By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
If West Virginia University is to beat Oklahoma this Saturday night in Norman, Nick Kwiatkoski is going to have to have the game of his life, and the former Bethel Park star may just be up for it.
As the Sam linebacker, the run-happy Sooners will test him, just as William & Mary did in the opener, a rather bad decision on their part as he made the second tackle of the season for WVU and took it from there to be the Mountaineers’ leading tackler in the game.
But do not confuse William & Mary with Oklahoma.
The Sooners have a stable of big-time running backs and quarterback in Trevor Knight who has yet to prove himself as a passer but was their leading rusher with 103 yards in their 34-0 opening victory over Louisiana-Monroe.
Kwiatkoski knows what he and WVU are up against.
“Three different running backs, all have different styles of running. Our biggest focus right now is knowing who is in the game and what their strengths are,” he said.
And the quarterback is one of those strengths.
“From the film watched so far, the quarterback can definitely get out of the pocket. He’ll definitely cause a problem for us. He’s not huge, but he’s fast and shifty at times. You have to keep an eye on him. You can’t break coverage, but you know he can always tuck it and run.”
Make no doubt Kwiatkoski is prepared for this, although there remain people from back home who still have trouble accepting that he’s doing his thing 90 miles down the road from Pitt.
“I visited WVU my junior year of high school and immediately fell in love with the coaching staff, the facilities. I’m from Pittsburgh, so it wasn’t far away,” he said.
He didn’t commit right away, but when he did you would have thought he’d joined the Baltimore Ravens, considering the reaction.
“When I first committed here, I got quite a bit, but it’s calmed down over the years,” he admitted, reasoning that one of the reasons is that the Backyard Brawl rivalry has died as the two schools have gone in different directions.
He admits he even felt some pressure about coming to WVU because of the reaction it might cause.
“It did (enter my mind). Before I committed, I was always having thoughts like maybe I should wait, maybe I should go to Pitt, but I don’t have second thoughts. Once I got it over with, I was happy with my decision and I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Kwiatkoski came to WVU after missing a couple of months of his senior high school season with a bad back, returning to help Bethel Park into the playoffs. He was a wide receiver and safety then, but WVU saw him as a linebacker.
“I came in kind of big for a safety, so I had an idea I was going to move to an outside linebacker,” he said.
Before the 2011 season Bill Stewart was fired as WVU coach and Dana Holgorsen took over, and a year later the defense changed, making him fit even more into a linebacker’s role.
After a redshirt year he played 12 games, starting one and has moved smoothly into the starting job this season under new defensive coordinator Keith Patterson.
Holgorsen had nothing but praise for his opening-game performance.
“He brings toughness. He’s a smart player,” the head coach said. “You know Darwin Cook was our MVP, but he was a close, close second. He’s a smart guy, he’s mature and he is physically impressive. He runs pretty good. He gives pop at the point of attack.”
More than pop, he brings an awareness to the position.
“He brings an understanding of the game, which for a linebacker is very important because you have to be able to sort things out mentally and you have to be able to react to things, trust what you see and get after it. We were very happy with his performance,” Holgorsen said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.