By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
June 21, 2009
Carol City Senior
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Robert Sands is finding out what it's like to spend a full summer in Morgantown. And no, he's not hanging out at Cheat Lake soaking in the sunshine either.
"Last year I came in on June 30th and right now I'm here for the whole thing," said Sands. "I'm pretty used to it now and I'm getting back into football shape."
Of course Sands is referring to West Virginia's summer developmental season, coordinated by strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph and his staff. Sands has a goal of adding a few pounds to his angular 6-foot-5-inch frame by the time camp opens in the fall.
"Weight wise I'd like to be at 215," he admitted. "Right now I'm about 212."
Sands caught the defensive coaches' attention with his ball hawking abilities as a true freshman last year. He appeared in all 13 games, making nine starts at free safety, where he made 33 tackles and forced one fumble.
Sands' rapid development last fall made it easier for the coaching staff to part ways with senior Quinton Andrews, who has since transferred to North Alabama.
The Miami resident finished 12th on the team in tackles last year, which is pretty good. But now he wants to add numbers to those other stat areas like pass breakups and interceptions where he came up empty as a freshman. In order to do that, Sands believes he has to become a more instinctive player in the back end.
"I want to be faster and react quicker on the field," Sands said. "I want to be more relaxed and that's why I watch extra film so I can react like how I want to, and not have to think about what I have to do."
What makes Sands so appealing is the fact that he's much taller than your typical safety while maintaining the same speed and quickness. The only thing he's lacking is the experience and the confidence to become a big-time playmaker.
He hopes to develop some of that on his own this summer during the player-coordinated 7-of-7 drills.
"We're doing them twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays," he said. "We work out five times a week. We do agilities first, then conditioning, and then skill development along with 7-on-7s.
"We don't really do too much situational stuff," Sands added. "The offense starts with seven plays, the second team gets about four, and we try to work the freshmen in as well. Some of them are here but we haven't put them in much because (the newcomers) are still learning the signals and everything."
Sands said the veteran players are like coaches to the newcomers until fall camp begins, showing them the ropes and the things they need to do when they finally take the field when the coaches are around.
"Right now we're just helping them out like how everyone helped us out during our freshmen years," Sands said. "One of the (freshman) safeties already here - he only got one rep in so far. But he's getting this stuff down and I'm helping him out."
Sands said Sidney Glover and Boogie Allen took him under their wings when he first came here. One of the important things they taught him was how to watch film and detect the subtle things that can help make him a better player.
"We'll get them in and start watching film because they basically have to see it," Sands said. "You just can't tell it to them.
"I just want to see what my mistakes were so as a sophomore I don't make those same mistakes," he said.
Last year, the Milan Puskar Center was abuzz with many folks predicting a possible run at a BCS championship game with quarterback Pat White returning for his senior year. However, a pair of losses to East Carolina and Colorado and then league defeats to Cincinnati and Pitt relegated West Virginia to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.
This year, there seems to be more of a quiet resolve surrounding the team without the burden that comes with a preseason top 10 ranking and a huge target on the Mountaineers' chest.
"We thought we had a good season last year, but we felt like we could have been in a better bowl game and we didn't play to that ability," Sands said.
"I think it's going to make us hungry," he explained. "We're going to go out there with the mindset of having something to prove because basically we're a sleeper team. We're hoping to open a lot of eyes and get into the top 25 because of the work we are putting in now."
Having said that, Sands said the top 25 will take care of itself if the team can take care of business.
"We're not worried about the top 25 right now because the season is not even here yet," he said. "We're just trying to go out there and treat every workout like it is game week.
"We just want to win."
As for last year's Meineke Car Care Bowl appearance, Sands said the bowl game was not as inconsequential as some have suggested.
"We're not really satisfied, but at the same time we're glad that we got the extra game in," he said. "Most of us underclassmen want to see the seniors go out on top, and now we're trying to do the same thing for the upcoming seniors this year."