Friday, January 6, 2012

Cottrell made the most of his opportunity to play

        In 1970, Stuart Cottrell was a back-up safety for Marshall’s Thundering Herd. For most of that season, he didn’t get much playing time.
       Late in the season, the sophomore from Eustis, Florida was given an opportunity to play against East Carolina and he didn’t disappoint. Cottrell was inserted into the starting lineup because starting safety Felix Jordan was sidelined with a sprained ankle. Jordan didn’t travel to ECU, but was expected to be ready the following week for the season finale vs. Ohio University.
Stuart Cottrell (MU photo)
       It didn’t take long for Cottrell, a converted quarterback, to make his presence felt. East Carolina jumped out to a 7-0 lead over the Herd. But with a little over minute left in the first quarter, Cottrell picked off a Pirates’ pass and raced 81 yards for a touchdown and Marshall tied the game 7-7.
       This was a momentous occasion. Cottrell scored the first touchdown of his college career. The interception runback was the second-longest in school history at that time. The Herd played valiantly, and had a chance to possibly tie the game. But a questionable ref’s call in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter moved MU out of field goal range and the end result was a 17-14 road loss.
       As things turned out, the ECU game would be the last time that Cottrell and most of his teammates would play a football game. A few hours after the game was over, Marshall’s plane crashed as it attempted to land at Tri-State Airport in Huntington, West Virginia. Nobody survived.
       Having read the MU-ECU game story in the newspaper, there’s one thought that I couldn’t get out my head. Cottrell delivered his best performance as a collegian, but less than four hours after that performance, he was gone.
       As I surfed the Internet for background info about Cottrell, I discovered some interesting insights that appeared on a blog (The Real “We Are Marshall” Story) around the time the movie We Are Marshall was in production.  The entry was written by Cottrell’s baby sister, Leigh, who was 12 years old at the time of the crash.
       Leigh Cottrell Cordiner recalled how her parents traveled by car from Florida to North Carolina to see their son play a college game for the first time. Cordiner wrote:    

      "Mom and Dad watched our hero one last time as he intercepted a pass and ran nearly the entire length of the field to score Marshall's first touchdown of the game. My parents, Ruth and Jenkie Cottrell, saw Stuart after the game, talked to him, hugged and kissed him, told him how proud they were, and felt all the love and pride that parents feel for their child. I have always been grateful to God that my parents had that precious, last goodbye.”

       NOTE: The Marshall plane crash story is full of ironies. Here’s another example:  Jenkie Cottrell passed away on November 14, 1988 – the 18th anniversary of the crash.

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