had to be there. You had to be at Point Pleasant when it was happening. It was one of a kind and we were a one-of-a-kind team. You’ll never find another one like us. That’s the only way to explain it.”
“It was a great time. There were a lot of fun times in the locker-room and on the field,” said Safford. “All the support from the fans we had, it was always packed for games. It was an accomplishment to go four years through the regular season undefeated and make all of those playoff appearances. It was all that hard work and dedication that we put into it.”
Safford’s hard work, dedication and ability are enabling him to continue his football career — at West Virginia Wesleyan.
He also captured a AAA state wrestling championship as a junior, and was a AA state runner-up as a senior.
“It’s a big step for me. There were a lot of places that recruited me for multiple sports. It was a lot of pressure, but it was also a lot of fun getting to go see all those campuses and see what everything was like,” said Safford.
Safford said West Virginia Wesleyan offers a five-year MBA program, which he plans to obtain as a graduate assistant there in the fifth year.
In three years, Wamsley will join the West Virginia State Police Academy at the age of 21, working to become a state trooper and with the K-9 unit.
So Saturday night marks his final football bout.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet, but I’m sure towards the end of the week it will hit me,” said Wamsley.
Safford said he is excited about playing with Wamsley one final time.
“To play one more game with one of my high school teammates…,” he said. “That means more to me than any college will.”
Safford will wear his traditional 37 jersey for the South, while Wamsley dons the jersey number 65.
Two years ago, Point Pleasant quarterback Aden Yates and defensive end Jon Peterson played in the game.
Three years ago, Chase Walton represented the Big Blacks as a running back — the same Saturday night that Wahama’s Kane Roush racked up the Rat Thom Award, which is given to the “Top South Cardinals Player”.
Last year, the North snapped a seven-game losing streak to the South by winning 42-35 — the most combined points in the North-South’s history.
The South still leads the all-time series by a count of 40-23-3.
There were no games played for two decades between 1956 and 1975.
As for Safford and Wamsley, they don’t want you to miss one last great time.
“We’re ready to get it on and ready to go,” said Wamsley. “Go South!”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106