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August 25, 2011

Confident Bitancurt back kicking

MORGANTOWN — There is a famous story involving two iconic Americans, Marilyn Monroe, the buxom blonde movie star, and the baseball hero, Joe DiMaggio, who at the time was her husband.

It seems Monroe had just come back from entertaining the troops during the Korean War, and you can only imagine the response she got from those war-weary G.I.s.

“You’ve never heard such cheering,” she said to DiMaggio upon her return.

DiMaggio, retired as a baseball player by this time, looked at her longfully and replied, “Yes I have.”

We bring this up today for, in a way, it is as good a way as any of reintroducing you to Tyler Bitancurt, West Virginia University’s placekicker.

If one may let the imagination run, consider the new Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen meeting with Bitancurt for the first time, explaining how electric his new offense has been and how it was so revered in Oklahoma, Houston and Lubbock.

You could almost hear Holgorsen say to Bitancurt, “You’ve never heard such cheering” and hear Bitancurt reply dryly, “Yes I have.”

Tyler Bitancurt, just two years ago, was a West Virginia hero, perhaps too young as a freshman for such adulation, but he had just very nearly beaten arch-rival Pittsburgh single-footedly, kicking four field goals and an extra point in a 19-16 victory.

What’s more, he sent the sellout crowd into a frenzy when he hit from 43 yards out with no time left on the clock to provide the margin of victory.

At that moment he could have been mayor of Morgantown, president of the school, governor of the state or king of the world, so hungry was a WVU team for that victory over a Pittsburgh team that had denied them of a shot at a national championship just a couple of seasons earlier.

The problem with being so high, however, is wrapped up in one very true old axiom:

“What goes up, must come down.”

Last season was a ride on the down elevator of life for Bitancurt, his charmed foot spraying footballs everywhere but between the goal posts. He made but 10 of the next 18 field goals he tried, often suffering the indignity of never seeing them rise majestically into the mountain sky because they had been blocked.

It reached a point where the lad found himself engaged in a battle for his job this spring, a battle that new coach Dana Holgorsen announced recently that he had won.

“Bitancurt will be the kicker,” Holgorsen said. “We really did have a competition and it was pretty clear-cut. He’s kicking the ball well. I told Corey (Smith) to quit acting like a kicker and start focusing on being a punter which will hopefully help him — he hasn’t been punting the ball bad, but if he focuses on that then hopefully we’ll get better at that.”

This came as no surprise, for Holgorsen had been hinting that Bitancurt was back in tip-top shape. A couple of weeks earlier, he had related to the media so much.

“He was as good as he’s been (all preseason),’’ Holgorsen said following a workout. “He was 5-for-5 or 6-for-6 in a live situation, and from a time perspective it was fantastic. (It) was his best day, which I think makes everybody in the state happy.’’

It certainly makes Holgorsen happy because, for all the talk about his high-energy offense, he has made big use of placekickers.

Jed Drenning, the one-time Glenville State quarterback, did some research on the subject for his magazine, The Signal Caller, and pointed this out.

Last season, Holgorsen’s offense not only had the Biletnikoff winner, but the Groza Award winner among placekickers in Dan Bailey, who hit 27 of 31 field goal attempts, including 11 of 13 from 40 yards or more.

Bailey accounted for 149 points, which is two more than Ira Rodgers’ WVU season record.

With that in mind, rest assured that Bitancurt is eager to step forward into the new season, his confidence returned to where it needs to be.

“It was frustrating; it was,”’ Bitancurt admitted after last season. “Obviously, when you get kicks blocked they’re not going in. And then when I actually get the ball up and it has a chance, I miss. There was a lot of work in the offseason just to get my confidence back.’’

Now, the confidence is there. He is getting his kicks off quicker and more accurately and he’s in an offense that will use him as a weapon, making for the possibility of a big season for Bitancurt.

NOTES – West Virginia’s heralded point guard Jabarie Hinds has been cleared to play by the NCAA, enrolled in school and probably will win the starting point guard spot. He missed the European trip with the team waiting for word from the NCAA.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter at @bhertzel.

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