By Bob Hertzel
MORGANTOWN — Bill Stewart gathered his team around him on Monday as game week finally began.
“Saturday, at noon, our journey will begin,” Stewart said. “Remember, the first impression is the most lasting. What will your role be in it?”
That was the food for thought Stewart was putting forth before West Virginia University’s opener against Division I-AA Liberty, a team that was 10-2 last year but which suffered massive losses through graduation.
But they are not the only team that had losses. West Virginia, too, is trying to create a new identity itself without Patrick White at quarterback and with a rebuilt offensive line.
That makes it a journey into the unknown, and Stewart knows it.
“I do not know where this football team is,” he admitted as he began his Tuesday afternoon media conference.
He knows his team worked hard. He knows they had a physical camp, a hard-hitting camp.
But there is so much more.
“The barometer is the opponent,” he said.
While it is the same every year, the anticipation is hard to deal with.
“I want to see us play. The staff wants to see us play. The fans want to see us play. The players want to play,” he said.
They have hit each other, run routes against each other, but in the end that is teammate on teammate. It lacks the emotion that comes with a real game, the anxious moments in the tunnel waiting to enter the field, the filled stands, officials, scoreboard working, PA announcer on.
Stewart thought back to his own playing years, to his first game.
“There’s a rush that goes through you that’s unknown to man unless he has been in the arena,” he said.
So many questions, so few answers.
“I don’t know about Tavon Austin,” Stewart said, referring to his freshman wunderkind who has proved himself to be elusive and evasive in camp. “I don’t know if he’ll run the right way or the wrong way. I want to see Jarrett Brown. I want to see the offensive line. I want to see Ricky Kovatch.”
As a coach you think you know, but then didn’t Rich Rodriguez think Pitt would be easy pickings two years ago?
Stewart offered some news during the course of the day.
Jock Sanders’ summer-long suspension is over. He will start at the slot.
“He’s done everything that’s been asked of him,” the coach said.
Sidney Glover, who has battled injuries all camp, will not start at safety, putting that job into the hands of senior Nate Sowers.
“He has not played enough football to start,” Stewart said of Glover, who came into camp figuring to be the starter.
Perhaps the offensive line has Stewart the most anxious, but there’s nothing he can do about it now.
“I’m excited about the offensive line,” Stewart said. “There’s no waiver wire. They’re our guys and I love them.”
And then there’s the matter of how well he patched up the kickoff unit that gave opponents many happy returns ... too many. He spent a lot of time visiting pro camps to check on their schemes. He has altered personnel. Even as late as Tuesday afternoon he had them going in full contact to put the finishing touches on.
“I want to see it today so Saturday it won’t be a thrill a minute,” Stewart said.
Like any coach, Stewart is getting antsy.
“I wish it was Friday,” he said. But then, after thinking about it for a while, he added, “but when Friday gets here I’ll wish it was Tuesday.”
o o o o o o
Right now about the only player who figures to miss Saturday’s game is special teams player Trippe Hale.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.