Valley Pike: Denny Price, the memories
Posted: January 23, 2013
“The sad part about it is, I have memories — but I have no more memories to build . . . It had to end sometime, but that’s what I’ll miss — the relationships. Youngsters, they never cease to amaze you.”
— Denny Price
INWOOD, W.Va. — Shortly after the end of this past football season — his swan song campaign at Musselman High — Denny Price had dinner with some close friends.
Among the company that night were Rick Brown, star of Denny’s first state title team in 1974, and Hubie Dodson, a longtime buddy and sideline confidant.
“Everyone had a story to top the one told before it,” Denny says with a laugh. After all, these were all stories, he adds, “about special times” — four decades’ worth.
To be sure, tales of this championship game or that, this standout player or that, will be retold many times as Denny gazes back on a career that saw him win more games than any prep football coach in his state’s rich gridiron history.
But the stories I was most interested in when Denny and I sat down for two hours three weeks ago were the ones he’d tell the newest member of his family — grandson Brayden — who, when he comes of age, will surely want to know all about Applemen football.
That’s a given in my book, as he’s Matt Price’s son. Matt quarterbacked the Applemen to his dad’s last state title, in 1995, when they embarked on their championship quest as the 16th, and final, seed in the AA playoffs — and then proceeded to run the table.
So I peppered Denny with standard exit questions — best team, best season, best player ever coached, favorite player, game he’d like a do-over on, and so forth.
He graciously indulged me, prefacing many answers with a good-natured “My goodness.” He balked only on “favorite player” (non-blood relative category), stating, “Every year, it’s tough to pick a favorite player off that team.”
Still, a stream-of-consciousness list of notables rolled off Denny’s tongue — son Matt, personification of a warrior; the late Todd Mosby, his only Kennedy Award winner; Brown, whose return of a punt against Williamsport sealed a critical win that first championship season; Clay Grove, monster lineman-linebacker on the field but a Teddy Bear off it; Andy Horner, bruising yet speedy, and a great punter to boot (pun intended).
Best team? First off Denny’s lips, surprisingly, was not a title team, but the Grove-led 1989 edition that lost to East Bank, 14-9, in the AA finals despite a monstrous edge in total yardage. Not surprisingly, that’s the one game Denny would like to play again, if only to rectify mistakes he says he made.
Still, those championship squads — ’74, ’82 and ’95 — remain close to his heart, and none more so than the first, which needed a victory over AAA Williamsport (Md.) in its last regular-season game to make the four-team Single-A field. But with Brown hauling back that punt, and the defense repelling the visitors on a two-point conversion try in overtime, the Applemen, all of 18 players strong, prevailed.
And, finally, there’s the last team Denny coached, his 2012 bunch which — with Caleb Dembeck at quarterback, Maverick Keller and Josh Ferguson in the backfield, and Andru Trenary anchoring the line — “hung in” and gave their 63-year-old coach one lasting, indelible memory.
In the quarterfinal round of the AAA playoffs, the Applemen manhandled higher-seeded Charleston Capital, 42-23, playing the sort of hard-nosed football for which Musselman has forever been known.
After the game, Capital Coach Jon Carpenter, a freshman in East Bank when his school beat Grove and the gang in ’89, asked an emotion-soaked Denny for his hat.
“I just gave it to him,” Denny says, “but it was my favorite hat.”
And so Denny Price is still building memories — for others.