By Mickey Furfari

For the Times West Virginian



MORGANTOWN — Will Johnson, who has a minor foot sprain, hoped to get back into a regulation white jersey for Thursday’s afternoon practice session.

The 6-2, 217-pound sophomore from Centerville, Ohio, is battling for the hybrid fullback/tight end position which departed Owen Schmitt handled so well the past two seasons.

“I ran around practicing today,” he said. “The foot is a little sore, but it’s OK.”

Johnson said he has put on some weight since spring practice. He has been working on blocking techniques and feels that he has come a long way in those.

“Once I get over the injuries, I’ll be fine. Blocking can be difficult at times, but I keep working hard at it. It’s toughness, and your technique comes into play, too. But you just have to be tough. You have to fill out the block.”

Johnson likes the new offense.

“We have increased the passing game, so we’re making more downfield plays and we’re trying to open up the offense more,” he said. “It will give the defenses something else to focus on besides Pat (White) and Noel (Devine).”

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Ellis Lankster, senior cornerback who played junior-college football, feels good being a leader in the WVU secondary.

That’s because all of the younger D-backs look up to him as a leader and he, in turn, tries to help them in their development.

“They will ask me how to do certain things or how Coach (Dave) Lockwood coaches,” he said.

“Coach Lockwood and I get along well. He’s a very good coach, and if you play the way he teaches you, you are going to play.”

Lankster said people back home in Whistler, Ala., treat him very well.

“Everyone tells me they’re proud of me,” he explained. “They say I’ve come a long way, and I think I have.”

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Wide receiver Tito Gonzales, a holdover starter, says the most drastic change under the new coaching staff is that the atmosphere is a lot better.

“It’s a lot more relaxed around here,” he observed, “and it’s not too tense. You don’t worry about making mistakes which you do inevitably (at times).”

Gonzales, one of the leading pass-catchers last year, said everything boils down to consistency and hard work.

“I have to go out there and practice, work hard every day, and make plays.

“The quarterbacks feel comfortable with throwing the ball to me in games, and the coaches feel comfortable calling my number. I think that’s the biggest thing — be consistent and work hard each day.”

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