He was a small kid in high school and was still of small stature during his first year in college, and that’s why Chad Broadwater honestly wonders if he was plain lucky to play the game of football when he did.
“It really isn’t that long ago when I played at Shepherd, but so much has changed with the game of football since I graduated 18 years ago,” the former quarterback said. “But the biggest difference I see is size. The size of the players now is much larger than when I played. They are big at all positions, and that includes at quarterback.”
“That’s why I really don’t know if I could play for Shepherd these days because of how much bigger every player is in that program,” the resident of Wheeling said. “I’m only 6 foot and 210 pounds now, and I’m willing to bet their quarterback is a bigger man than that.”
The starting QB this season for the unbeaten Rams (4-0) is senior Jeff Ziemba, a native of Newark, Del., who measures in at 6-foot-three and 215 pounds.
“See,” Broadwater said. “Bigger.”
Broadwater hails from Parkersburg and graduated from Parkersburg High in 1993. He was a three-sport athlete for the Big Reds, but he failed to reach the varsity football level until his senior year. At the end of the season he was named as an honorable mention All-State selection in Class AAA, but he graduated at the age of 17.
“I didn’t set the world on fire or anything like that,” Broadwater said humbly. “I was only a 16-year-old senior when the school year started and wasn’t 17 until half way through my senior season. I was young, and I was a way-late bloomer, too.
“What I benefited from the most is that the mental part of the game always came to me easily. That helped me a ton, but I never imagined I would play football in college,” he continued. “I was getting recruited more for baseball, in fact, but then things happened, and I did play college football.”
His path to the Mountain State’s Eastern Panhandle is unusual one, but it’s a tale he seems to enjoy telling.
“Back then you got five college campus visits, and I went to VMI; I visited West Liberty, West Virginia Wesleyan, and Ohio University before I visited Shepherd,” Broadwater recalled. “We went to Shepherd in March 1993, and we got stuck in the Blizzard of 1993 in the Eastern Panhandle. I was scheduled to get there Friday night, and I was supposed to meet the coaching staff the next morning, but everyone knew the weather was coming, so I met one coach Friday night, I toured the campus in the dark, he offered me the scholarship, and then he said that we should get to bed so we could get up in the morning and try to beat the snow.
“But when we woke up Saturday morning, we couldn’t see a single car in the parking lot, and we were stuck there at that hotel in Martinsburg until the next Thursday. That’s how much snow fell there,” he continued. “When we were finally able to leave it, took seven hours instead of the normal four hours, and we went home to Parkersburg, where it had snowed nearly four feet deep.”
So why choose a college after such an awful experience?
“I took it all as something of a sign, to tell you the truth,” Broadwater said. “I did love the campus, I liked the coaching staff a lot, and I thought it was a good fit for me. But yeah, I did take it as a sign like it was meant to be the place where I went and stayed.”
His scholarship included free tuition and books, and when Broadwater moved in and joined the Rams football program, the school competed in the NAIA before moving to NCAA Division II during his sophomore season.
“I think I showed up to campus at about 160 pounds, and I was a redhead with a flattop haircut,” Broadwater said. “I met a guy who was a veteran and just got back from Operation Desert Storm, and he immediately started calling me ‘Opie.’ Even when I go back these days, everyone there calls me ‘Opie.’
“I was the third-string quarterback my entire freshman year, and although I got to travel to all of the away games, I didn’t get to play at all. And that was OK with me. I really didn’t want to play at that point because, from a physical standpoint, I wasn’t ready to play. Mentally, yes, but not physically. I did fill the role as the scout quarterback every week, and it was a great experience, but I was a red-shirt freshman.”
That’s when ‘Opie’ started lifting weights correctly and then ‘Opie’ began eating correctly, and, yes, ‘Opie’ grew. The next season he played in seven of 10 games, one of which he was the starting signal caller, and he orchestrated a few comeback victories and helped lead the Rams to the West Virginia Conference championship.
During Broadwater’s next three seasons Shepherd University took the field on 30 occasions, and it was ‘Opie’ behind center for every single one.
“Beginning with my sophomore year, I was the starting quarterback for every game until I graduated, and by the time I was done, I held just about every passing record for the program,” he admitted shyly. “I didn’t expect any of it to happen. None of it, but I put the work in, and I was surrounded by great teammates.
“I was surprised when they told me I was the first 2,000-yard passer in school history, and then I established the career touchdowns mark, career yards passing, most attempts, yards in a game — more than I ever expected I would do,” he said. “Nowhere in my imagination did I even dream of any of it.”
Communications was his chosen profession, and he talked sports on the campus radio station and even scribed for the college newspaper. Following his junior year, Broadwater acquired an internship with WHAG-TV in Hagerstown, Md., and that’s where he learned a few lessons about sports journalism.
“For a sports nut like I was it was a dream-come-true job, but then I started learning about how much money I could make, and that quickly changed my mind,” Broadwater said. “I got to cover a lot of minor-league baseball and the Redskins camp and things like that, and it felt like a good fit, but the pay? That was a problem.
“I really enjoyed that kind of work, and I really like writing a column for the school newspaper, but after I graduated, I returned home to Parkersburg to figure out what it was I was going to do to make a living,” he continued. “I started working for Enterprise car rental for eight months, and that taught me I could work anywhere because of everything I had to do. It’s wasn’t a good experience for me.”
That’s when he landed a position with State Farm Insurance, a company with which he remains affiliated today. That’s because, in 2005, after six years in a claims adjustor position, he became an insurance agent and moved to Wheeling.
He and his bride of nearly 18 years, Rebecca, are the parents of a freshman son (Cameron) and a daughter (Taylor) who is fifth grade.
“I still have a lot of family in the Parkersburg area, and we visit a lot, and I still have a lot of friends in the Eastern Panhandle, but Wheeling is our home, and we love it,” Broadwater reported. “In my opinion, my kids have more opportunities in the Wheeling area than they would anyplace else and that’s why we aren’t planning to go anywhere anytime soon.”
His move north, though, does not mean Broadwater fails to visit his alma mater in Jefferson County or that he does not continue following his beloved Rams.
“What’s nice is that their away games are closer for me to travel than to travel all the way to Shepherdstown,” he explained. “I try to get to as many of those games as I can because it only takes about two hours to get to those, and even less when they play at West Liberty like they do this year.
“And yes, I still have all of my Shepherd football clothes, and I wear them with a lot of pride,” he said. “I wear the shirts and shorts when I go to the gym, and I always wear them when I go to the games, whether they are home or away.”
He continues to pay attention to Shepherd’s football program for a couple of reasons; one is the fact that year in and year out they are nationally ranked and in the postseason picture and also because he remains proud of his tenure at Shepherdstown.
“I pay a lot of attention to Shepherd football now because I take a lot of pride in it,” Broadwater said. “The program has grown since I played there; they played for a national championship last year, and they have been nationally ranked for a lot of years. And I will say it’s the best college football program, no matter what division, in the state of West Virginia.
“That’s because of the consistency. If they don’t win 10 games a year and don’t make the playoffs, it’s a real disappointment. Expectations at Shepherd are higher than they are at WVU and Marshall or at any other college,” he continued. “And there are a couple of guys who played at Shepherd who are now in the NFL, and this year’s team has a ton of talent, and we could see them on that level, too, in the future.”
(Photos provided by Chad Broadwater)