West Virginia has three WPIAL starters
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — While Pitt does not have any West Virginia natives on its roster, the Mountaineers have nine players from the Western Pennsylvania area.
Three of those players, former Seneca Valley lineman Don Barclay, former McKeesport standout Anthony Leonard and former Norwin two-sport star Tyler Urban, start for West Virginia.
For those three, the Backyard Brawl has more meaning than it does for others on West Virginia's roster.
"I never really understood the rivalry until I got to West Virginia," said Leonard, who admitted to being a Penn State fan growing up. "When we lost to Pitt in 2007, though, I really got it."
Urban, who said he was a Pitt fan growing up, has many friends on the Panthers' roster including former high school teammate Mike Shanahan. The tight end said he and Shanahan — Pitt's second-leading receiver — talked on the phone earlier this week, but that those conversations would cease until after Friday's game.
"We're still friends, but when we play, it's West Virginia and Pittsburgh," Urban said with a laugh. "Now that it's work time, communication with him stops."
Leonard, who played in the 2007 "Backyard Brawl" but missed the last two games, is excited to start in his first game versus his hometown team.
"I'm anxious. This will be the first Backyard Brawl that I will have a big role in," he said.
Other Mountaineers from the Pittsburgh area include: Hunter Bittner (Norwin), Will Clarke (Allderdice), Pat Eger (Thomas Jefferson), James O'Quinn (Kiski Area), Kei Pasch'l (Penn Hills) and Thomas Sims (Mt. Lebanon).
• West Virginia has had less success recruiting the Pittsburgh area in recent years with the improvement of the Pitt program. Last year, the Mountaineers did not have a recruit from the area. In the offseason, WVU hired former UConn assistant David McMichael, who has taken over the Western Pennsylvania recruiting area. Bethel Park defensive back Nick Kwiatkoski is the lone recruit from the Pittsburgh area who has made a verbal commitment to West Virginia in this year's recruiting class. "Winning period, winning on TV and certainly winning against a team where you recruit from is huge," said offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. "We recruit Western Pennsylvania fairly hard."
• West Virginia had a team Thanksgiving dinner Tuesday night to allow for the rest of the week to stay with the schedule.
• Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart said sophomore running back Shawne Alston might receive more carries against Pitt on Friday. Alston has 30 carries for 143 yards, with 23 of those carries coming in the last two games