WVU Embracing Underdog Role
There will be plenty of motivation on the field at Milan Puskar Stadium when the Mountaineers begin fall training camp this Thursday.
West Virginia was recently picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 preseason media poll ahead of only Iowa State and Kansas. It is the first time since 2002 when West Virginia was predicted to finish sixth in the Big East that a WVU football team has been picked this low to begin a season.
“Just the fact that we’re not going to be any good since we lost Geno (Smith), Tavon (Austin) and Stedman (Bailey), it’s a lot of motivation for us,” said sophomore safety Karl Joseph
during last week’s Big 12 Media Day in downtown Dallas. “We’ve got a lot of young guys who are hungry to make plays.”
The Mountaineers are in an unusual position this year in their underdog role, especially since most of the players in the program came to West Virginia because of its outstanding winning tradition. These guys are simply not used to losing – or being picked to lose – and the notion that big things are not expected from them has been brought up quite frequently this summer during workout sessions.
“If we’re doing something the (strength) coaches are like, ‘Yeah, they picked us as the underdogs, so what do you have to say about that?’” said senior offensive tackle Quinton Spain
. “It just makes us work harder to prove them wrong.”
West Virginia won seven of 12 regular season games in 2012, could have very easily won two more against TCU and Oklahoma, but lost miserably to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City to end the season just a game over .500. Despite its 7-6 record, Spain actually referred to it as a losing season – and considering the phenomenal success West Virginia has enjoyed since 2005, averaging 10 wins per season - he’s probably right.
“Last year was the first time I was in a losing program and I don’t want to have that feeling again,” said Spain.
The senior says the reminders are everywhere - on their phones when they check out Twitter, read the Internet and newspapers, or whenever they get home and turn on the TV and watch the local news.
“It’s all over the news so it just motivates us and makes us want to work harder in the weight room and on the field,” he explained.
Joseph says his motivation comes in a different form, namely, improving West Virginia’s struggling defense. Last year’s D was ranked among the worst in school history in yards and points allowed.
“You can’t get any more motivation than last year,” said Joseph. “We were the worst defense and we are using that as motivation. We know what we are capable of doing so we’re just going to have to show it now.”
Because most of those outside the Puskar Center aren’t expecting much from this year’s team, Spain believes that is actually drawing the players closer together.
“The team is closer this year because we don’t have any superstars,” Spain said. “The three people we counted on last year got drafted and left so now it’s more about the team. We’ve got to do a lot of things as a team.”
Spain is quick to point out that his statement is not an indictment on Smith, Austin and Bailey as team leaders, but rather it was more a matter of the other guys tending to sit back at times and watch those great players perform.
“We’ve got to pull together,” he said. "The whole summer session has been about team. Everything that we do has got to be about team – no individuals – just team.”
That includes all three facets of play. Senior defensive tackle Will Clarke
says he has full confidence in an offense that must replace nearly 90 percent of its production from last season.
“I personally feel that the offensive guys will be good,” Clarke said. “They will be ready because Coach (Dana) Holgorsen doesn’t allow the offensive guys to look at things like this is a transition year. He holds them accountable and he makes them rise to the occasion – he makes them step up and perform the way that they should perform.”
And that goes for everyone.
“Everybody has a specific job and as long as everybody does that we will be fine,” Joseph said. “We have a lot of talent and we are definitely underrated. We are the underdogs right now.”
“Our mindset is to win since we’re the underdogs,” Spain added. “Everybody is thinking about winning and proving everyone wrong.”