MCT REGIONAL NEWS
By Ed Owens
The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.
Aug. 14--At this time last year, Najee Goode was the young blood. He was the new player trying to break in at linebacker for the WVU football team and, after a preseason injury to Pat Lazear, he was the f i r s t -- ye a r starter trying to find his footing in defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's scheme. A lot has changed since then. Goode started 11 games and was the primary strong-side linebacker for the Mountaineers in 2010. He finished eighth on the team with 47 tackles and third with 8 1/2 tackles for loss. And with the departure of Lazear, J.T. Thomas and Anthony Leonard, Goode is now the veteran presence, looking to set the tone for the next generation of WVU linebackers.
"It's a little different because I've completely flipped roles," Goode said. "I was playing with a bunch of guys who all knew what they were doing. Right now, guys like Doug (Rigg), Tyler (Anderson) and Casey (Vance) are picking up on it, but I'm helping instruct them and being a leader."
It's a role Goode has embraced. He's the only returning linebacker with extensive experience. In fact, none of the other Mountaineers on the roster have a single start to their credit. Sophomore Rigg, projected as the starter on the strong side, played in a reserve role last year while Josh Francis (weak side), played junior-college ball at Lackawanna (Pa.) College.
"Right now, I'm just taking what I've learned and teaching it to the younger guys," Goode said. "I'm teaching them to pay attention to key things before the play and what to watch while the play is going on.
"I don't mind that at all. I kind of like it. I see what guys like Reed (Williams), Mortty Ivy and (Marc) Magro used to do with us and that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to fill the same role."
One of Goode's greatest strengths is his versatility. He's proved he can be successful on the strong side, but his knowledge of the defense makes him an ideal candidate to play the middle, where he would be responsible for making on-field calls before each snap.
The ability to move Goode around frees things up for Casteel, who is still looking to identify the other two starters.
"Najee is a guy who is a strong kid who can run and he is going to be a leader in our linebacker room," Casteel said. "The only issue with him is that I don't know exactly where we're going to play him yet. He could be a 'Mike' (middle), a 'Will' (weak-side) or a 'Sam' (strong-side), like he was last year. That's basically going to depend on the other kids."
Goode has been playing the middle since spring practice and said he enjoys it there. He has more responsibility and more control, and is in more of a position to lead the linebackers, helping him anchor the middle of WVU's defense.
"Najee Goode is a really good football player," WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "He's a leader, he's playing well and has proven to be pretty good. He is the ringleader out there."
Freshmen take lead
Saturday's practice didn't help sort out the running back battle. Instead, WVU's running backs continue to rise to the occasion as they fight for the open starting spot.