Many players, seasons stick out in Circosta’s memory

WOODSFIELD — When you’ve roamed the high school football sidelines for 50 years like Jay Circosta did, it would be tough to recall your top memories. However, the recently retired Woodsfield and Monroe Central head coach — with a little prior warning — had no trouble in reminiscing about some memorable moments.

“We had a lot of them, that’s for sure,” Circosta said during an interview in the basement of his Woodsfield home which is adorned with numerous momentos from his illustrious career.

“One game that I will remember forever came during our first undefeated season in 1973. Now, all of our undefeated seasons are special in their own ways,” he stressed. “We had six of them, but the first one was very special because, No. 1 it was first. It was a home game against Fort Frye and it was highlighted by the fact that it was 15 degrees and snowing.

“We had a pretty good football team at 9-0 and Fort Frye was 8-1,” he added. “I still remember we had the old lights in Woodsfield and some of them didn’t have the covers on them. The snow was hitting them and we had some lights pop out. We were still dressing in the swimming pool lockerroom and I remember telling one of the assistant coaches to go out and turn the lights off during pre-game. We had to make sure we had enough lights to play this game tonight. We don’t want to have to postponement it.”

The game itself was one for the ages.

“We took the opening kickoff and drove right down the field and scored. We kicked off to them and they came right back and drove to our 1. They had first-and-goal at our 1 and they didn’t score. We held them on four straight downs from the 1-yard line, and like I said, they had a pretty good football team,” he recalled with a huge smile. “We ended up winning that game 28-0. I don’t think many fans will ever forget that goalline stand.”

Another highlight game that year was against River, he noted.

“They had beaten us pretty bad the year before. It was the fifth game of the year and I thought that was the turning point in our season. We ended up winning 22-14, but that year there were only three teams that scored on us. Meadowbrook and Zanesville Rosecrans were the others.

Circosta also had undefeated teams in 1976, 1991, 1993, 1999 and 2002.

“In 1976 we also beat Fort Frye on the road 26-19,” he said. “We were also voted the Associated Press ‘mythical’ state champions. That was before the playoff system began.”

The remaining four perfect regular seasons came at the expense of Monroe County rival Beallsville. The Seminoles defeated the Blue Devils 44-6 in 1991 at home; 14-0 two years later at home; 35-9 at home in 1999; and 38-7 on the road in 2002.

“Like I said, everyone of those seasons are special in their own ways. We had some really good kids come through our system and we had a lot of great community support,” he continued. “It was a good ride and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

In 2001, Monroe Central went 8-2 during the regular season, but caught fire in the playoffs by winning three games before falling in the Division V, Region 19 finals.

“We beat Licking Heights 6-0 in the first game and Crooksville 19-3 in the regional semifinals,” he recalled like it happened yesterday. “We beat a good Smithville team for the regional championship in Dover and they were known as a state power back then. We then lost to Bedford St. Peter Chanel who went on to win the state title and finished 15-0.

“That was definitely a highlight.”

Another season that he cherished came not too long ago.

“Our numbers have been down for the last five seasons,” he noted. “But in 2013 we only had 23 kids come out. Nobody expected us to do much of anything with those low numbers, but we went 7-3. Not only did we make the playoffs, we went to Centerburg who was undefeated at that point and beat them 15-9.

“I’ll always remember that team because of the low numbers and the success that we had.”

Another game that he soon won’t forget came at the end of last season.

“There are two highlights, maybe because they are recent, but one was last year against Frontier. It wasn’t much of a game. It was a lop-sided win for us, but the fact that it was the last home game, and a complete surprise to me was that they invited all of the guys that had ever played for me — at Woodsfield or Monroe Central — back,” he said.

“That was in the planning stages for months and I didn’t know anything about it. When the game was over, we were in the center of the field like always and our announcer Lance (LaFollette) got on the PA system and started talking about my 50 years and all players and such. Then they had a tremendous fireworks display that went on for what seemed like forever. Then they formed a tunnel from goalline to goalline with the former players. I never got an official count on how many were there, but it seemed like tons.”

Circosta said his first inkling that something special was going to occur was when he looked into the bleachers late in the fourth quarter.

“When we were beating Frontier like 50-0 and there was still a lot of people in the stands, I thought ‘there’s got to be something going on here.’

“Then I looked down in the end zone and normally, when the game is that widespread, it is cleared out, but it was full of former players. I still get emotional when I talk about it, but to get all of those guys to come back was a very, very emotional night.”

Another thing that sticks out in his mind is whether it was Woodsfield or Monroe Central, you were expected to win. Not just now and then … all the time.

“In most cases we were always the favorite and not the underdog. We really never got that chance to beat a team that was favored over us,” he admitted.

“But last season we struggled a little bit. We were 1-4 and maybe the season was going in the same direction as the year before when we went 1-9. Then we turned it around. The big game was Magnolia (a 31-19) that started us on a season-ending five-game win streak, but in my mind, the big game was the upset of then-undefeated and state-ranked Shenandoah (24-22). We went on to win 6 of our last 7 and just narrowly missed the playoffs at 6-4. Had River lost to Lucas, we would’ve been in.”

For the success he had at the two Monroe County schools, he was selected to coach the OVAC Rudy Mumley All-Star Football Game on four occasions. He finished .500 after losing his first two appearances.

“We lost the first one 13-6 in 1974,” he recalled. “We were on 6-yard line knocking on door and time ran out. We also lost in 1977.”

The triumphs came 19 years apart in 1981 and 2000, with both ending in exciting fashion.

“In 1981 we won 17-14,” he noted. “Daryl Shipp played on that team. He was from Woodsfield . Late in the game he threw a halfback pass to Doug Mitchell from Shenandoah for 28 yards that setup the game-winning heroics by Martins Ferry’s Tommie Bruney. He kicked a 33-yard field goal that hit crossbar and bounced over.

“Our quarterback Danny Graham from Woodsfield three two touchdown passes,” Circosta remembered. “One was 15 yards to Donnie Wright of River and the other went for 35 yards to Springfield’s Brandon Elliott.

“In 2000, Toronto’s Brian Conlan ran in a fumble to tie the score at 7. West Virginia punted and left us with 7 seconds on the clock,” Circosta continued.

“Our quarterback from Monroe Central, Derek Griffith, threw a hitch-and-streak to Bellaire’s Frankie Hibbits, who in turn tossed it to Drew Spencer, also from Bellaire, in the end zone as time expired. We won 13-7.

“It’s funny because the night before the game I was laying in bed and thought, ‘we didn’t put that hitch-and-streak in.’ The next day at practice we put it in and it ended up winning us the game.”

As always, Circosta deflected most –if not all — of the attention to his teams.

“With my 100th, 200th and 300th wins, I don’t look at them as much as I do what the team accomplished.”

His teams accomplished quite a lot … 336 times to be exact.


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