By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Before going into media seclusion with his team in the week following camp, West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen made an interesting — and important — observation.
“First team, we are really happy with, and the motivational level they are playing with is extremely satisfying,” he said.
In part, the statement was interesting because it seemed odd.
Are not all first teams across the country motivated as camp comes to an end and the season draws near? After all, if you are not motivated at that point, will you ever be motivated at all?
Why would this, then, stand out to Holgorsen enough that he would mention it?
That required some thinking and in so doing, it well may have hit upon how Holgorsen has approached this entire season, his third as head coach.
A year ago his Mountaineers were coming off a 10-3 season that included an overwhelming 37-point Orange Bowl victory over Clemson, were loaded with a senior class that was laced with a half dozen potential NFL draft selections and moving into the Big 12.
This was a team that seemingly couldn’t wait to get into the new season and rolled through the first five games as if they were on a nonstop express to a Big 12 championship and maybe a national championship game, only to come unwound as the year progressed.
This year’s team has no such momentum heading into this year. In fact, there is no hype around the team at all. It is a group without such stars as Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey coming off five losses in its last seven games, including a dismal performance in a 38-14 loss to Syracuse in something called the Pinstripe Bowl.
That, of course, does not lead to confidence, and confidence leads to motivation.
It is, too, a team without designated leaders, especially in the key positions such as quarterback, center or middle linebacker.
The Mountaineers are a young team trying to find its personality and ability level, one that has brought in not only freshmen but a lot of junior college players and important upperclass transfers such as quarterback Clint Trickett and running back Charles Sims.
Again, a team in search of itself cannot yet have developed the confidence that leads to motivation toward team goals.
Holgorsen, it would appear, had some apprehension about the motivation, which may well be why he turned his game into an audition for his players. Wherever he could, he created competition and kept it going, pushing it as hard and as far as it would go.
Players feeling they could win a starting job certainly are highly motivated as a group, will work harder and experience playing under pressure than if they feel they are competing only for a backup role.
That could be why, as camp came to an end, he narrowed his statement down to the first team, for by this time most of those jobs had been settled upon, even though he wasn’t revealing it to the public.
Those who had won the starting jobs could build upon that success, feel going into the season they were doing it because they had earned it, rather than feel it was simply bequeathed them because Geno Smith was now a Jet or Tavon Austin was now a Ram.
Instead of feeling they were entering the season off those five losses in seven games and a huge bowl failure, they could feel they were going into the year off a personal triumph and believing they were the right person to lead the team to new heights.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.