By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
For most seniors, especially those of the fifth-year variety, the spring game offers excitement only in the fact that it is followed by vacation.
True, there’s a couple of weeks school left, but the grind of afternoon or evening football practices is over, and ahead awaits that summer during which they get what West Virginia University coach Dana Holgorsen referred to as “their only vacation of the year.”
Indeed, they do not get Thanksgiving or Christmas off as do other students, for they are readying for football games on both occasions.
There was one senior, however, who approached the spring game as one of the biggest moments in his life, for it was.
Josh Jenkins, the starting offensive guard from Parkersburg, saw it as a new beginning, a rebirth of his career. Instead of being a senior on this occasion, he was smiling like a kid on Christmas morning.
“Oh, man, it was great,” he would say almost an hour after it was over. “I was so happy when the game ended and I knew I’d get a chance to play next fall now; that I’d get to play in the Big 12 and be a part of the team again.”
He was so excited that he went to his offensive line coach, Bill Bedenbaugh, and said, “I’m glad I made it through and get to play for you next year.”
This past year had been stolen from him.
You had to go back almost exactly a year, back to the spring game of what should have been his senior season.
It was the fourth quarter, and maybe a veteran offensive lineman should not have even been in the game at that point, when someone rolled over onto his left knee and he heard the “pop.”
“That sound. That’s something you never forget,” he said.
He knew he’d torn something.
He knew he’d be facing surgery.
His year had ended before it started.
Rehabilitation from major knee surgery is never easy. It begins in fear, fear that you won’t ever get it back to where you can play effectively again.
It turns to tedium, weights and exercising and riding a stationary bicycle … unable to get out and work out. You are part of a team, but you aren’t for you can’t share the experiences that go on during the course of a season, sitting on the outside, your nose pressed against the glass window looking in on a 10-3 season and memorable Orange Bowl victory over Clemson.
No matter how you try to help from the sidelines, and Jenkins was important in helping the line develop, it isn’t like playing, like keeping a pass rusher off Geno Smith’s back or opening a hole for Shawne Alston or Dustin Garrison to burst through.
That was why Saturday night, in the cold and rain, was so important, so meaningful.
All kinds of thoughts go through your mind, but there’s one you can’t allow in.
“If you think in your head you’re going to get hurt or you’re worried about it, that’s when you’re going to get hurt,” he said. “I try to block it out the whole time. Just come out and play as hard as I can.”
The Mountaineers are going to need Jenkins as this is an offensive line that really has a chance to be special.
It revolves around center Joey Madsen, who is a Rimington Award candidate if you listen to the coaches extolling his virtue. Any great offensive line begins with the center, who calls signals, who snaps the ball and who almost always has behemoth on his head with which to deal.
Jeff Braun at the right guard is bigger, stronger and better than he was a year ago when he was bouncing around and the tackle next to him, Pat Eger, also seems to be a bigger, better model this year.
Bring Jenkins back into the mix and put 335-pound Quinton Spain next to him at left tackle and it seems like Geno Smith is being protected better than the U.S. Secret Service protects President Obama, which might not be saying a heck of a lot considering recent news reports.
“If we can keep making the offense better and they can keep making us better in the fall, we’ll be a tough team to beat,” Jenkins said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Bob on Twitter at twitter.com/bhertzel.