The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 16, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - WVU’s Vance making most of opportunity

MORGANTOWN — In sports, it seems, there is this undying fascination with size.

We were drawn to NBA’s Manute Bol because of his 7-foot-7 height and to Mugsy Bogues because of his lack of it at 5-foot-3.

Aaron Gibson, once of the Dallas Cowboys, holds the claim to fame of being the NFL’s first 400-pounder, while two players who parlayed their size into fame and fortune were Ed “Too Tall” Jones and William “Refrigerator” Perry.

What we’re saying, perhaps, is that size counts, and, with that in mind, we will introduce to you today West Virginia University starting linebacker Casey Vance. In an era of linebackers who probably would have doubled as models for sculptures in the early days of Greece, Vance is something of a pipsqueak who has had fought through every stereotype to make it to — pardon the term — the big time.

He is listed at 5-feet 9-inches tall, which one suspects is a slight exaggeration, and the 222 they list as his weight may be real, but if someone were to argue that he might have been weighed while wearing his full equipment it would not seem farfetched.

What is not small about Casey Vance is what he has been able to accomplish since coming out of Petersburg High in West Virginia and decided rather than following three brothers who went the West Virginia Conference route, he would try to make it at the top of the college game.

“I could have gotten money and just about had my school paid for if I went D-2, but my brothers kind of told me to take this route — try it and if it doesn’t work out I could transfer down and play right away” he said.

The brothers — Matt, who played at Fairmont State, and Brian and Ben, who played at West Virginia Wesleyan — are admittedly proud of Vance’s unexpected accomplishments at WVU, a nationally ranked, Top 20 team.

“They’re proud, they’re excited, I’m sure, but now they tell me they would have been much better than I am, of course,” Vance said, laughingly.

Vance had more inspiration than just family members as he decided to take a shot as an undersized non-scholarship linebacker. At that time, winning a starting job seemed a bit farfetched but …

“I felt like I could definitely help on special teams. Yeah, I thought starting was a long shot, but I grew up watching a lot of other West Virginia guys — Ben Collins, Jeff Noechel, Scott Gyorko – come in and play. Then from my home area Reed Williams came in. All those guys contributed in a big way. I felt like if I work at it I could do it, too.”

Of that group only Reed Williams was on scholarship, so Vance knew not having one really didn’t work against him. And, amazingly, the more he worked and the better he played was magnified by the fact that he seemed physically incapable of doing those things.

Nothing impresses a coach more than the ability to over

achieve. You will get a chance, and he did last year when he was named J.T. Thomas’ backup at outside linebacker. This past spring he was awarded his scholarship.

“When that happened I realized I might have a chance to start,” Vance said. “You don’t want injuries to happen, but that’s one injury away from being thrown into the mix. That’s a realization you can be a starter.”

It isn’t easy to do what Vance has done when physically you have things working against you.

There’s a reason you have man-sized linebackers these days, and it’s because the offense has supersized offensive linemen, tight ends and fullbacks.

“Coach Jeff Casteel tries to tell me use (being 5-9) to my advantage,” Vance said. “The game is about leverage, and no one likes to get hit under their chin, so put that helmet right there under those 6-3 and 6-4 linemen.”

Even if that is to his advantage, someone wondered out loud if he really wouldn’t rather be one of those 6-3 or 6-4 linebackers himself.

Without so much as a hesitation, Vance had an answer.

“No, 6-10 and playing basketball,” he said.

This year was more of the same for Vance, WVU bringing in an athletic 6-1, 214-pound junior college linebacker named Josh Francis, who was supposed to take the starting job. Certainly that had to irritate or, at least, motivate Vance.

“I wouldn’t say irritating,” he said. “Motivational? Maybe. If they didn’t bring Josh in, I would have been competing against other guys. It’s not a battle between two guys.”

Whatever, what Vance showed is that the motivational signs that have been hung on football locker room walls have been true. You know the signs, the ones that read:

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight that matters; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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