Wolf's Huddle: His Team
- By Dale Wolfley
- August 23, 2013 09:24 AM
Whack, Bam, Smack, Wham … grunts of pain and fierceness surface from the massive pile of intertwined bodies. The 20-yard line on Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium is the last place any normal human being would want to be at this moment. I hear one last “ugh,” the whistle blows and the play is over. Hooting and hollering is coming from both sidelines as the offensive and defensive players cheer on their teammates. Some coaches are yelling words of encouragement while others are just yelling in disgust. Players are jawing and pushing each other as they are breaking the pile. They are tired of the guys they have been hitting for the last couple of weeks and tempers are running on overload. The last day of 2013 fall camp, and the Old Gold and Blue are scrimmaging like they are fighting over scraps of food after a three-day fast. My blood starts to boil as I can feel the intensity seep off the field and infect all who understand.
This is it, the last day of camp for WVU football players to impress their position coaches and ultimately the head man, Dana Holgorsen. Time is running out and the coaches and players know it. The official beginning of the 2013 football campaign is right around the corner and a solid two-deep needs to be developed. From now until the end of the season, repetitions for the two-deep on offense, defense and special teams will be at a premium. The end of camp signals to the coaches that they have to make some tough - and some not-so-tough - decisions on who will play this year. Competition has been at a high like I have not seen in years with intense, violent play (I love writing that).
Reflecting on camp and soaking in what I have seen, read and heard, there is but one conclusion and it is very obvious: This team is “buying in!” I mean “buying in” in a big way; “BOOM…!” I said it, not just the players either, but the coaches, the administration, managers and trainers are all on the same page. The team has bought into Holgorsen. Make no mistake, he is the general in charge of WVU football and this is his team. He has made it very clear to all, jump on his bus and follow him or get your thumb out and hitch a ride home. A football team is made up of so many complex components and trying to get 120 young men and the rest of the organization pointed in the same direction is a major undertaking. That’s why the CEO (the head coach) of a major college football team gets the big bucks.
While pondering the situation, I realize that I am sitting next to my old coach Don Nehlen. Who better to ask than WVU football’s all-time victory leader and prominent member of the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame? So I asked coach, when did you first know the team and program was yours? When did they buy in?
Coach Nehlen replied, “It was when the players were ready for change and accepted my philosophy as their own.” In other words, when they accept mind, body and soul and will lay it all on the line for what you believe in. The real question is how does a head coach accomplish this quest?
The second half of the 2012 season was, of course, disappointing and Holgorsen self-admittedly knew he had to fix it, and fix it fast.
Evaluating the previous season is never easy when you’re looking for answers. An honest evaluation, however, will reveal that there was more good than bad. The offense finished the season ninth in scoring, 10th in passing, and 10th in total offense. The defense certainly struggled and positive changes must come from this young group. The majority of the players that will play this year are guys that Holgorsen recruited as his guys to fit in his system. These are young men who saw his vision and officially declared that they wanted to follow his way. Many of these same players, mainly on defense, have a year of experience under their belts. Almost as important, they have a full year of weight training and conditioning under strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph. Last year, these were boys coming in as true or redshirt freshmen and lining up against fourth- or fifth-year men (can anyone say K-State?). Plus, factor in that his coaching staff has chemistry with each other and, more importantly, with the players. A true indicator of the direction that a football team is headed is when you hear the assistant coaches and players echoing what their head coach is saying. They are listening, they are focused and they have an end game. Reinforce the good and get rid of the bad. Lessons are learned, find your solutions and don’t look back because you won’t be able to get to where you want to go.
Program pride can never be underestimated as a force, especially when it comes to West Virginia University. The program T-E-A-M which Holgorsen installed this past winter was as impressive as anything I have seen. His program took 13 weeks of teaching his players about WVU and the state of West Virginia. How important is this? Important enough that Friday night before camp broke they went through an abbreviated version. The assistant coaches, Dr. Clements, and Director of Athletics Oliver Luck took part in the presentation and man that was special! There was not one player, coach or staff member who didn’t have their eyes glued to the presenters. All in the room recognized the magnitude and urgency of the situation. About a week from now the players will be donning the Flying WV on their helmets and representing WVU with no second chances. And this year when they do it will be different. This year, they will know the history of those who have come before them. This year, they will understand the pride of the people of the great State of West Virginia in which they represent.
This is not the Land of Oz and there is no yellow brick road to skip happily ever after. Wins are not guaranteed and this season will have its share of highs and lows.
But one thing I am certain of is that this year’s team will travel the path together, with one direction and one general. Yes, this is his team!