Mountaineers shaping up for fast-paced Big 12 teams

| Friday, June 22, 2012, 7:54 p.m.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Summer workouts are important for any school, but this year they are taking on a new meaning at West Virginia.

“I want to play as many plays as possible without dying,” sophomore linebacker Jared Barber said.

The Big 12 has a lot to do with that.

The Mountaineers defense will be playing against more up-tempo, fast-paced offenses this season and will have to be in better physical condition than last season.

“With the Big 12, we're going to be playing a lot more plays on offense and defense,” Barber said. “Our conditioning is going to have to be a lot better from the Big East. They're definitely hitting on the conditioning part. It's definitely harder from last summer and winter workouts, but we're taking it pretty well.”

Last season, West Virginia's defense played 920 plays in 13 games, averaging 70.8 plays per game. The Big 12 opponents on West Virginia's 2012 schedule averaged 74.9 plays per game last season.

Oklahoma led the conference at 80.9 plays per game, and other spread teams in the conference such as Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State were in the high 70-plays per game range. The Mountaineers have to be prepared for more plays with less rest in between.

Still, West Virginia's offseason conditioning program has mostly remained the same, but the players seem to have a different attitude. The move to a conference on a grander stage has motivated them to work harder.

“I think it has everything to do with that,” said defensive end Will Clarke, an Allderdice product. “We care about the high expectations, but we have high expectations for ourselves. We would like to come in and be successful.”

It holds even more importance for a player like Sean Walters. The freshman safety from Hallandale, Fla., enrolled at West Virginia for spring practice and saw firsthand the speed of college offenses.

He's going through his first summer workouts and understands the importance of being in the best possible shape.

“I just got a glimpse at it in the spring,” Walters said. “It's so up-tempo, and everything's so fast paced. We've just been drilling ourselves trying to get better conditioning-wise. It's going to really be helpful in the end.

“Playing teams like Oklahoma State, Baylor, fast-paced teams like that, you just have to give it everything you've got at all times. You need to be in shape to do that.”

West Virginia has incorporated something new in its workout regimen. While skill positions participate in 7-on-7 drills, the linemen do extra work through boxing.

One player puts on the gloves and punches while another holds the pads to be hit. This workout, implemented during spring, is designed to get a lineman's hands and feet in sync while providing extra conditioning.

That extra conditioning is crucial. Upperclassmen are making sure everyone is taking summer workouts seriously.

“There's not going to be anyone on the opposing team telling you to pick it up,” Clarke said. “They'll just run right past you.”

Josh Sickles is a freelance writer.

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