MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – The last game of the football season always signifies so much more than the end of another year. For the seniors, the last game signifies the end of a collegiate career, the last time they will don the old Gold and Blue, the last time they will have the chance to run out of the tunnel at Milan Puskar Stadium.
For redshirt senior Chris Neild, the Mountaineers’ recent victory over Rutgers signified all of the above.
A three-year starter at nose tackle, Neild is a last name familiar to many Mountaineer fans. A veteran leader on a defense that has a chance of finishing the season ranked among the nation’s top five in three different defensive categories, Neild has shown tremendous growth since he arrived in Morgantown as an inexperienced freshman.
“Getting to where I am today took a lot of hard work,” he admitted. “When I did come in here it was tough and I wasn’t sure if I was fit enough to play college football. I knew I had to work and that I wasn’t going to be able to play my first year here. I knew that was a year for development, and I really just tried to develop and improve on my physical shape and skills.”
As West Virginia runs a defense that is unique from many others, developing skills and improving upon fitness took on a new importance. Using a hard work ethic that has made the Mountaineer team a great representative of a hard working state, Neild quickly improved, earning a starting spot during his third season.
Often a position with little or no glory, nose tackle requires incredible strength and commitment. Every time the ball is snapped, Neild goes up against not one, but two offensive linemen. In this way, he opens up possibilities for the linebackers to pressure the quarterback and make important tackles.
“Nose tackle is a really unique position when you look at it,” he said. “It doesn’t come with a lot of glory and it’s a position where you have to be really unselfish and let other people make the plays. That’s what this 3-3-5 defense is really based on. Freeing up linebackers and confusing the opposing offense. The key to this position is being a nose guard that can occupy the offense so linebackers get free.”
And Neild has done just that. Throughout 49 career games played, he has 126 tackles including 51 unassisted tackles, six sacks, 11 tackles for loss and two pass breakups. All of this in addition to his responsibility of keeping the opposing offensive line busy.
Football isn’t the only area that Neild has excelled at, however. During the past five years, he has been named to the Dean’s List, Athletic Director’s Academic Honor Roll, and has been a BIG EAST Academic All-Star. Balancing athletics with academics hasn’t always been easy, but Neild has always understood the importance of excelling in education.
“It’s not easy and it’s been a struggle at some points but we have a lot of help here at West Virginia,” he remarked. “Having assistance definitely makes things a little easier, and it’s helped me over the years. I’ve always known that I have to put grades first, and I think I’ve done a decent job of getting the grades in.”
As the Stroudsburg, Pa., native prepares for his upcoming graduation this Sunday, he’s had to think about the future - a future that he hopes includes a chance at professional football.
“I’ve always dreamt of playing at the highest level of football, but it’s something that does not come easy as it didn’t when I first came here. It’s something that I’ll have to work really hard at to hopefully get a shot at it, and it’s also going to take some time.”
If a career in the NFL doesn’t pan out, however, the multidisciplinary studies major has some backup plans in place. He would love to be able to coach, as he’s always been interested in teaching and has a great understanding of the game. He’s also been considering a career within the sport management industry. But for now, he’s enjoying a share of the BIG EAST title, and putting hard work into practice as the team prepares for the upcoming Champs Sports Bowl, which will take place at the end of December.
And when it finally comes to represent the Mountaineers for the final time in a football uniform, Neild knows that he will always have great memories to look back upon.
“Running the law school hill, that’s always memorable,” he said with a laugh. “That’s something I won’t forget. The long hard workouts at six in the morning when everyone else is asleep; winning the Fiesta Bowl, and beating Pitt the last two years - those are all good times as well.
“But I’m really going to miss my teammates. I’ve been here for five years and I’ve seen people come and go, but the players that want to play and that want to stay here know how to act and they know what to do. That’s something that I’m definitely going to miss.”Briefly:
- Chris Neild is one of eight Mountaineer football players participating in Sunday’s winter commencement. Also taking part is Larry Ford, Glenn Gress, Trippe Hale, Jeremy Kash, Anthony Leonard, Gregg Pugnetti and Matt Timmerman. The athletic department will have a brief ceremony inside the Coliseum Academic Performance Center to recognize all of the December graduates prior to the 1:30 p.m. convocation.
- This week’s schedule will included lifting on Tuesday and Thursday and a team workout Saturday morning. The players will have next week off for final examinations before resuming bowl preparations on Saturday, Dec 18. Next week all coaches except coordinators will be on the road recruiting until the dead period begins on Monday, Dec. 20.
- The all-Big East teams will be announced this week. Ballots were due back to the conference office on Monday.
- Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the son of WVU Director of Athletics Oliver Luck, is one of four finalists for this year’s Heisman Trophy.
- WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel remains comfortably ahead in voting for Football Scoop.com's defensive coordinator of the year award. As of Tuesday morning, Casteel is currently receiving 67.1 percent of the vote, well ahead of second place Jim Heacock of Ohio State with 17.5 percent.
Also, West Virginia's Bill Kirelawich is one of four finalists for Football Scoop's defensive coach of the year. You can go here to place your vote for Kirlav ... http://www.footballscoop.com/coaching-awards/2010-coaches-of-the-year/2010-defensive-line-coach
- Tickets are available for West Virginia’s Dec. 28 Champs Sports Bowl game against North Carolina State in Orlando, Fla. To order tickets contact the Mountaineer Ticket Office toll-free at 1-800-WVU GAME or by logging onto http://www.WVUGAME.com
. West Virginia’s ticket allotment for the game is 12,500.
- John Antonik