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August 2, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: The work starts now for WVU

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University offensive guard Jeff Braun was like a kid on Christmas Eve, as he related Wednesday morning via Twitter.

“Can’t sleep. I wonder why ... O yea we report today ... the season is upon us.”

Last month it was Christmas in July.

This month it’s Christmas and, more important, New Year’s in August.

“This is more than a new season; it’s a new era in West Virginia athletics,” the new co-defensive coordinator from Oklahoma State, Joe DeForest, said.

Indeed it is.

It’s a new year and new league.

It’s a bigger league, a better league, a league that commands the respect the West Virginia program has always lacked.

Reporting day brings an end to summer vacation, if you can call running up Law School Hill a vacation for a 330-pound man like Quinton Spain, who takes over the key left tackle job this year. That is not exactly a walk in the park.

Neither are the early morning workouts, many of them beginning in the pre-dawn hours, some starting before some of the students have gotten home from their nightly rounds on High Street.

It is a period when the coaching staff must separate itself from the athletes, a rather insane rule the NCAA insists upon, leaving the players in the direction of the strength and conditioning staff, as if they know how to deal with them better in the heat of summer.

There is no glory at this time of year, just work.

They don’t talk of games, think of games as they work to put the offense back in and the new defense in, to add subtle twists off what they did last year.

It is, in a way, the best time of year for quarterback Geno Smith, who maintains that all he does is aimed at only one goal, and that is becoming the best quarterback he can be.

“I have to focus every day on practice. I can’t focus on what I’m going to do in the game because I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do in the game. I’m just out there doing what I’m supposed to do, going through my reads and being a quarterback,” he said of his routine summer and fall.

“Every rep I take in practice, every mental rep, every time I go to watch film ... every time I go to school and go to class, all of that is important to being a good quarterback.”

With that kind of attitude in the leadership role, the others have to have the right approach.

This is a difficult time of year. It is hot and without a game to prep for, monotony can set in. Some day the NCAA will wake up and allow college football teams to scrimmage other schools, just as the NFL plays exhibition games.

It’s done in basketball; why not football?

Think of breaking the routine, getting to hit someone in a different uniform, being a third-string player getting a chance to move up the depth chart without necessarily having to do it at the expense of players ahead of you.

This is not to say that the shadow of Marshall doesn’t hang over everything.

This year’s will be the last game in that series and it comes along in a difficult situation, with the Big 12 on everyone’s mind and the hype of the Orange Bowl slaughter of Clemson. It is a game that can’t be taken lightly, especially being Marshall’s last chance to beat the Mountaineers as the series is coming to an end.

It was a series that was good for West Virginia but not necessarily for West Virginia University.

There would be a whole lot more to gain and less to lose opening up against Florida State this year instead of Marshall, but when you consider down the road there awaits games with Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State ... there are enough challenges ahead.

It’s as Stedman Bailey said in a tweet to his teammates:

“Shout out to all the ballers stepping into camp this week! Time to bring it all together. The time is now! Let’s get it!”

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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