The Times West Virginian

March 19, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: OL Pankey raring to go for WVU

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — You have to put yourself in Adam Pankey’s place, which is a very big place to be considering he stands 6-foot-5 and weighs in at 323 pounds.

 As you might guess, those are the credentials of an offensive lineman and right now he is penciled in as the starting left tackle for West Virginia, which has just ended spring break and come back to begin banging in pads for the rest of spring practice.

So it was that a year ago, this one-time Pitt recruit, who ditched his commitment to the school not long after Coach Todd Graham ditched his own commitment and left to coach at Arizona State, was quite eager to play. He had been redshirted in 2012, then missed the spring and fall camp of 2013 while recovering from knee surgery.

He had done all he could to prepare to play, going through the tortures of rehabilitation and trying to fight his way up the depth chart.

His attitude was perfect, looking at what he was doing as anything but work.

“Rehabilitation can be fun. It just depends on how you look at it. If you look at like you are going to get better every day it can be fun,” he said.

But Pankey also had an admission to make.

“It was difficult. There are definitely days where you feel discouraged and you have a long way to go. But after everything, you just know you are getting better,” he said.

By the Baylor game, he was ready to play and coach Dana Holgorsen was ready to put him in there, being not at all happy with the performance of the offensive line the week before in a devastating 37-0 shutout loss to Maryland.

“We played incredibly poor up front. It was probably as bad as we’ve ever played on the offensive line,” Holgorsen said then. “When you can’t run the ball with five people in the box and you can’t pass protect when they’re rushing four, you’ve got issues.”

Enter Pankey, as fired up as any offensive lineman can be.

He was ready to hit anything. If they’d put the Empire State Building in front of him, he’d of knocked it on its side.

That’s how he came about to do something you just wouldn’t expect to see. He got penalized for “targeting,” then was ejected after a review of the hit.

The “targeting” rule was new last year, an outgrowth of the studies into football head injuries, something put in to make the game safer.

 But mostly — almost exclusively — it had been used on defenders “targeting” offensive players for hits.

Why, even earlier in that same game, Darwin Cook, known as a hard-hitting safety, was penalized for “targeting,” which brings along ejection from the game. After leaving the field, the officials looked at a replay of Cook’s hit and ruled they had erred in calling the hit illegal, allowing him to return.

Pankey, though?

He was toast.

“Officials got tested at West Virginia-Baylor, which had two targeting instances. Mountaineers safety Darwin Cook stayed in the game after officials overturned his ejection on a hit coach Dana Holgorsen called ‘horrendous.’ WVU offensive lineman Adam Pankey was tossed on a call that was probably deserved. He led with his head,” wrote one online site that was studying the effect of the new rule.

And Pankey doesn’t deny the rare penalty.

“A lot had been built up, seven months without being out there. I was ready to throw my body at people,” he admitted. “No one wants to get kicked out of a game. It was fun, just getting to hit somebody. That’s what I love to do.”

So Adam Pankey was ejected from his first collegiate game.

“They said I was a little openly aggressive. I guess that just showed I’m aggressive. I’m willing to hit anyone,” he said.

 That, though, is exactly what Holgorsen is looking for now. Putting together an offensive line is as crucial this spring as finding a quarterback will be in the fall, for a year ago the quarterback really didn’t have very much time to throw the football.

Pankey believes offensive line coach Ron Crook has the makings of a solid offensive line.

“You are just going to see us progress and grow and get a lot stronger. We’ve been around for a while now and we’re comfortable with each other now. We’ve built a little continuity and are getting the hang of everything and building a brotherhood with each other,” he vowed.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.