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WVU makes a splash at Big 12 media day

DALLAS - On Monday morning, West Virginia University mascot Jonathan Kimble was standing among his costumed peers inside the Westin Galleria when the Oklahoma Sooners arrived.

Three players and the Sooners' head coach made their way through the room when Kimble spoke.

"Hey, Oklahoma," he said with his rifle in one hand and the coonskin cap perched atop his head. "See you in Morgantown Nov. 17."

There were gasps and laughs, smiles and winces and then a reply from Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops.

"We'll be there," he said.

A day later, Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy was in the middle of his press conference when a hollering from the hallway shattered the respectful silence inside a room filled with journalists.

"Let's go, Mountaineers!"

Gundy flinched, ever so slightly, and continued. A few moments later, another interruption arrived from a room to the right.

It was Kimble and center Joe Madsen singing the WVU fight song.

"Some of the cheerleaders were having a competition for what we do for a touchdown," Madsen said.

"Well, I scored a touchdown, which was pretty exciting, so I spiked the ball and did a little dance and then the Mountaineer and I did some pushups and sang for everyone. It was fun."

This noise lasted a little longer, so Gundy was forced to speak over the song, which he did with more pride than problems.

"I handled that pretty well," he said. "That was a pressure situation there."

Let it be known the Mountaineers wasted no time causing trouble in the Big 12.

They came here with a purpose, and while they didn't intend to do it by singling out opponents or rattling coaches, they wanted their peers to know they were very much a part of this conference.

Being invited is one thing. Belonging is another.

"We all came out here knowing what our abilities are, so why not have that kind of swagger where we say what we feel and do what we want, but at the same time show respect and know it's an honor being in the Big 12," Madsen said.

Last week, quarterback Geno Smith was named the Big 12's preseason offensive player of the year. On the following day, the conference media picked WVU to finish second in its preseason poll. Those were heavy distinctions for a team new to the league and it spurred a natural curiosity about how WVU would manage.

Madsen had a sharp reply. On a day when people wanted to learn about who and what the Mountaineers are, a member of the Rimington Trophy watch list he wore his hair in a spiked Mohawk.

"One reason I like the guys on this team, and you can tell this just talking to the guys we had here, is they're confident," Holgorsen said. "They've been in big games. They're used to winning. That always gives you a chance."

Represented by Madsen, Smith, defensive end Will Clarke and receiver Tavon Austin, the Mountaineers were popular people who were surrounded constantly for interviews. They were asked again and again about how they'd fare in their first season in the Big 12. The replies shocked some people because WVU believes it can win the Big 12 and doesn't have any reservations about telling others.

"Who's to say who's going to believe it and who's to say we're going to go 12-0?" Smith said. "The only ones who control our fate, who control our destiny, is us. That's the best part of football. You can talk about it all day, but when it comes down to it, it's up to you and what you do between the lines."

This is where the Mountaineers either impressed or confused onlookers, but this is how they behave. They never said they will win the Big 12. They said they can win it. They believe if they simply do in a game what they do so well in practice, they'll be fine. Games aren't as much about what the opposition does as much as they are about what WVU does.

The Mountaineers happen to feel very comfortable with their plans and very confident they can execute those plans.

"I expect to win every game like I expect to complete every pass and make every read," Smith said. "Will that happen? No, but that's the standard I hold myself to. If you shoot for the moon, you may land among the stars."

If two days here served as any indication, the Mountaineers might be the most discussed team in the Big 12, which says something about a newcomer in a league that features the Sooners and Texas. Yet if someone wondered how the Mountaineers might deal with it or worried that the players or coaches might wilt, they got their answers in both words and in actions.

"We're excited to be here and we feel like we fit in pretty well with all these other schools," Kimble said. "Geographically? Not that much. But with everything else, we're right there with the rest of them."

That was the impression WVU left following their first interaction with the Big 12. They could have been boring or reserved, but opted instead for confident and lively. They could have deflected praise and said they'd neither proved nor earned anything, but they said they're worthy of what is theirs and capable of so much more.

"I'm always going to say what I feel because I've got a lot of confidence in myself," Austin said. "I know I'm a small guy, but at the end of the day, I know I can get it done. That's how Coach Holgorsen is, too. I look at him and see how he carries himself and it rubs off.

"I believe we can come out on top as long as we stay together. The defense works off the offense and the offense works of the defense. They've got our back and we've got theirs."

In so many ways, WVU made it sound easier this week than it will be during the season, but the players were also careful to showcase awareness for how challenging the future will be.

"As long as we win games, I think people will understand we belong," Smith said. "We're not coming into the conference with the mindset this is going to be easy, but we do have high expectations and we do know it's going to be a long, grinding season and it's going to be a grueling test of our wills that will tax our bodies and minds."

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

 


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