Colton McKivitz left the University of West Virginia heading north on I-79 and then west on I-70 until he reached a small Ohio town you’ve certainly never heard of. The Mountaineers were on a bye the last week in September, leaving the star left tackle free to watch his alma mater play.
This was no homecoming game. This was something different, a golden opportunity for Local Union High School and the surrounding community to honor their beaming point of pride. They did so by doing something unprecedented.
The Jets retired McKivitz’s number in a Sept. 27, 2019 pre-game ceremony and, after its’ current wearer graduates next year, the No. 53 will never be used again.
“We’re all just so proud of what Colton has accomplished, and it meant a great deal to honor him in that way,” former Union Local offensive line coach Brion Schiappa said. “He was able to reconnect with old friends and coaches and walk up into the stands and interact with so many fans who watched him develop into a fantastic player by doing things the right way. It was a big moment for everyone who was there.”
McKivitz has represented Belmont County’s collection of small eastern Ohio towns well, standing tall as just the second Union Local product to earn a football scholarship. He was an All-Ohio left tackle his senior year in high school and became a four-year starter at West Virginia with first-team All-Big 12 honors his senior season.
He parlayed that and a successful Senior Bowl appearance into an NFL Draft selection when the 49ers traded running back Matt Breida to Miami for a fifth-round pick used to take McKivitz.
Like most of Belmont County, Schiappa had his eyes glued to the NFL Draft’s later rounds, waiting and waiting for McKivitz to show up on the screen. The retired position coach and former corrections officer remains close with his former student, someone he shepherded through his early football development. McKivitz didn’t play organized football until he transferred to Union Local as a sophomore but was a massive human even then with athleticism in spades.
“I’m 6-6 and 280 pounds and he’s looking at me eye to eye as a sophomore,” Schiappa recalled of his first meeting with McKivitz. “I thought Christmas had come early.
“I hadn’t even told him my name and I hadn’t asked for his when I said, ‘You can name your college if you work hard.’ I remember he just stared at me. I asked if he had ever played football. He said no. I asked him to get in a three-point stance. He did it perfectly. You could just tell this kid was going to be great if he applied himself.”
McKivitz latched on to Schiappa’s lessons and was able to apply and execute them naturally. He went to a few football camps and was on the recruiting radar the following year, eventually choosing to play at West Virginia just 90 minutes away.
That made sense for a small-town kid who likes to hunt and fish with his father Matt McKivitz, who has some celebrity in Morgantown as the fan who attends games with raccoon-skin caps.
McKivitz has great support from his family and the community, which never lost touch with their native son. That’s why the No. 153 overall pick was such a big deal in those parts.
“When you hear name after name after name during the draft, you can kind of get numb to the whole thing,” Schiappa said. “They were talking about other people when his name went across the board. Then, after the formal announcement, I called him and just said “Go Niners.’”
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McKivitz’s draft day experience was an unusual one. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic prevented him from traveling back to Ohio to share the moment with his family. He was stuck in Arizona, where he was training before the draft, spending this big moment by himself while connected virtually to his parents at home. He’s still there now, continuing to work out while waiting for a time he can join new teammates in Santa Clara.
Distance didn’t take shine off a huge moment for McKivitz, his family and his hometown.
“It has been incredible. He has really brought the community together,” said Bruce Stiles, Union Local’s head coach when McKivitz was there. “Everybody here is behind him and was so excited to see him go off to a big college football program and were thrilled when he got drafted. It was a big boost for our area to see his success, and there’s a lot of pride in the fact that he represents us so well.”
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