“I don’t know where this football team is, live and in action,” said Bill Stewart. “We’re going to find out. I, like you, want to see these young men in the arena.”
“They’ve worked hard. It’s been physical. We’ve hit. We’ve gotten after each other. But we all know the barometer is that first opponent.”
Saturday’s opposition will be provided by Liberty, a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) school that had a 10-2 record a season ago but lost several contributors from that team.
Even West Virginia’s second year head coach isn’t sure what to expect the Flames, coached by his friend Danny Rocco, to do at quarterback during this weekend’s season-opener for both teams.
“I see Tommy Beecher, who started at South Carolina and is a big guy, and then I see Mike Brown,” Stewart said of Liberty’s two quarterbacks. “I don’t know what they’ll do. Would you go with Beecher and if he has a hot hand, stay with him? Or do you pull him out and put that athlete Mike Brown in? Both bring a lot to the table.”
While Stewart still wonders what Rocco might do with his depth chart, his bigger concern is how his Mountaineers will react to the opportunity to take on an opponent for the first time this season.
“I don’t want them stumbling and bumbling and to come out of there banging and clanging,” he said. “You just don’t know what you’ll get. It’s like Christmas. You think you know, and you snuck in the closet to try to see the packages -- but did you actually see what you thought?”
“I’m excited. I want to see us play. The staff wants to see us play. The fans want to see us play, and you all want to see us play. Most importantly, our players want to play. They want to get out there and start getting after it. They’re tired of hitting each other. I can assure you of that.”
In the same manner, the coaching staff may be beginning to tire of watching Liberty film and game-planning for the season’s first opponent. While Stewart’s staff have done everything possible to prepare WVU for its first opponent, he said no coach ever quite thinks they’ve had enough time.
“I said this morning when (the coaching staff) met early, we’ve just looked and looked and watched and watched,” Stewart said. “We’re just as antsy as the players. I wish it were Friday, but when Friday gets here, I’ll wish it were Tuesday, just like any coach.”
While Friday will be a relative reprieve for the players, who will have only a walkthrough practice, there is still work to be done for the rest of the week leading up to then.
Stewart said his team will practice in “shells” (helmets, shorts, and light shoulder pads) on Wednesday, have a light practice Thursday, then the Friday walkthrough before the season-opener on Saturday.
As for Tuesday, the players are to endure another full-contact practice in full pads. That’s been typical of this fall practice period, which has seen the West Virginia staff place an extra emphasis on hitting and physicality.
“We’re going to go against each other fast in the competition skelly,” Stewart said of Tuesday afternoon’s agenda. “That’s one of my favorite drills and it (simulates) the speed of the game. We’re going to go inside drill, fast and physical for 10 minutes against each other.”
“I pray we don’t get anyone hurt, but that’s football. You’ve got to be prepared.”
The constant pounding against teammates and the shared misery of fall camp and summer strength and conditioning has brought the WVU players closer together, in the eyes of their head coach.
The results of all of that time bonding remain to be seen, but Stewart believes it gives the 2009 edition of the Mountaineer football team a chance to be successful.
“These guys have gelled in a real neat manner,” he said. “Now, does that make them a good football team? I don’t know. I know it gets us to the door. If you care about each other and play with a passion for and with each other, it gets you the opportunity to excel out there under the spotlight.”
Stewart went out of his way to mention this week’s national College Colors Day, which is this Friday.
“I do hope each and every Mountaineer fan, for the guys and the school and state of West Virginia, will please wear gold and blue.”
The head coach said that the previously-released depth charts will, barring injury, remain essentially unchanged between now and Saturday afternoon’s kickoff.
That means that Sidney Glover will not be in the starting lineup. Stewart said that is largely due to the limitations the safety has had in practice due to injury.
“He’s not played enough football to start,” the second-year coach said.
There will be no further punishment for slot receiver Jock Sanders, who was reinstated to the team in time for the start of fall camp in early August.
The junior, who had previously been suspended after being charged with a DUI, will start against Liberty on Saturday.
“He’s been through the grind and he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Stewart said.
The Mountaineers enter the regular season with a “good” bill of health, according to their head coach, with one notable exception.
“I don’t know about poor ol’ Trippe Hale,” Stewart said. “Doggone it, I’d like to see him get out there and play because he’s a special teams leader and deserves to play, but I think he might have to be held out one more week.”
“That’s going to hurt our punt team and our kickoff team, because I like what he brings to the table.”
With Pat Miller and Pat Eger ruled eligible to play by the NCAA Clearinghouse last week, only Jonathan Scott’s status remains in question.
Stewart said Scott’s case has been expedited by the NCAA due to the “urgency” involved, but that WVU has yet to receive word on whether the freshman defensive back can return to action.
“We think everything is going to be fine,” said the head coach. “We hope so. We want it to be.”