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Feb. 21—BLUEFIELD, Va. — The coaching career of Bill Ramseyer, who founded what became the University of Virginia's College at Wise football program in the early 1990s, may feel like it took place a world away from the Two Bluefields.
While local athletes have played football at Virginia-Wise — some during the Ramseyer era, even — the recent passing of the Highland Cavaliers' affable football forebear may have all but passed unnoticed among many in our area.
Ramseyer's Highland Cavaliers had winning seasons just two years after the program began. Back then, the school was known as Clinch Valley College. In 1995, the team went 10-1 in the regular season and earned a postseason trip. In 1996, the team was undefeated in the regular season. Ramseyer retired after the 2001 season. He posted 280 wins.
Bluefield College head football coach Dewey Lusk certainly noticed Ramseyer's passing. During the years prior to his taking over the reins of the Rams' program, Lusk counted Ramseyer as a wily opponent, then later as a mentor and a friend during his time at Virginia-Wise.
During the first two of the four historical meetings between Emory & Henry and the Highland Cavaliers, Lusk coached on the Wasps football staff under head coach Lou Wacker and faced Ramseyer across the field during the 1994 and 1995 games, both of which were won by E&H, 35-31 and 29-20, respectively.
"It was Emory & Henry versus Clinch Valley and those were two great games ... one at Emory and one at Carroll Dale Stadium in Wise. I can remember when they first started football the year before the first game, coach [Fred] Selfe went down and watched their first game. It was Clinch Valley and Tusculum. And I remember him coming back saying, 'They're going to be trouble. They're going to be good.' That was attributed to Bill Ramseyer. He was a great football coach ... very organized. He just did a really nice job," said Lusk.
The BC coach, who will take the Rams into Mid-South Conference action at Kentucky Christian today (3 p.m. kickoff), later found himself serving as offensive coordinator at Virginia-Wise under head coach Bruce Wasem, who'd both played and coached under Ramseyer at the high school and college level. Ramseyer remained active in AFCA and NAIA events as an emeritus advocate for college football throughout his retirement. But he was still around the program he founded, both literally and figuratively.
"I could do what I wanted to do but I had to use the system that was already in place ... and it was Bill Ramseyer's system. I had to meet with Bill when I first got there and go over how he taught things and what he did. He actually wrote a book about his passing game," Lusk said.
"One thing that was very unique about his passing game was how he involved the backs. That was always real interesting. I had a lot of questions from people because we were using his system. They'd say, 'Man, you do a good job getting your backs open.' That was all Bill Ramseyer's deal," said Lusk, who still incorporates Ramseyer's ideas in his personal offensive philosophy.
Lusk said he became aware of Ramseyer's reputation as a coach even before the establishment of the Highland Cavaliers football program. His lifelong friend, former Christiansburg and Emory & Henry teammate Stevie Allen, was the defensive coordinator at West Virginia Wesleyan in the late 1980's when the Bobcats were set to face Wilmington College (Ohio) — a successful NAIA program coached by Ramseyer. Allen said he was forced to innovate in practice in order to simulate what Wilmington was doing.
"Wilmington went fast ... it was a fast no-huddle offense. It was kind of before the no-huddle really got going, but Bill Ramseyer was already doing that. He was ahead of the game, very smart," Lusk said.
"He was a smart coach, a great coach ... and an even better person."