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WVU football: Casteel is excited by new challenges as practice starts

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Jeff Casteel has twice - that the public knows of - had the opportunity to leave West Virginia and become the defensive coordinator and work at another BCS conference school.

In 2008, he decided against joining staff at the University of Michigan. In January, Casteel declined an offer to take over the defense at Vanderbilt University.

For a guy about to begin his 11th season with the Mountaineers - and 10th as defensive coordinator - when practice begins today, there has been incentive to leave.

"I just didn't think either time that it was going to be the right situation for me," Casteel said. "So I decided to stay."

Rodriguez hired Casteel in 2001, promoted him to co-defensive coordinator in 2002 and then the exclusive position a year later.

He could've been the defensive coordinator at Michigan in 2008 with much of his staff from WVU, but chose to stay and work with Bill Stewart, with whom he had a history.

This offseason was unique. Dana Holgorsen came in December and eventually replaced the offensive coaching staff.

In June, he was promoted to replace Stewart, who resigned in the middle of a mess that questioned his spirit of cooperation.

In between, Casteel was courted by Coach James Franklin at Vanderbilt. Franklin and Casteel squared off when Franklin was coaching receivers and quarterbacks and running the offense at the University of Maryland.

Then there was Herb Hand, the Vanderbilt offensive line coach who worked with Casteel from 2001-06 at WVU.

He would sleep in Casteel's basement on recruiting trips when Hand recruited the eastern panhandle while at Concord and Glenville State and Casteel was at Shepherd.

Again, Casteel remained in Morgantown.

"It still goes back to my family still being here in West Virginia and where I just thought it was a good situation for me," said Casteel, whose wife is from Paden City and whose son and daughter are beginning their junior and freshman years at University High School. "You really get tied to the players, too, so I just didn't think the time was right again."

Family was part of the process, but football couldn't be ignored, either. The defensive staff members signed new contracts, with Casteel getting a raise and a three-year contract and the other three assistants getting raises and two-year deals. Yet the transition was forced upon them and it was easy for outsiders to project a division between the new and the old.

Whatever the reality, Casteel - who has crafted a career that has taken him from a Miami high school to the WVC to UTEP and ultimately WVU - didn't run away. He ran to it to overcome it.

"It's a challenge when you take a look at the things that have gone on over the last eight or nine months, but we have a great staff of coaches here and some really good guys," he said. "I really like the fact we're all on the same page and we've got experienced guys everywhere.

"We enjoy working with each other. It was a situation where we thought we'd stay together and we'll do what we need to do to be successful. It's going to be interesting to go about that, but I think we have a good plan and I'm excited to get it going now."

Casteel, who generally dismisses statistics and cares only about wins and scoring defense, added to his expanding resume last season. The Mountaineers finished ranked No. 3 nationally in total defense, No. 2 in rush defense, No. 2 in sacks, No. 11 in pass defense, No. 2 in third down defense and No. 3 in scoring defense.

He also lost seven starters to graduation - four were drafted - and five other regulars.

The depth chart with which he begins this season has a first team with just 86 career starts and seven players who would essentially be first-time starters.

"You'd like to have everyone back every year, but obviously that's not going to happen, but I think it's a good challenge that the kids are interested in attacking," Casteel said. "I think they want to continue to try and play well defensively."

Once again, Casteel wouldn't run away from what awaits him. He is inspired for what the next month holds.

"He's always like that," Hand said. "He'll poor-mouth things and maybe make them sound bad, but he always knows what he has to do to make them better."

These Mountaineers, who open the season Sept. 4 at home against Marshall, won't have the experience that last year's group was blessed with, particularly in the secondary. They'll be fast, but even they admit they'll be smaller and lighter up front and expect opponents will try something they usually avoid and run the ball at WVU to test the size and experience up front.

Casteel said none of that is new to him or to the Mountaineers. They've never been a particularly big team, especially up front, relying more on developing players. Casteel and his staff also have made a point to recruit agile players who could move fast and cover the field and tackle in space, so speed isn't new either.

Casteel starts from the ground floor and moves as fast as the players and their ability to comprehend and apply will allow.

"Each year there's a different personality and a different way that you try to highlight those kids, but that's what's most important the next month," he said. "We've got to find a good mix of guys who understand their roles and how they can help us win football games. All the new faces we're going to have, I still think we have some kids who can play. They just haven't had the bright light on them yet. It'll be interesting to see if they can react."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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