Young Leader

  • December 21, 2008 08:41 PM
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By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
December 21, 2008

  Scooter Berry

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia sophomore defensive tackle Scooter Berry is expecting a stiff challenge in this year’s 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl from a big and physical North Carolina offensive line that likes to establish the run and play action pass off of it.

“They look like an NFL team,” Berry said. “They’ve got big offensive linemen. They’ve got a good running back; their receivers are good and even their quarterback. They’ve been ranked in the Top 20 for more than half the season so it’s definitely going to be a great game in their home state.”

North Carolina will have an offensive line similar in size to Rutgers and Pitt. Three of UNC’s five starters up front stand 6-6 or taller and weigh more than 310 pounds. Berry said it will be important for West Virginia’s front three to get a push in passing situations.

“Establishing a great pass rush opens up some things for the DBs,” Berry explained. “If we can establish a pass rush that will make them one dimensional and they will be able to do what we want.

“We don’t want to change anything that we do. We want them to be able to adjust to us,” Berry added. “We’re going to go out there and play our game and hopefully we’ll come out on top.”

Berry is especially impressed with a talented and athletic UNC receiver corps that includes first-team all-ACC pick Hakeem Nicks, who caught 60 passes for a school-record 1,005 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Nicks had four 100-yard receiving games in 2008.

“They have ‘go-getter’ receivers. That’s what we call them,” Berry said. “I guess they like to put the ball in the air and they always come out on top.”

Berry is excited about participating in another bowl game – the third of his young career. Last year as a freshman Berry helped the Mountaineers upset Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and he made the trip to Jacksonville, Fla., during his redshirt season to watch WVU outlast Georgia Tech, 38-35.

“Playing in a bowl game is a great deal, period. Like Coach (Bill) Kirelawich says, 51 teams didn’t go to bowl games this year,” Berry said. “To be able to play after the season is big for anybody and to play in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against North Carolina is a good deal for me because my mom lives in Raleigh and I haven’t seen her in seven years. I’m looking forward to being able to see her and my cousin plays for UNC so hopefully I will be able to see him if he’s not too busy.”

Berry believes the additional bowl prep will pay dividends for some of the younger players down the road as well.

“It’s good for those guys to go to a bowl site and experience that travel aspect of football because when we go it’s a business trip,” he said. “It’s good for them to be able to go there now and experience that because they will understand how we operate when they travel next year.”

West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is beginning to lean on players like Scooter Berry for leadership on a defense comprised mostly of sophomores. Berry started all 12 games this year, producing 32 tackles, 4 ½ tackles for losses, 1 ½ sacks, three pass breakups and three fumble recoveries. Berry is already becoming known as one of the team’s most dependable players.

“Scooter kind of emerged last year as a leader,” Casteel said. “It seems like he has been here a long time even though he’s a redshirt sophomore. When we recruited him we thought he had a chance to become an outstanding player because he’s such a good athlete and he’s got a great way about him.”

What the coaches really appreciate about Berry is his business-like approach every time he takes the field.

“I think the kids respect the way he works and the way he plays the game,” Casteel said. “Those are the biggest attributes the kids see and follow and I think that’s what makes him such a good leader.”

Berry came to WVU along with his half-brother Jason Gwaltney, who has since left the program. Of the two, Gwaltney got most of the press being a Parade All-American, but it was Berry who was better able to make the adjustment to college life.

A high school blocking fullback on offense and a linebacker on defense, the West Virginia coaches had Berry pegged for nose tackle in its 3-3-5 stack defensive alignment.

“He probably might not have known it but he was coming in on the defensive side,” Casteel said. “He was an athletic kid that we felt could be a really good nose guard even though he can play all three spots. Any time you can get a good athlete at 250 or 260 when we recruited him … once you get him into the weight room and put another 20-30 pounds on him you’re getting a big, athletic kid that has good movement.”

Berry said he’s excited about the prospect of playing in a sold-out Bank America Stadium this weekend against a North Carolina team with plenty of Charlotte ties.

“I love playing in front of our home fans here at West Virginia but I also love a great away game,” Berry said. “I love when the odds are against you. It’s fun.”

The North Babylon, N.Y., resident is also anticipating the opportunity of getting another crack at a quality non-conference opponent from another traditional BCS conference.

“They are a lot like the Big East. A lot of people have doubted us and we have a lot of great teams,” Berry said. “The ACC is definitely a great conference but we don’t want to go in there like they’re any better than us or we’re any better than them. We just want to go out there and play football.”