Hope, listed at 245 pounds, might be pushing 250-plus after adding 15 pounds since his arrival on campus. The weight, distributed well across a solid 6-3 frame, proved too much to carry in the open space which the spur slot must cover. So defensive coordinator Keith Patterson slid Hope back inside, allowing the Texas native to man his more natural position of linebacker.
“I moved back inside (Tuesday),” Hope said. “I was having fun at Spur, and they said it was too much open space. I like being inside a little bit more. It was an overall speed (deal).”
Hope, from a vaunted high school program in The Woodlands, played in 12 games last season and made 14 tackles, 10 solo with two for loss. His best game was his last, a four-tackle – one for loss – effort in West Virginia’s 38-14 loss to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. At that point, with the Mountaineers already having begun base installation of Patterson’s defense, it was thought that Hope might be able to manage the buck or spur slots. But through the five spring practices, three with contact, it became apparent that where Hope was most comfortable was also his best physical and mental fit.
“I like attacking forward instead of side-to-side,” Hope said. “The bowl game was fun. I got some time there, made a few plays and got my confidence back up from high school. I like not being in as much space and being able to play top down instead of side-to- side. I gained about 15 pounds whenever I got here, and I don’t think they were expecting that.”
Hope, who said he didn’t take any snaps or spring drill reps at the buck position, noted that he was happy with his added weight. He said he experiences significantly less muscle and overall body soreness as the extra pounds and muscle absorbs the contact, and that there “was no way when I got here last summer that I would be able to compete like I am right now. I feel a lot more comfortable with my size now than I was. I feel like a bit is expected (of me). I got workout champion one week during the winter. I think that improved how people like at me.”
In addition to his linebacker spot, Hope is currently slated to play on kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return units. He was on the kickoff and kickoff return teams last season, and his four-unit duty this year is right at the number special teams coordinator Joe DeForest said he would like skill position players to man.
“I want to be a leader out there this year,” Hope said. “I feel like I worked harder in the weight room this spring than I did last summer. I feel like some of the older guys, they have respect for me. I love the game and I just like working for it and hopefully I bring some people with me.”
Hope also noted that the coaching staff and practices are dedicated more to defense than they were last spring. He said the loss of quarterback Geno Smith, receiver Stedman Bailey and multi-threat athlete Tavon Austin has placed a greater premium on stopping foes instead of merely trying to gain turnovers and believing the offense will win games.
“I feel like there is more focus on it,” he said. “There’s no individuals like Geno Smith on the offense. We feel like we have to step up, so the intensity has definitely improved since last year.”