Pat Liebig turned 25 last week. In college football years, that might as well be 105. However while most people his age are looking for a way to break into the business world, Liebig is hoping to turn back the clock.
Liebig, a three-year contributor and part-time starter from 2003-06, abruptly ended his college football career following a New Year's Day 2007 win over Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl. With his father ailing at home in Naples, Fla., Liebig returned to the Gulf Coast to take over the family car dealership.
Within weeks of facing off against the Yellow Jackets, he found himself squaring off against prospective car buyers. The helmet and shoulder pads, it seemed, had been traded in for good.
Instead of spring practice and summer conditioning, there were spring savings and summer sales events. To say the least, it was a big change from the lifestyle Liebig had grown used to as a college football player.
"It was different," Liebig admitted on Saturday. "It was good working everyday. It had nothing to do with football. I hardly watched it. I don't watch the NFL, so I didn't watch that. The only games I watched were the WVU games on TV."
While he was watching the Mountaineers, though, somewhere in the back of his mind there had to be questions of "what if" dancing around. What if the situation would have been different and Liebig could have carried on his career? What if, instead of persuading people to take test drives, Liebig were in the weight room at the Puskar Center doing leg drives? And, perhaps more than anything, what if he could gain that final year of football eligibility back?
"I never really knew that I had the opportunity," he said. "I mean, I knew I had the opportunity, but I didn't have the opportunity, you know what I mean?"
That is until things began to clear up on the home front. Liebig's father, Thomas, became well. The dealership, presented with the proverbial offer it could not refuse, was sold. And with those obstacles in the rearview mirror, Liebig's path to a comeback became much clearer.
First, he applied for reinstatement. Second, he enrolled in 12 hours of summer classes at WVU.
On Saturday, Liebig was back on the turf at Mountaineer Field wearing his familiar No. 98. Just like old times, defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich was in his ear from the get-go, offering words of encouragement during drills in the way that only "Kirlav" can.
"I said in the meeting (Friday) that I didn't realize how funny he was until I missed it for a year," Liebig cracked. "We were laughing the whole time. He's funny."
As early as Monday, the next step in Pat Liebig's comeback to college football could clear the final hurdle. That is when the NCAA will make a ruling on Liebig's appeal for reinstatement. If it is rejected, he may appeal again. If it is accepted and approved, then Liebig's return to the playing field will be complete.
"I have to come back and just try it," he said. "I have to at least try it and give myself a chance."
"The kid goes home because of his father's illness and did the right thing," added head coach Bill Stewart. "The dad made it and recovered. They sold the businesses, all three businesses.
"He did what any quality young man would do, going home to help mother and dad," continued the head coach. "He has a 3.6 GPA. It would be an absolute crying shame (if Liebig's appeal were denied). The Big East already approved it two months ago. We just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.
"The best should be that he's allowed to play."
Indeed, it should.