The Times West Virginian

July 28, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Bitter taste of defeat can motivate

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — There is something in defeat that always lingers, a scar that serves as a reminder of just how distasteful losing is. Long after the glow of victory disappears from the memory the anguish of a loss hauntingly remains for athletes.

This not a bad thing.

It serves to motivate and inspire, and that is just what it has done for West Virginia as it heads into camp on Thursday.

In the rubble of the way WVU’s 2012 season ended, the year’s peak has already been forgotten. There was a time when the Mountaineers, you may recall, were 5-0 and Geno Smith was the Heisman Trophy leader. West Virginia had already scored 70 points in one game, 69 in another and Game 5 was supposed to define the year.

It was the Mountaineers’ first Big 12 road game, their first trip to Austin, Texas, to play before 101,000 fans and a Longhorn named Bevo.

They entered the game ranked No. 8, about to jump to No. 5, while Texas was No. 11.

Andrew Buie rushed for a career-high 207 yards, finishing the day off with his second touchdown with 1:18 left but there was no time for celebrating then as quarterback David Ash led Texas to another TD to put Texas within three points.

Only the recovery of an onsides kick by Nana Kyeremeh with 15 seconds to play could clinch it and set off a wild celebration … too wild, too much, too early says Quinton Spain.

At 6-5 and 335 pounds, people listen when Quinton Spain speaks, and during Big 12 Media Day last week he was analyzing what had happened to that great start that turned from razzle and dazzle to the fizzle that come with a 2-6 finish.

“Last year, after we beat Texas, I think we celebrated too much and forgot about the rest of the season,” Spain said. “This year we have to be more respectful and all that stuff.”

It’s tough when you’re a kid to be respectful and all that stuff in this day and age.

There was a time when a celebratory dance after a sack or a touchdown would get a player benched.

Today it gets him time on SportsCenter, and that equates into national TV time, which helps recruiting.

It also, however, equates into celebrating individual accomplishments, as if the blockers who opened the hole or the nose guard who drew the double team didn’t matter.

Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey were breaking records and being celebrated across the state, across the nation.

It was too much, too soon, and it would come back to haunt the Mountaineers.

It drove coach Dana Holgorsen in a new direction for this season.

“He expects a team, no individuals,” Spain said. “Our whole off-season was team, everything team. Everything we do we have to do as a team.”

“We have an underdog mentality for the whole season, and we plan to use it,” said senior defensive end Will Clarke. “We can’t change what happened last season. We can’t change the past. We can change the present and the future.”

It has to be that way. Whereas a year ago there were potential All-Americans everywhere you looked and where there were even thoughts of how to display Geno Smith’s Heisman Trophy, this year there isn’t even an all-conference player in sight.

No one, not even Holgorsen, knows who will start at quarterback because there’s no one with any real experience in his offense there, and there is no one who knows who will start at running back because there are three guys with all the proven requirements.

But no one doubts that Holgorsen will put it all together by time the season comes.

“His track record speaks for itself. He always has a successful offense. The quarterback situation will take care of itself. There won’t be much of a hassle there. Our offense will be fine. We have a lot of new additions who will be able to blossom,” Clarke said.

And it all begins this week.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.