By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
August 8, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Can you remember the last time West Virginia began football training camp without Scooter Berry out there running around? Well, it’s only been four years, but it seems like 20. Just ask Scooter.
||Senior Scooter Berry talks to reporters Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.
WVU Sports Communications photo
“I feel like I’m about 40,” he laughed. “I’ve been here a while and I’ve been through a lot and I think it definitely matured me as a person and as an athlete – character, charisma, dedication, motivation – I just feel like it enhanced me a great deal and it will carry onto the field.”
“He’s close to social security,” Coach Bill Stewart added. “He’s been here a long time.”
Berry has been battling a bum shoulder for the better part of two years now and last season he was only healthy enough to start five games against Liberty, East Carolina, Cincinnati, Pitt and Rutgers. When Scooter was in the starting lineup West Virginia’s defense was pretty good.
In Berry’s five starts WVU’s opponents averaged just 20.2 points, 115.6 yards rushing and 303.2 total yards per game. When he wasn’t in the starting lineup, the averages ballooned to 22.6 points, 124.8 rushing and 345.1 total yards per game.
"Part of the issue last year was that we struggled because we never had the same 11 on the field, but that's football and you have to get over that," said defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. "But when you have a guy like Scooter, you have an athletic kid that knows how to play the game. Scooter is a guy that we need to be out on the field to be successful."
West Virginia’s best defensive stretch came at the end of the season against Cincinnati, Pitt and Rutgers when Berry opted to remain on the field and play through the pain. High-octane Cincinnati had its lowest scoring total of the regular season (24 points) against the Mountaineers, with seven of those points coming from the replay booth.
Pitt, which put 44 points on the board against Cincinnati in the regular season finale, could manage only 16 points and 325 yards of offense against the Mountaineers. And Rutgers scored 21 points – seven of those coming on a kickoff return – while accumulating a meager 218 yards of offense.
Then, after Berry was ruled academically ineligible for the bowl game against Florida State, the Seminoles ran over, through and around West Virginia’s defense, compiling 33 points and 415 yards of offense, including 226 on the ground.
“I missed the last game but it wasn’t because of my shoulder, it was because of academics,” Berry said. “By the way, I am very eligible. Write that down. I’m doing well in school.”
Stewart understands the value Berry brings to the defense and he wants to make sure his senior is healthy (and focused) enough to play a full season.
“What he and coach (Bill) Kirelawich need to work on is their communication,” Stewart said. “Scooter needs to tell his coach when he needs a break. I trust him. He’s a five-year guy.”
Asking for breaks is not necessarily an easy thing for a tough guy like Berry to do.
“(Kirelawich) is like, ‘If you need to take a play off take a play off.’ I’m like, ‘Coach I’ll do it but I don’t want to feel like a sissy.’ I just want to play to the best of my ability and if I need to take a break I will,” Berry said.
"Our job is to keep him healthy through camp," added Casteel.
For now, Berry simply wants to get back to where he was in 2008 when he produced a career-best 32 tackles, 4 ½ tackles and 1 ½ sacks.
“I feel good,” he said. “I was a little nervous to go out there and practice (Saturday) with my shoulder, but after the first pop it felt right, it felt natural, and now I’m back ready to roll,” he said.
And that’s good news for West Virginia’s defense.
Saturday’s Camp Notes ...
All of the newcomers expected to be on the field practiced with the exception of offensive tackle Quinton Spain and slot receiver Dante Chambers. Both players are awaiting eligibility center approval.
Offensive lineman Ryan Spiker has chosen not to return for his second season in the program while offensive guard Nick Kindler won’t arrive until Monday to begin injury rehabilitation, according to Stewart.
“Nick is on the injured shelf right now,” Stewart said. “We will count him in the camp count so he can get rehab.”
Stewart said Saturday that quarterback Geno Smith is still somewhat limited with his movement but he was moving well enough. The coach said the plan is for Smith to take 50 percent of the reps with the other 50 percent being divided between true freshmen Barry Brunetti and Jeremy Johnson.
“Their heads are spinning,” said Stewart of Brunetti and Johnson. “They’re two good players, but their heads are spinning.”
Running back Noel Devine was held out of conditioning drills at the end of practice while he continues to recover from the sudden sickness he encountered in Newport, R.I. during Big East media day that caused him to drop five pounds.
“He’s a rock-solid 178 pounds and his body percent fat is so low that we have to watch him,” Stewart said. “He has to get his weight back up. When you are as built as he is, and are suddenly five pounds lighter, that’s a big drop.”
Spring game star Coley White worked a slot receiver on Saturday and Stewart liked what he saw from the quarterback. “He caught the ball well and I’m very proud of him – he’s giving great effort,” Stewart said.
True freshman Ivan McCartney is going to wear Pat White’s jersey No. 5 this season. Stewart revealed his thought process for letting McCartney wear the uniform number popularized by one of the school’s all-time great players.
“As time moves on, it’s time to press on in life and go,” Stewart said. “That No. 5 has been worn by several great West Virginia players, and it was just a year of honor and respect to Pat White. Now, it’s out there on the playing field again and hopefully another young man will take it and do great things.”
For a good part of the summer a lot of the talk amongst the offensive staff was about finding additional ways of getting the football into the hands of sophomore Tavon Austin. Stewart continued that discussion on Saturday.
“We want to put our best players on the field,” Stewart said. “I’m not going to let Tavon stand on the sideline and wait for Noel and Jock to get hurt – that’s not smart.
“We can always play one tight end, Brad Starks out wide, Jock and Tavon, with Noel in the backfield,” Stewart said. “If you bring Jock in motion, you have your twin backs, like we’ve always had in the past, and you have three pretty good wideouts. We also have Tyler Urban and Will Johnson that can play the tight end/fullback.
“We have enough in the arsenal, we just have to fine tune it and get the match ups each week for the opponents.”
Practice resumes this afternoon.
Scooter Berry talks to reporters on Saturday