MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – West Virginia University sophomore wide receiver Ivan McCartney said he grew up watching games at Sun Life Stadium from the rooftop of his home. That’s how close he is to the place he will be playing this Wednesday night when the Mountaineers take on Clemson in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl.
“This is crazy. I can’t believe I’m actually back home playing in front of my hometown,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of friends and family coming out. I can’t wait.”
McCartney has had an up and down season for the Mountaineers in 2011. The bulk of McCartney’s 47 catches came during the team’s first six games. Then he tweaked his hamstring in the loss to Syracuse and eventually lost his spot in the wide receiver rotation to J.D. Woods. McCartney had just 13 receptions over the last six games of the year.
“I would say approaching the game a little better than I have the last couple of games and just having fun,” McCartney said.
Coach Dana Holgorsen agrees.
“He is still in the developmental stage. He’s still a young guy who didn’t play very much last year and towards the end of the season didn’t do as much as we wanted him to and he’s a backup to J.D. Woods right now,” Holgorsen explained. “We need him to continue to get better.”
McCartney said this is the healthiest he’s been since the Syracuse game, and he is hopeful of putting on a good show for his hometown crew on Wednesday night.
“It was a pretty bad struggle,” he said. “I lost feeling in my leg with my hamstring, but right now I’m feeling pretty good. I’m just ready to get out there and play.”
McCartney said he has never played in Sun Life Stadium and he plans to soak up the entire experience, including walking home with his friends and family after the game.
“You only get this chance once so you might as well live it up,” he said.Briefly:
* West Virginia had its third practice at Barry University on Sunday afternoon. Holgorsen said before today’s practice that Shawne Alston will get the starting nod in place of the injured Dustin Garrison, with true freshman Andrew Buie serving as Alston’s backup.
On Friday, Garrison sprained the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and also sustained a slight medial collateral ligament sprain in the same knee. He is scheduled to undergo surgery following the bowl game and his recovery will require six months of rehabilitation.
As for Garrison's replacements, both Alston and Buie have game experience.
Alston ran for a team-high 110 yards against Rutgers earlier this season and has been utilized primarily as the team’s short yardage back, accumulating a team-best 10 rushing touchdowns.
Buie got the bulk of his carries during the team’s first three games, including running for a season-high 51 yards at Maryland, before Garrison asserted himself as the regular.
Buie said before today’s practice that Garrison has been helping him get ready for Wednesday night’s game.
“He’s just been keeping me relaxed and telling me to play my game – play the game I have been playing since I was little and everything should be alright,” said Buie.
The two are actually roommates here in Florida for the week.
“I talk to him a lot and he seems to be doing pretty well,” said Buie. “I’ve just been trying to encourage him and tell him to keep his head up. He can always bounce back from things like this it’s just his mental state.”
West Virginia’s available pool of running backs continues to dwindle with Garrison out and freshman Vernard Roberts ineligible for the game. Consequently, Buie and Alston are getting a lot of reps this week.
“The reps have increased a lot just because of the fact that we don’t have the depth that we did earlier,” said Buie. “So the reps have been pretty high. I feel with the reps I am getting that I should be in good playing shape, and I should be ready to go.”
* Freshman inside receiver Connor Arlia was injured during a jet ski incident at a team function on Saturday afternoon and is still in the hospital recovering from a broken leg, Holgorsen said before today’s practice. The Weirton resident collided with a teammate operating another jet ski.
“It was an accident,” said Holgorsen. “It happened to a kid that has been riding jet skis his whole life.”
* Tonight’s activity for the team is a private function for the coaches while the players are scheduled to eat at Fogo de Chao, a popular Brazilian steakhouse.
* The remainder of West Virginia’s travel party is scheduled to arrive in Miami on Monday afternoon.
* West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel already considers Clemson freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins one of the top offensive players in the country.
“They do really a great job of getting him the football in a bunch of different ways,” Casteel said. “Obviously they’re going to throw him the ball, but he’ll get it as a running back and they’re going to screen him. I think his speed and athleticism are really what probably separates him from guys.
“We’ll have our hands full trying to defend all those guys, and Sammy is probably at the forefront of our thoughts.”
* Don’t forget to check out MSN’s Orange Bowl Special airing Tuesday night on ROOT SPORTS at 8 p.m. with re-airs at 1 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Jan. 4.