The NFL Draft kicks off Thursday night and as many as six former Mountaineers having a chance of hearing their name before the draft concludes Saturday. In the spirit of WVU alumni set to make their mark on the professional ranks, here are the top 10 former West Virginia athletes in the pros.
The rankings include, but are not limited to, former Mountaineers success as players. Achievements in all areas of professional athletics is considered here. Accolades as broadcasters aren’t included here (apologies to Hot Rod Hundley and Ron Wolfley).
#10 Jedd Gyorko (second baseman, Major League Baseball)
San Diego Padres (2013-15)
St. Louis Cardinals (2016-present)
West Virginia baseball player (2008-10)
The Morgantown native and University High School graduate is Mountaineers most accomplished Major League Baseball player – by a significant margin. Gyorko, beginning his seventh MLB season, has developed into one of the better power hitting second basemen in the league. He has 110 career home runs, paced by a career high 30 dingers for the Cardinals in 2016. His best overall season was 2017, where he hit .272 with 20 home runs and a career-best 3.7 Wins Above Replacement.
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Being the best MLB player in school history alone merits inclusion on this list.
#9 Fred Wyant (NFL referee)
NFL official (1966-92)
NFL referee (1971-90)
West Virginia football player (1952-55)
Wyant was an accomplished better than solid quarterback for the Mountaineers in the 1950s as a four year starter and then third round of the Washington Redskins in 1956. After a year in Washington, Wyant headed north for a single season with the Toronto Argonauts. Obviously that cup of coffee career isn’t why Wyant is here.
The Weirton native followed up a brief professional playing career with a 27-year tenure as an NFL official, including 20 seasons as a referee. It’s likely Wyant saw more NFL TV time than any WVU alum. Wyant was the referee in the epic 1981 AFC Divisional Playoff Game in Miami, the overtime thriller won by the San Diego Chargers over the Miami Dolphins, 41-38.
#8 Jeff Hostetler (NFL quarterback)
New York Giants (1984-92)
Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders (1993-96)
Washington Redskins (1997)
West Virginia football player (1981-83)
After spending two seasons seeing spot duty at Penn State, Hostetler transferred to West Virginia and, after a mandatory redshirt in 1981, Hostetler had probably the most auspicious debut in WVU history. Hostetler and the Mountaineers opened the 1982 season as a heavy underdog against ninth-ranked Oklahoma in Norman. Led by their newly appointed transfer signal caller, the Mountaineers offense exploded in a 41-27 upset of the Sooners. It remains one of the greatest wins in school history.
After a solid two years playing under his future father-in-law, Don Nehlen, Hostetler was drafted in the third round by the New York Giants in 1984. The Hollsopple, PA native spent the majority of his first seven seasons with clipboard duty, backing up Giants starter Phil Simms and earning a Super Bowl ring as a backup in 1986.
Hostetler’s career underwent a major change late in the 1990 when Simms suffered a season-ending injury in a win against San Francisco. With Simms out, the career backup took center stage as Hostetler led a Giants’ playoff run that ended with a 20-19 upset of the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV.
In 1992, Hostetler signed with the Los Angeles Raiders and become a prolific passer, highlighted by a pro bowl selection in the 1994 season.
Hostetler remains the only WVU alum to serve as a Super Bown starting quarterback.
#7 Fred Schaus (NBA coach)
Los Angeles Lakers (1960-67)
West Virginia basketball player (1946-49)
Schaus is best known as the coach of Jerry West led Mountaineers, highlighted by their NCAA Championship Game apparance in 1959. Schaus followed West to the NBA to serve as the first coach of the Lakers in Los Angeles. Schaus the Lakers for seven seasons, finishing with a career record of 560-315 (.563). He led the Lakers to four NBA Finals appearances during his tenure, with all four resulting in series losses to the dynastic Boston Celtics.
Schaus returned to Morgantown in 1981 as WVU athletic director. He retired in 1989.
#6 Rod Thorn (NBA general manager, league executive)
Chicago Bulls (1978-85)
NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations (1986-2000)
New Jersey Nets (2002-10)
West Virginia basketball (1960-63)
Thorn had the unenviable task of following a legend as the next in line after Jerry West. Thorn wasn’t West (who was) but he was a a star player for the Mountaineers. Thorn was the second overall pick of the Baltimore Bullets in 1963, and he tallied a solid nine-year career as a player.
But it was as a general manager and league executive where Thorn most left his mark. He was hired as general manager by the Chicago Bulls in 1978. His career highlight was came in 1984, when Thorn thrwarted numerous trade offers for the number 3 pick, keeping the selection to choose North Carolina guard Michael Jordan. Thorn was fired less than a year later, but he already put his fingerprint as architect of one of the NBA’s greatest dynasties.
Starting in 1986, the Princeton native served 17 seasons as the league’s disciplinarian in his position of Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations. Thorn then returned as a general manager when he was hired by the New Jersey Nets in 2002. Thorn oversaw a team that appeared in the NBA finals and served as a competitive franchise for much of the decade before his departure in 2010.
Thorn was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018 as a contributor.
#5 Darryl Tally (NFL linebacker)
Buffalo Bills (1983-94)
Atlanta Falcons (1995)
Minnesota Vikings (1996)
West Virginia football player (1979-1982)
Talley was a four-year starter and defensive leader as a standout linebacker with the Mountaineers, earning All American honors as a senior.
After being selected early in the second round by the Buffalo Bills in 1983, Talley became a defensive stalwart for a Bills team that played in four consecutive Super Bowls at the beginning of the 1990s. The East Cleveland, Ohio, native was twice named All-Pro and is a member of the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame.
#4 Joe Stydahar (NFL tackle)
Chicago Bears (1936-42, 45-46)
West Virginia football player (1933-35)
Stydahar originally enrolled at Pitt in 1931 before a change of heart led him to Morgantown. As a Mountaineer, the Shinnston High School graduate was a two-sport standout in basketball and the gridiron. On the football field, Stydahar as a defensive and special teams monster, blocking five punts in 1934.
Stydahar was under the radar nationally due to playing for a very mediocre mid 1930s Mountaineer squad. But despite lacking All American recognition, Stydahar was on the radar of the Chicago Bears, who selected him with the sixth overall pick in the first-ever NFL Draft in 1936.
With the Bears, Stydahar was a four time All Pro selection and three time NFL champion. In 1967, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Stydahar was the first former Mountaineers selected to the Hall.
3. Jerry West (NBA general manager)
Los Angeles Lakers (1982-2002)
Memphis Grizzlies (2002-07)
West Virginia basketball player (1957-60)
There isn’t a better combination of success as a player and executive than Jerry West. Outside of a mediocre stint as a coach in the late 1970s, everything Zeke from Cabin Creek touches became gold.
As general manager of the Lakers, West built two different dynasties in two different decades and two different millenniums. He oversaw four NBA champions as GM of the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, then rebuilt the team and led the Lakers to three straight championships in the 2000s. In the latter run, West traded to get a high schooler from Lower Marion, PA, named Kobe Bryant. Then he acquired free agent center Shaquille O’Neal from the Orlando Magic. The pair were powered the three-peat.
West’s magic touch earned eight NBA Executive of the Year honors.
2. Sam Huff (NFL linebacker)
New York Giants (1956-63)
Washington Redskins (1964-67, 69)
West Virginia football player (1952-55)
If one player represents West Virginia football, it’s Huff. The Edna native was the leader of one of the best four-year stretches in program history, leading the Mountaineers to a 31-7 record during his career that included a Sugar Bowl berth in 1954.
The WVU All American was drafted by the New York Giants in the third round in 1956. The Farmington High School graduate quickly proved to be a steal. He helped lead the Giants to the NFL championship as a rookie and eanred the first of his back to back All Pro honors in 1958. That season ended in heartbreak for Huff and the Giants, as they were on the short end of a 23-17 overtime loss to the Balimore Colts in the NFL Championship Game. It was the first overtime game in league history and is considered by many to the greatest game ever played.
Huff was named to the All Decade team of the 1950s and earned five Pro Bowl selections. He is in the ring of honor of both the Giants and the Washington Redskins, where he was traded in 1964.
In 1982, Huff became the second Mountaineer inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. WVU retired his number 75 in 2005.
1. Jerry West (NBA guard)
Los Angeles Lakers (1960-74)
West Virginia basketball player (1957-60)
Can there be any doubt who is number one? The Logo is easily the most accomplished professional athlete in school history. It’s probably inarguable that he’s the most famous WVU alum (apologies Don Knotts).
After a collegiate career that included an appearance in the 1959 NCAA Finals, where he was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player despite his team’s 71-70 loss to California, West was the second overall pick of the then-Minneapolis Lakers in 1960. The two-time first team All American never played in Minneapolis as the team moved to Hollywood in 1960.
In LA, West became the best player and the face of a franchise that dominated the Western Conference for a decade. But, much to the consternation of West, “Mr. Clutch” and the Lakers were 1-7 in the NBA Finals, including losing their first six appearances. In 1969, despite losing to the Boston Celtics in seven games, West was so dominate he received NBA Finals MVP. West remains the only player of a losing team to earn the honor.
West and the Lakers finally broke through and the East Bank graduate won his first and only NBA Championship in 1972.
West his a member of both the Nasmith Basketball Hall of Fame and the College Basketball Hall of Fame. His number 44 is retired by both WVU and the Lakers.