Baseball Scout A Link In WVU Football Recruiting Tale
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — This is one of those “small world, isn’t it” stories.
It started out being a look at Steve Dalkowski, a left-handed pitcher who recently died but was said to be the hardest thrower ever to take a pitching mound. Those who saw him said he had to throw it at 110 miles an hour and he was the model for Nuke LaLoosh, the fictional hard-throwing pitcher with no control in the movie “Bull Durham.”
A friend from my baseball writing days, Hank King, who was the Philadelphia Phillies’ advance scout and batting practice pitcher, once had told me that he had played on a team with Dalkowski and that he was quite the character and that he had a lot of stories about him, but they are now going to have to wait for another day.
For King, who hails from Eastern Pennsylvania, we come to find out, played a key role in getting West Virginia one of the greatest cornerbacks ever to play at the school, and as hungry as we all are for football around here, this story is a perfect way to spend another day in quarantine.
After his playing days ended, King not only scouted opponents for the Phillies during the 1980s and 1990s, but he was active in local sports in the area.
West Virginia’s key man recruiting that area was former defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich and the two men developed a relationship.
Now it’s well known that Kirelawich is credited with getting Aaron Beasley, today a WVU Hall of Famer and a veteran of a nine-year NFL career with Jacksonville, the New York Jets and Atlanta, to come to WVU.
But Beasley first really made his name at Valley Forge Military Academy and it was King who pointed him in the direction of that school, where Kirelawich found him.
“I was refereeing a high school basketball game (at Penn that Beasley was playing in),” King said the other day when asked about it. “I asked him what he was going to do after high school and he said he didn’t know. So I asked him if he’d be interested in going to Valley Forge.”
After the game, Beasley stopped by the officials’ dressing room and told King that he would be interested and they set up a visit there three weeks later.
Now Valley Forge was coached by Jim Burner and was turning out a lot of football players, many of them heading to WVU. Among the players to become big-time college players were Julian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Chris Doleman, Mario Grier and Lawrence Wright.
Kirelawich wasn’t fully sold on Beasley as a cornerback at first. He had split time at quarterback along with defense.
“Beasley was an OK defensive back, but you know how films were then,” Kirelawich said. “Defensive backs never got into the films. You’d have to watch 200 plays to see 10 plays where he actually makes a play.”
So what finally sold Kirelawich on this prospect?
“Once I’d seen him play basketball and take over a game I was sold. They were state champions his senior year at Pottstown. I never saw a guy move so fast with the basketball in my life. I went to Donnie Young and said, ‘Let’s get this guy.’ This is the real deal. He’s the corner we always wanted.”
At Valley Forge, Burner turned him into a corner.
“When I went to Valley Forge Military Academy, I didn’t even know how to backpedal,” Beasley recalled in a story John Antonik wrote about him a number of years back. “I just lined up and hit somebody. I can remember using car lights to do extra drills because we didn’t have any lights in the stadium.”
But other people had discovered Beasley at Valley Forge. Boston College, with Randy Edsall, who would go on to be head coach at UConn and have a number of battles with WVU, was among those pushing hard, as did Syracuse.
But King and Kirelawich were close, so close that at one time Kirelawich went to buy a baseball for his son Billy.
King, however, told him not to.
“I’ll get you a ball,” he said.
He did, too.
“And it was signed by Lenny Dykstra,” Kirelawich remembers.
And so Beasley came to WVU in 1992 with what was unquestionably the best defensive backfield class of recruits ever to come to the school at one time — Beasley, Vann Washington, Charles Emanuel and Mike Logan.
Beasley’s career was history-making, leading the nation in 1994 as a redshirt sophomore with 10 picks, including three against Virginia Tech in a game the Mountaineers somehow lost 38-6.
Earlier in the year, Beasley also intercepted a pass against Missouri, a game King had slipped away to see while he was in Pittsburgh advancing the Phillies game that night with the Pirates.
With Beasley, every interception turned into an adventure, going as far back as Pop Warner ball.
“When I was in Pop Warner Football I would have a touchdown and I would start at the 30 going in and out and turn it into like an 80-yard run,” Beasley said. “I always liked the old running backs.”
Well, as Kirelawich remembers it, and he isn’t sure if it was Beasley who made the interception or who it was against, there was one play where this resurfaced.
“They intercepted a ball one time, and they started passing it back and forth to each other down the field. They weren’t screwing around. They were dead serious they were going to get the ball into the end zone but it was like watching the Globetrotters playing the secondary,” Kirelawich said.
Getting to West Virginia proved to be a signature moment in Beasley’s life for not only to find a career, but a wife, marrying gymnast Umme Salim, with whom he has had three daughters.