To be a successful member of a football team, it takes sacrifice. To be a part of a winning football team, it takes sacrifice. And to be a Hall of Famer at a higher institution, it takes — you guessed it — sacrifice.
While that nine-letter word is used a great deal by coaches who aspire to mold football programs into consistent winners, the aforementioned word couldn’t be more true.
Take Notre Dame head football coach Bob Ashley, for example — he’s lived it.
Once a highly-touted football athlete out of Meigs County, Ashley, who was a standout en route to obtaining a opportunity to play the sport at the University of Utah, didn’t expect to become a punter when the Buckeye State native transferred to West Virginia State after a coaching change.
But the now-entrenched head coaching veteran did exactly that — and in the process, became a First-Team All-West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC) athlete in that very role during each of his three seasons with the Yellow Jackets.
And because of that sacrifice and performance while accepting a new role, Ashley is now one of the 10 newest members of the WVSU Hall of Fame. The veteran head coach, who is in his 25th season of coaching football, was inducted in September to the school’s hall of fame, also known as the “W-Club.”
For Ashley, the moment was, as one would expect, one of the more special ones to behold in his lifetime.
“It was a special moment to share that with my daughter (Gracie) and my wife (Michelle),” Ashley said. “I had my mother, my sister, my niece, and my mother-in-law and father-in-law there, so it was great to see the support that they had from my side of the family. It was neat that my mother could see it. My father and grandfather passed away many years ago, and I wish that they could have seen it. They were the reason that I got selected. It’s just great to have a family that’s very nice and so supportive.”
Ashley, who graduated from Meigs High School in 1982, initially went to Utah, where fellow Meigs County native Chuck Stobart was coaching. There, Ashley was redshirted in his initial season before suiting up for the Utes in 1983 and 1984. However, injuries in the ‘84 season, along with the departure of Stobart, forced Ashley to look into other options. Following the year, Ashley chose to transfer to West Virginia State, where the Division I transfer expected to play a big role in multiple areas.
However, Clifton Moore, who coached at West Virginia State from 1984 to 1989 — and who was described by Ashley as “a good man and a tough coach” — quickly sat the newcomer straight on his role.
“He really sat me down and directed me on he wanted from me as far as my role with the team was concerned,” Ashley said. “I came in at West Virginia State, wanting to be a starter on one side of the ball or the other. Through an injury, I filled in for our primary punter, and he saw some potential in me to really be a weapon for our team. He really sat me down, talked to me, and said, ‘Everybody has a role, and it’d be for the greater good of the team if you accept your role and just become a punter.”
And so he did.
Over the final three years of his college football playing career, Ashley took on the punting position with a great amount of pride that shows just in the statline, as the standout collected a fantastic 41.5 punt average — the second-best average in the entire 89-year history of the conference, only behind Don Yontz’s 42.5 average that was collected from 1960 to 1963 at Concord University — en route to earning First-Team All-WVIAC honors in each of his three seasons with the Yellow Jackets. Ashley capped off his football career in 1987 with NAIA First-Team All-American honors.
However, if it weren’t for the guidance of his coaches, the accomplishments, Ashley says, wouldn’t have been possible.
“There were a lot of great guys there,” Ashley said. “I can’t tell you how valuable the experience was to be under those guys. All of the various backgrounds that I learned under have helped make me into the person that I am right now, and it’s helped mold me into who I am and what I am. They were just very good men to be coached by.”
With his fantastic career at West Virginia State — then called West Virginia State College — behind him, the exceptional punt average that Ashley put together attracted strong NFL interest. The future head coach tried out for six NFL rosters, and nearly made the final cut for Bill Parcells’ famed New York Giants in 1987 before being one of the final cuts.
Still, the lessons that Ashley learned during those days have proven to be quite valuable as his teaching and coaching career — Ashley teaches at Minford Elementary School in addition to his duties as the head coach at Notre Dame — has taken shape.
“It made me realize that’s what it’s all about,” Ashley said. “Everybody has a role, and if you do your role, you can be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself.”
And it’s clear that the situation allowed him to become the husband, father, coach, teacher, and now, Hall of Famer — that many people admire.
“It helps to be in a similar situation that a kid, coming through your program, has been through, because he, like I did in the past, may have his heart set on a certain position or a certain place,” Ashley said. “You have to be able to really be about the team, and realize that it’s bigger than you. It’s easier to relate to kids who are in that situation when you’ve been in a similar situation, and don’t have any regrets about it.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT