Down Pat

Unable to play football for several weeks, Pat Lazear has had ample time to grow a wild, scraggly beard and a shaggy hairdo. Both are unkempt by design -- a sign of just how long it's been since he sustained a severe bone bruise towards the end of preseason practice. But now the WVU linebacker is focused solely on trying to salvage something from a senior year that has not gone according to plan.

For the first time since getting injured when teammate Robert Sands inadvertently "leg-whipped" him in practice in August, Lazear spoke with the media after participating in practice Tuesday evening.

He recalled the pain he felt when the incident occurred -- and said, all things considered, he was actually quite fortunate.

"My leg was planted, and [Sands] just hit mine backwards," Lazear said. "It hyperextended it.

"I was screaming bloody hell. It was pretty painful. Right after it happened, they did the Lachman test [commonly used to diagnose ACL tears] and all the different ligament tests, so I knew nothing was fully torn. So, worst case scenario, I was looking at a meniscus. That didn't tear.

"So I'm pretty happy with what happened. Me being out five, six weeks sucks. But I'm happy that I can still play football."

Indeed, Lazear saw action for the first time this season, albeit in a very limited role, in WVU's 20-14 loss at LSU almost two weeks ago.

While much talk has been focused on whether the senior is truly in "game shape" he said that is not an issue. Lazear said he is at "about 99 percent" of his pre-injury level of play.

That renewed strength has come as the result of some lengthy, arduous rehabilitation sessions with West Virginia strength coach Mike Joseph. Now, Lazear is focused totally on attempting to return to action full-time.

"The hardest part right now [is] not knowing if I'm playing or not," he said. "I've been through all the hard [stuff]. That's already happened. Now it's smooth sailing, hopefully."

But finding his way back into the rotation may be easier said than done. Lazear came into fall camp as the presumptive starter at middle linebacker. But once his injury occurred, fellow senior Anthony Leonard moved from the strong side to that position.

Leonard has played well in the middle through the first four games of the season -- so well, in fact, that it caused Lazear to question what would be best for the team as he returned to health.

"That's a funny story, because usually, when a starter gets hurt, they walk right back in and take their spot over," said the Bethesda, Md., native. "I'm in a tough situation, because I don't want to take away from Anthony's reps in practice, because he's killing it on the field. He's doing a great job. So is Najee [Goode, who took Leonard's spot as the starting strong-side linebacker].

"So it's tough trying to, you know, find my way back and get in there, but they're supportive of it. They're trying to get me reps. It's going well."

While Lazear and Leonard could ultimately end up rotating between the strong-side and middle linebacker positions a bit more than usual, Lazear is still focused mainly on his role in the middle.

How much each player will play at each spot is ultimately up to WVU defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jeff Casteel.

"Casteel's the man with the plan," Lazear said, noting that the veteran Mountaineer assistant coach had yet to divulge that "plan" to him. "I'm just an executor."

For now, then, Lazear will continue to deal with a bit of uncertainty about what the coming weeks -- his last weeks as a college football player -- have in store for him. While the senior claims to feel strong, he admits he still can't work the injured leg as much as he would like to.

"I've already done a lot of the rehab," Lazear said. "I'm working on strength right now. I can't work it too hard, though, or it will swell up on me again and I'll be out another two weeks -- not in terms of pain or lack of anything, just swelling. So there's some movement issues."

Through what has admittedly been a difficult first few weeks of the season, the multidisciplinary studies major has had the help of both his football family and his real family -- something that has, to a certain extent, eased the sting of losing a significant chunk of his senior season to injury.

"My team has been very supportive of me," Lazear said. "I've got guys asking me how I'm doing every day. My family has been supportive. My coaches have been supportive."

"It never goes as planned, though. That's just part of life. You've got to bounce back from what you get."

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