MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Isaiah Bruce sat in his hotel room at Lakeview Golf Resort & Spa the night of Aug. 31, his college debut just one night's sleep away, and went through the scouting report on Marshall one last time.
"I didn't know what to expect about my first game," the redshirt freshman linebacker said. "I wanted to do anything I could to make sure I played as sharply as possible."
He turned off the lights and slipped under the covers, finally granting his roommate for the night, linebacker Shaq Petteway, a reprieve so they could get their rest.
Petteway had played a college game before. He'd seen Marshall as a true freshman last year. He'd run out onto the turf at Mountaineer Field. He'd made plays in the Orange Bowl.
Bruce redshirted in 2011. Though he'd locked down a starting spot as the Sam linebacker, he hadn't played a real football game since guiding Jacksonville, Fla.'s Providence High to its first playoff berth in 2010.
So he stirred in bed and thought about what would happen against the Thundering Herd. Never did he dream, or dare to dream, about making the 16 tackles he would make.
"Not even close," he said. "That was a pretty good start."
Pretty good, yes, but do you know what's better than 16 tackles? Twenty-one tackles.
"If he played a little more under control, he would have had more than 20 tackles," said WVU's linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator, Keith Patterson. "He missed five tackles where he was totally out of control."
Consider that James Madison, the fifth-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision that plays No. 9 WVU at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at FedEx Field, has missed 10 tackles in its 2-0 start.
"I'm probably harder on him than anybody else on the field," Patterson said. "But you can see it in him. It's not about what he is right now. It's about what he can become."
Bruce fits Patterson's vision of a middle linebacker in this defense. He's rangy at 6-foot-1, with long arms and strides that let him make tricky plays in the open space opposing defenses try to create. Bruce ran the 110-meter high hurdles early in his high school career before switching to the 300 intermediates. He won a state title as a junior and could have run on scholarship in college had he not retired after his championship.