Mountaineers get fresh start after star quarterback White's graduation
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia's football team took its first step in the post-Pat White era Saturday, as fall camp began for the Mountaineers.
WVU, which returns every coach on its staff from last year, six defensive starters and a strong group of skill-position players such as running back Noel Devine and slot receiver Jock Sanders, practiced for the first time without its heart and soul of the past four years.
The absence of White, the NCAA's all-time leading rushing quarterback and the first QB to start and win four bowl games, leaves a giant hole in West Virginia's offense. In his shadow stands fifth-year senior Jarrett Brown, who is 2-0 in starts during his career while White was injured.
WVU coach Bill Stewart said Sunday he has always been one of Brown's "biggest fans."
"We have a quarterback everyone knows can pitch and catch pretty well," Stewart said. "This is his time to shine. Will he• I don't know. I hope he does."
Brown said Saturday's practice was "a lot different" without White leading the first-team offense.
"I'm playing a lot more and taking on the (leadership) role," Brown said. "If we lose, that is on me, and if we win, that is on me. That is the thing about being the quarterback; I am always going to get the blame or the praise."
Brown said going up against a defense with the likes of senior linebacker Reed Williams and junior linebacker J.T. Thomas and a defensive line featuring Johnny Dingle and Chris Neild during practice makes this year's camp a competitive environment.
Brown and the rest of his teammates will have to step up their game because they are not the Big East Conference favorite heading into the season for the first time since 2005. That nod went to Pitt in the conference's preseason poll.
West Virginia was not ranked in the preseason USA Today coaches poll for the first time since 2005, either.
Despite the lowered national expectations heading into the season, the rankings snub didn't seem to bother Devine, who was named to the Doak Walker Award candidate list Wednesday.
"None of that matters to us," said Devine, WVU's leading returning rusher. "We are just focused on our team and trying to get everything situated. From what I see, we have a great team."
Notes: True freshman quarterback Eugene Smith, who broke his left foot in an off-field incident this summer, is practicing in a non-contact green jersey but is able to throw and run. ... Tevita Finau, who had been expected to compete for playing time on the defensive line this fall, is not in camp. Stewart said Finau has academic and personal issues to settle before joining the team. ... Ex-Norwin star Tyler Urban has continued to progress after a solid spring. Urban finished his freshman year last season with two touchdown receptions, the most a tight end has caught at WVU since 2003.