FSU ‘going to be exciting’

Robin Smith, executive director of the United Way, talks to Fairmont State head football coach Rusty Elliott as he holds her granddaughter, Audrie Smith, who is 4 1/2 months old. The Falcon coach gave his annual rundown to members of the Fairmont Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions clubs at Muriale’s Wednesday. Audrie is the daughter of Randy and Mary Smith.

Coach Rusty Elliott didn’t want to predict how his Fairmont State football team would do in the wins and losses column this fall.

But he did go as far as to say his team will be exciting.

If that’s true, that excitement may start tonight when the Fighting Falcons visit California (Pa.) University in a game to be shown on Fox Sports Pittsburgh (Channel 48 in Fairmont) on a tape-delay basis (11 p.m.).

The Falcon coach gave his annual rundown to members of the Fairmont Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions clubs at Muriale’s Wednesday. He paid special tribute to the 35 or 40 guys who came back during the summer on their own to be in better condition for the 2006 season.

About the 2006 season, Elliott said “the coaches are excited about it. We know we have challenges that face us, but all teams are facing challenges.

“They lifted; they ran; they made a commitment,” he said. “These young men came back on their own — paid their own bills — to try and help our program out. They’ve worked hard. And we later tested the young men on their running, jumping, agility, strength and endurance.

“I’ve been here 20 years,” he said, “and we are the strongest, the fastest, the most cardiovascular in-shape team we have ever had at Fairmont State. These guys came back with a mission.

“I don’t know how many games we’re going to win. I have no idea,” he said. “But I’ll tell you these guys are going to be exciting.”

Elliott believes his offense will be improved. He ran down the starters at various positions and noted the quarterback will be John Rahl.

“ He (Rahl) was thrown into a tough situation last year (with all the injuries). He has that Pittsburgh-tough attitude. We’ve just got to be patient with him. ... He’s going to make the wrong read, and he’ll call the wrong play at certain times. But he’s also going to stand in that pocket and deliver that ball.

“But the guy who’s going to take the team on his back this year is Wendell Johnson,” Elliott said. “He’s a great running back, and he’s a great person. He works the hardest of anyone on the team. If the team needs something, he’s going to do it.”

Elliott said that coach Mike Lopez, elevated to the title of assistant head coach during the summer, is in charge of the defense.

“He does a great job, but probably the best thing he does is get his players to play hard.” the head mentor said. “It’s like in a business. If you get your employees to work hard, your company is 10 times better this week than it was last week. If they keep working harder, your company will be that much better. That’s what Coach Lopez does.”

Elliott singled out the Geary twins — Brandon and Ben — both East Fairmont High School graduates. And he likened them to the twins on Fairmont State’s 1967 NAIA championship team — Larry and Barry Blackstone. Both play on the defensive line, and Brandon was on at least one pre-season All-America team.

He praised another set of brothers on the FSU team — Vince and Nate Black, both of whom will be starting at linebackers. They are Parkersburg Catholic graduates.

Another player receiving special mention was Jesse Valentine, also from East Fairmont.

“I don’t think there’s a better nose tackle in our league than Jesse Valentine,” Elliott said with the kind of pride that says, “I’m glad he’s on our team.”

He said Kyle Miller, who looks more like a student manager, is the quarterback of the defense at free safety.

“He does not look like a football player, but he’s a heck of a player. Watch No. 20, our free safety. He kind of gives hope for the little man. When he comes down to hit you, he does it with every ounce of strength in his body.”

Elliott said “we’ll be taking about 65 players up there Thursday, and all 65 guys may have a hand in this game.”

E-mail John Veasey at jcveasey@timeswv.com.

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