If you ask him you’ll learn that there are things Ryan Stanchek would rather do than lose to Cincinnati.

Eating a bowl of live wiggling, slithering worms for breakfast would be one such thing.

So would walking across a bed of hot coals on his bare feet.

Or swimming through a school of hungry piranhas in the Amazon River.

See, there’s nothing West Virginia University’s All-America offensive guard can think of that would be worse than losing to his hometown team.

“I kind of know what it would be like,” he said Tuesday night. “The year I was being recruited, West Virginia lost to Cincinnati. People were all over me. I couldn’t live with that.”

That would have been the 2003 game, a rather forgettable evening when the weather was as uncooperative as the Bearcats, who won on a late field goal a year after having lost to WVU when a last-second field goal barely missed.

That is the only loss WVU has ever suffered at the paws of the Bearcats, having won 14 times and tied once in a series that dates back to 1921.

Stanchek grew up in Cincinnati, played all too often at Nippert Stadium, which is Cincinnati’s home stadium. It sits there hidden away in the middle of campus, and when Stanchek was being recruited it was, shall we say, a rather dismal place.

Cincinnati’s then head coach Rick Minter pushed hard to land Stanchek, who admits the Bearcats were in his top three schools. Minter tried to sell Stanchek how they were hoping to join the Big East, about how their facilities would grow and get better, about how bright the future was.

Then Minter was fired and Mike Dantoni took over.

The move was made right after Stanchek had made his mind up to leave home to grow as a person and announced he was coming to West Virginia. No more eating at Abby’s, a local eatery in Cincinnati where he spent a whole lot of time.

Why not? The price was right. It was Abby’s Bar and Grill, and Abby just happens to be Ryan Stanchek’s mother. He ate there and he worked there, when he wasn’t blocking people for Cincinnati LaSalle.

Somewhere in the back of his mind he has to wonder what if he had stayed and Cincinnati and been a part of the growth that program has had. He liked Dantoni.

“He sent me a really nice letter when I decided not to take the Cincinnati offer,” Stanchek remembers.

While he doesn’t recall exactly what it said, he knows it wasn’t a form letter kind of thing, that it was written personally in Dantoni’s hand.

At West Virginia, Stanchek found a new home and enough good restaurants to keep his weight right there around 300 pounds.

If he missed the ride at Cincinnati, he took a pretty good one at WVU.

“How many guys can say they’ve played in two BCS games?,” he noted.

Maybe three, and he will be able to say that he was a crucial part of the success that Rich Rodriguez had here in his time and that Bill Stewart is now enjoying.

He was a crucial part of it because he is a special player and person, something Dave Johnson, his third offensive line coach in his time at the school, learned in less than a year of coaching him.

“He’s relentless,” Johnson answered, when asked to explain to describe Stanchek. “That’s the word I would use to describe him. He is who is he is all the time. What you see is what you get.”

And what you see is a soft spoken, intelligent, driven young man, who will “yes, sir” and “no, sir” you.

“His family did a good job with him,” Johnson said.

So, apparently, did his coaches, because he takes less than the greatest athletic ability and uses it to its utmost.

“He’s athletic enough,” Johnson said. “He outworks people. He’s always attentive. In meetings, he’s on the edge of his seat. He knows how to play the game and plays it the way it is supposed to be played. He’s a great example for young players.”

Stanchek has stayed trouble free at WVU, made good grades, earned a degree in physical education and is working on a master’s degree in special education, hoping some day to become a coach.

Put that together with earning first-team All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America and second team from the Sporting News (while not getting any all-Big East mention, if you can figure that out), and you have something special, and Stewart knows it.

“He’s been absolutely awesome,” Stewart told a Cincinnati writer the other day. “If you have any more of those over in that GCL (Greater Cincinnati League), if there’s Ryan Stancheks out there that Ohio State and Cincinnati don’t want, please, please call me. I’ll drive over and pick ’em up, and I’ll buy you dinner.

“He’s just a class act, and Cincinnati ought to be proud of him.”

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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