WVU football: Hope finds comfort at linebacker
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- There are generic goals for spring football practice around the country, whether for finding starters at positions or positions for players, and the situation isn't unique for Garrett Hope between his freshman and sophomore seasons at West Virginia.
Hope played 12 games in 2012, mostly on special teams before carving out some playing time on defense late in the season. The plan now for defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is to find a full-time spot for Hope among the linebackers. Someone else can make tackles covering kickoffs.
Late last week, just before the Mountaineers departed for spring break, he put Hope in the middle of the 3-4 at the Will spot after watching him play outside at the Buck position last season. Patterson told Hope he won't move Hope again before the end of the spring and hopes the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder doesn't need to be moved after preseason practice.
"You don't have a 320-pound guy coming outside to block you, but you don't have the really quick receivers on the inside that you have to tackle in space," Hope said. "I like that. I like to hit linemen and get underneath them and stuff like that and I like not tackling in space - but who doesn't?"
And who doesn't go through something similar, or even identical, at countless campuses this time of the year?
There's still something unusual about Hope's experiment.
He's a quiet kid from The Woodlands, Texas, and a conversation with him, one filled with his compliments about teammates and coaches around him and the goals they have for 2013, would never hint at the very different form he takes on the field.
"My mentality during the game is I just want to kill everybody," he said. "I could say that I'm crazy during the game."
Patterson has to isolate that trait and bring it out during the spring so that Hope can take on and take out the linemen intent on flattening Hope, so that Hope can chase down and take down running backs, so that Hope can control the chaos in a much smaller space.
"During practices, going against your buddies, it's a little different," Hope said. "I can't get fired up to hit my buddies, but I definitely need to start practicing how I play. I've been going faster and taking every single rep 100 percent."
Patterson, the linebackers coach who tutored Hope last season and oversees the entire defense now, has his ways.
"He's good at what he does," Hope said. "He gets in your head for reasons you have no idea, but whenever he's in your head, you know you need to get going."
The Mountaineers aren't hung upon their most recent past, but they're well aware of just how badly they played on defense last season. They're honest about what went wrong and many players have accepted blame.
They've had plenty of help remembering the depths of 2012, though, when WVU finished with a 7-6 record and ranked No. 108 in total defense, No. 114 in scoring defense and No. 118 in pass defense.
"We have this chart we look at and it's a mountain that shows all the Big 12 teams defensively last year and shows us around the bottom at No. 8," Hope said. "Coach Patterson said something, something pretty funny, about Kansas being right behind us. That pretty much embarrassed us."
The whole thing bothers Hope, who just isn't used to losing. He helped The Woodlands High School to 12-2 and 10-1 records his final two seasons.
"We were pretty close to a losing record last year and I don't think I ever had that many losses in my entire life," Hope said. "Down in Texas, if we would have been that close to a losing record, I feel like people would have just given up."
Hope doesn't believe that's happened at WVU. He thinks the struggles last season and the repeated reminders have actually made the returning players closer and possibly even better.
"It definitely made me mad," he said.
In his past, Hope has made the most of being mad. In 2011, The Woodlands was undefeated with five games left in the regular season before losing to Lufkin by 30 points. The Highlanders won their next four games by a combined score of 175-0.
They made the Class 5A state quarterfinals and Hope was his district's defensive player of the year and honorable mention all-state. Patterson hopes to capture and sharpen that edge in the middle this spring.
"I think he thinks that I'm a physical guy and he wants a physical presence inside," Hope said. "Linebackers on the outside are dodging and ducking people and stuff like that. Guys on the inside fit people up and have to be the most hard-nosed guys. I feel like I'm one of those guys."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.