Last year around this time, some pundits were predicting a possible top-5 finish for the Mountaineer football team.
Well this year, many of those same pundits believe West Virginia will be hard-pressed to crack the top 5 in the Big 12 Conference.
Senior right tackle Curtis Feigt
is among a growing group of West Virginia players embracing this year’s underdog status – both the good and the bad that comes with it.
“The good thing is we can go in there and we don’t have those expectations on us that are really high and we can just go out there and play and have fun,” he said recently. “The bad thing is everybody doesn’t think we are as good as we are, but we prove them wrong, right?”
For many years, that is exactly what West Virginia football teams did.
The Mountaineers used to thrive in the underdog role under former coach Don Nehlen, who was masterful at twisting any perceived injustice or slight into a rallying cause for his team. Nehlen’s successor, Rich Rodriguez, frequently took a different approach, welcoming the hype and recognition that comes with a top-ranked football team while requiring that his players step up to meet the challenge.
Whatever side of the fence Dana Holgorsen prefers to stand on, it is clear this year that he will be playing up the underdog role when fall camp opens in August with inexperienced players prevalent on both sides of the football.
Up front on offense, where Feigt returns as the team’s starting right tackle, West Virginia will be relying on a pair of new starters at guard, as well as a third new starter at center if you count converted tackle Pat Eger
, who made the move there last spring. Junior left tackle Quinton Spain
is team’s other returning regular up front.
Consequently, that means Feigt, who has made all of seven starts during his three-year Mountaineer career, will be looked upon to be one of the team’s leaders this season.
“You want to guide the young guys,” Feigt said. “Right now you go in there and you know what you’re doing and you can help them out, whereas two or three years ago I was the young guy still and it was hard to tell someone, ‘this is what you have to do.’ Now that I know what I have to do, and what the coaches are looking for, you can just guide them and help them out.”
Because the group is so inexperienced, Feigt concedes the possibility exists of a new guy or two working his way up the depth chart when camp begins this fall.
“Your position is always open once you get into camp and there are going to be position battles all through camp and nothing is set in stone,” he said, adding, “everyone that is coming in here that has no grasp of the system and the position itself, you can definitely see the inexperience, but they will get the hang of it.”
Compounding things is the players are still getting acquainted with their new offensive line coach in Ron Crook, who took over for Bill Bedenbaugh right before the start of spring drills. However, Feigt admitted that transition has gone pretty smoothly so far.
“Considering that we still run the same system (the adjustment has not been that difficult),” he said. “Personality wise, I think he’s a little different than all of the coaches I’ve had before and it’s just an adjustment that you have to get used to. But that’s not a big deal though.”
Feigt said Crook took on more of a teaching role last spring while getting to know his players for the first time. Of course, his approach may change a little bit when the games start counting in fall.
“We came in here having no expectations when he came and it worked out for the best,” said Feigt. “He’s a really relaxed guy and he’s a really good teacher. He’s telling us what to do and he keeps calm when we mess up. Sometimes that’s more of a benefit than someone always yelling at you. I think it is working out pretty good.”
Feigt said the things Crook instructed his linemen to focus on this summer as they continue to work out on their own are using the proper angles on pass protections and improving their footwork on running plays.
It will be interesting to see where this group is at in August when practice resumes because a lot of West Virginia’s success this season will hinge on how well the offensive line performs. For now, though, Feigt is just anxious to get going and prove the naysayers wrong.
“Everybody has been working hard and is excited to get out there and get camp started and get this season rolling,” he concluded.