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Former CHS star McNabb has had an incredible life

By Frank Giardina

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the fall of 1961, New York Yankees stars Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were involved in chasing Babe Ruth's single-season home run record, and former Charleston High School star John McNabb was beginning an incredible journey.

The journey would take him from the dust and dirt of old Laidley Field to a starring role in college football on Tobacco Road and flying combat missions over the war-ravaged skies of Viet Nam.

In 1961, McNabb was a captain of Leon McCoy's CHS team and won the Hunt Award, given to the state's best high school lineman. He earned all-state honors and was named to the Wigwam Wiseman High School All-America team. He had numerous college scholarship opportunities and narrowed his choices to Tennessee, WVU, Duke, Army, Navy, Kentucky, Penn State, Indiana and Georgia Tech.

McNabb chose Duke, which had just defeated Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. He remembers his reasons for choosing the Blue Devils.

"I wanted a combination of big-time football and big-time academics," said McNabb. "Duke was playing big-time football at the time, and academically it was a perfect combination. Coach McCoy helped me tremendously through the recruiting process as going to college was a new thing for my family. I was the first one from my family to actually attend college."

McNabb played against a who's who in college. In addition to the ACC foes, his Duke teams played against Roger Staubach and Navy, Craig Morton and California and Dan Reeves and South Carolina. He played nose guard early in his career and lined up against Welch native Don Roberts, a center at Army.

He switched to offense later in his career and was named first-team All-ACC as a guard in 1965. He also won the ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy that fall. McNabb went on to play in the Blue-Gray All-Star Game in Montgomery, Ala.

One summer he came back to Charleston and worked as a counselor at the George King All-Sports summer sports camp. One of his campers was Oceana star Joe Pendry, who went on to WVU and became one of the great offensive line coaches in college and pro football. 

McNabb had contracts to play in the NFL for the Washington Redskins and the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But it was the era of the Vietnam War and the draft, and Uncle Sam called.  

He went on to a distinguished military career and flew two combat tours in Southeast Asia from 1969-71. He earned the Flying Cross in 1971.

His offensive line coach at Duke was Mike McGee, who was the head coach at East Carolina on Nov. 14, 1970, when the Pirates defeated Marshall just hours before the fateful plane crash.

McNabb has had an incredible life. He really did not dream of going to college, but he did. He was a football hero, a war hero and today is a leader in business and education in the Dallas area.

He got his MBA at Duke and then went into the oil business. He is on the board of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke and is a finance professor at the University of Houston, from where he travels and teaches in China, Dubai and India.

He's in Charleston visiting today and tomorrow on his way to go duck hunting in Maryland. His brother Bobby is a distinguished WVU grad and is on the Foundation Board and the College of Arts and Sciences Board.

McNabb is one of many youngsters who have been helped and guided by McCoy. He also says that winning the Hunt Award in 1961 "changed his life forever."

It's been an incredible life.


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