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WVU

WVU embraces football expectations

| Friday, March 2, 2007

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Rather than try to tone down expectations at West Virginia following back-to-back 11-win seasons, football coach Rich Rodriguez welcomed them at the start of spring drills.

"We've had the hype and expectations before, so it's kind of old news and old hat," Rodriguez said Thursday at Milan Puskar Stadium. "It's kind of good for our program, because with that comes a certain level of work. If our players want to be projected or perceived as a top-five or a top-10 program, then that's a commitment they have to make."

With consensus All-American Steve Slaton and Big East Offensive Player of the Year Pat White returning to the backfield for their junior seasons, West Virginia is ranked in the top 10 of most preseason polls.

"It's hopefully to the point where the hype and big expectations are no longer big news," Rodriguez said. "It's not big news at some of the other programs at Florida, Texas and USC. I almost sense now that its not as big of a deal to be projected to finish high and be ranked highly. I certainly don't sense it among our players."

Rodriguez, who signed a $1.75 million contract three months ago, announced a series of upgrades designed to keep the program moving forward.

He said work has begun on the new $2 million academic center for athletes, new stadium artificial turf would be installed this spring, and the locker room would be gutted and replaced with a new $4 million facility at the end of the upcoming season.

Rodriguez said he wants to build on the momentum of a 22-3 record the past two seasons, back-to-back top-10 finishes and four consecutive New Year's Day bowls.

The Mountaineers open spring drills Monday and conclude April 7 with the Gold-Blue game.

Rodriguez, who said he'll use spring drills to experiment with schemes and personnel, announced the following player moves:

• White will split time as the first-team quarterback with Jarrett Brown, who started and led the team to a 41-39 victory over Rutgers that lifted the Mountaineers into the Gator Bowl.

• Slaton will catch passes and run during spring drills but will be held out of contact following wrist surgery.

• Fullback Owen Schmitt will play tight end in addition to his duties as one of the Big East's best blocking fullbacks.

• Kicker Pat McAfee of Plum will continue in his dual role as punter.

• Offensive linemen Frank Carduff (knee), Greg Isdaner (shoulder) and Jake Miller (hernia) will be held out following surgeries, along with linebacker Marc Magro (knee).

• Jeannette's Mike Dent will get the opportunity to replace All-American center Dan Mozes. "He was the backup last year, and he's gotten stronger," Rodriguez said.

• Quarterback Nate Sowers, wideout Jetavious Best and running back Eddie Davis will get the opportunity to replace wide receiver Brandon Myles.

"Nate is too good for us to have him watching the game (behind quarterbacks White and Brown)," Rodriguez said. "Our defensive coaches would love to have him, but he's one of our top four wide receivers. He's a starting wide receiver right now, so we'll see how the spring progresses.

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