How long has Scooter Berry been waiting to play another football game? Well, West Virginia last played on Jan. 2 in a Fiesta Bowl rout over Oklahoma.

“As soon as the last game ended, I just started thinking about the next season,” said Berry, a returning starter at defensive tackle for West Virginia. “I need it, and I really didn’t even play in spring ball and I didn’t like that either, I want to play.”

That chance will finally come on Saturday when the Mountaineers open the 2008 campaign by hosting Villanova. The schedule gets tougher, with non-league tilts with East Carolina, Colorado and Auburn on tap this season.

“We’ve got a pretty tough schedule, but we’re all human,” Berry said. “We all came from the same place, but I’m just ready to get out there and play.”

Berry, a redshirt sophomore from North Babylon, N.Y., is the lone returnee on the defensive line for the Mountaineers. Selected to a pair of freshman All-America teams after last season, Berry had 27 tackles last year, along with 4 1/2 tackles for loss.

He was anxious to start hitting people before contact drills began earlier this month. He can finally starting hitting unfamiliar faces in a few days.

“I think on every play everybody is going 110 percent and looking real good.” Berry said. “I treat every day like it’s live, pads or no pads.”

One year ago Berry was the newcomer in a veteran cast that included Keilen Dykes and Johnny Dingle. Both of them have departed, leaving Berry as the elder statesman on a young defensive line.

“It does feel kind of weird because I am so used to them being there,” said Berry, whose half-brother is West Virginia redshirt tailback Jason Gwaltney. “I’m so used to being the younger guy and now I’m playing that mentor, big brother role.

“It is kind of weird, but at the same time I like it. But I miss those guys.”

Among the replacements joining Berry on the interior line are Chris Neild and Zac Cooper, along with Julian Miller, Pat Liebig, Larry Ford and Doug Slavonic.

“We lost two great guys last year, but I think we’re going to be really decent on the defensive line, a lot better than people thought,” Berry said.

The grunt work done by those players makes it possible for linebackers like Reed Williams, Mortty Ivy and J.T. Thomas to make the headlines by making big plays.

“Definitely, that’s our job,” Berry said. “Our linebackers are great and if we can hold up the blocks and get them through the holes they’re going to do it.”

Just days into fall practice, Berry noticed an immediate benefit from the arrival of new strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph at West Virginia.

“First and foremost, I want to commend Mike Joseph because it looks real good out there,” said the 6-foot-1, 288-pound Berry. “Everybody is in shape, they’re running faster to the ball, everybody is looking real good.

“The athletic part is there, we’ve just got to run the playbook.”

That’s just part of the difference that Berry has seen in the Bill Stewart regime compared to the departed Rich Rodriguez.

“It feels real different, but it feels different in terms of being in shape,” said Berry, who had three fumble recoveries last season, and a season-best six tackles against Louisville. “That’s why I commend Mike Joseph.

“It’s been like that all summer, it’s making us feel like this in camp. I think if he had been here last summer we probably would have felt the same way. Things are a little different, better. I like it. I’m enjoying it.”

Much has been made about the changes that West Virginia will be making with its offense this season. Berry has seen a hint of the innovations, and is glad his defense isn’t playing against the ‘Eers offense.

“The defense is always going to be faster than the offense learning in any level because the offense is way more complex than the defense,” said Berry, four days into camp. “The (offensive) guys out there are learning and it’s a little different, they’re doing a lot of motion and crazy stuff like that, but we’re not really preparing for them as a team.”

Berry, who ran for 1,341 yards and 20 touchdowns during his prep career, and added 68 tackles and seven sacks as a senior, never wavered from his commitment to West Virginia. Gwaltney also committed to the Mountaineers, but was dismissed from the team. He has returned, but will have to redshirt this season.

“These were the first guys that recruited me and my brother and after I committed to West Virginia, a lot of other schools started focusing on me,” Berry said. “I didn’t pay them any attention because this place felt all right for me and it worked out perfect for me, no complaints at all.”

He also won’t complain if his primary wish is granted.

“To win, that’s it, win,” Berry said. “I don’t care how we win, how pretty, how dirty, just win. That’s it, from August to January.”

Contact Brian Woodson at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

Trending Video

Recommended for you