By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
There are people — not many of them any longer — who wonder why football has become America’s game, taking over from baseball, and while there are numerous reasons for the transition, perhaps it is the attitude in the two games that make the most difference.
It best can be seen in a comparison, one that involves your West Virginia University Mountaineers and the team has become West Virginia’s darlings, the Pittsburgh Pirates, as unlikely as that may seem.
A couple of weeks back, Jeff Locke, who has emerged as the Pirates’ best pitcher, was cruising along with a rather easy 2-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Through seven innings he had allowed but two hits and one walk, and it seemed as though he could have pitched the whole series without the Dodgers breaking the shutout or him breaking a sweat.
But leading off the bottom of the seventh, manager Clint Hurdle opted to pinch hit for Locke, take him out of the game, something that has become ridiculously common in baseball. Whereas your best pitchers used to pitch 300 innings and beyond in a season, today they are coddled and seldom reach 220 innings.
We now turn to your Mountaineers and the game of football, where a Purple Heart may be outranked in prestige only by the Heisman Trophy.
As evidence, we offer up one Karl Joseph, a freshman safety from a year ago for WVU and probably the best defensive player, which one might not think means much having seen the defense, but Joseph was truly an incredible performer.
But there are no pinch hitters — obviously, for no one hit harder than he did, or relief pitchers for Joseph.
West Virginia played 992 snaps on defense, which tells you something about how bad the defense was, and Joseph was in for 890 of them.
Put in terms of a pitcher, that’s like averaging 8 innings in every start … and there isn’t an opponent 60 feet, 6 inches away from you.
He’s trying to maim you.
Joseph was not the biggest of safeties at 5-10, 195, and as a freshman he was not yet fully mature or developed as he took on the few tight ends still left in captivity, to say nothing of guards, tackles, running backs and wide receivers.
It’s safe to say that there were very few plays where he wasn’t having a collision with someone.
And one would not expect anything different this season, which is why Joseph is trying to add 10 pounds of muscle to repeat what he did last year.
“It’s very hard, especially with the high-tempo offenses in the league,” Joseph said. “But the strength coaches make sure we’re in shape and in good condition. Right now, I feel like I could play as many snaps as I need to.”
The strength coach’s job may be every bit as important as the defensive coordinator’s, as he is in charge of seeing the defensive coordinator’s athletes make it to the field every week, explaining why WVU spent a upwards of a million dollars to redo the weight room.
Joseph’s performance last year was something to marvel at. His 76 solo tackles ranked 14th nationally. Think you wouldn’t be excited about a freshman running back ranking 14th nationally?
Certainly, at no time last year did Joseph complain, even with the aches and pains that were there on Sunday morning. And don’t expect him to be looking to play any less this season.
“That’s on the coaches whether they take me out or not,” Joseph said. “I don’t really ask them to take me out.”
Rest assured, in the Big 12, they are going to need him for as many bone-rattling, ball-loosening tackles as he can give them.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.