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October 23, 2013

Kwiatkoski battles back from injury for Mountaineers

MORGANTOWN — Nick Kwiatkoski thought the pain was over when he took the field Saturday against Texas Tech.

The West Virginia University linebacker had been the team’s leading tackler through the season’s first three games, right up until he was running down field in punt coverage … something quite common in a game that would turn out to be a humbling 37-0 defeat against Maryland.

That’s when he took a bad step.

“I tried to push off after taking an awkward step and felt it pop,” Kwiatkoski recalled.

That was it for his day, a pulled hamstring ending his participation.

Hamstrings are nothing to play with, literally and figuratively. They hurt and they often take a good bit of time to heal, in Kwiatkoski’s case a couple of weeks.

But now it was Saturday. Texas Tech was in town, and he was back.

“It felt almost like my first game of the season,” he said.

It looked like it, too. On the game’s third play, Tech completed a 5-yard pass to tight end Jace Amaro, who would torment the Mountaineers all game.

Kwiatkoski stopped him cold on his first of eight solo tackles.

The hamstring held up.

“I was pretty confident after the bye week. I worked out hard during bye week. I ran pretty well, and I went full go,” he said. “But it was more of a relief. I didn’t have time to think about it. I got the first one under my belt.”

He deserved it because he had been through some tough times.

Being injured carries a double penalty. There is the pain of the injury, yes, but there is a different kind of pain.

You are on a team, but you don’t feel part of it.

If the team wins, you can handle it better, but after a loss you feel like you let everyone down, even though there was nothing you could do.

It was that way on the 13-hour bus ride back from Maryland. OK, it wasn’t 13 hours, but it felt as though it was.

“I was thinking, where do we go from here?” Kwiatkoski said. “It was a tough loss, and I was hurt.”

The pain disappeared a good bit when the Mountaineers upset Oklahoma State, but then along came Baylor and the defense he couldn’t help gave up 73 points, more than any Mountaineer defense had given up since 1904.

“On the sideline, winning and losing, it’s hard. All your teammates are out there playing. Especially when you are losing like that, you want to be out there with them,” he said.

He battled back for the Texas Tech game, and midway through the third quarter things could not have been better, WVU leading 27-16.

That was when the bottom fell out Kwiatkoski’s world and WVU’s, Texas Tech doing everything right, WVU everything wrong.

Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said it was a case of confidence, Texas Tech having it and WVU lacking it, perhaps stemming back into the Baylor debacle.

In truth, three third downs changed the outcome of the game, third downs that the Red Raider were able to make, one of them against the same defense that stopped a similar third down earlier in the game.

And then it was over and WVU was 3-4 instead of being 4-3, and somehow there was pain Kwiatkoski was suffering, even though his hamstring was fine.

“I’m just trying to pick up now where I left off,” he said. “I’m taking it game by game. Don’t look too far ahead, watch film and prepare for Kansas State.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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