Sobering Moment

When it was announced that Rutgers junior Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down after a hit in his team's game with Army on Saturday, it sent shockwaves across the entire college football world. Those were felt at West Virginia as well.

"My heart really goes out to Greg Schiano and the entire Rutgers family over Eric LeGrand," said WVU head coach Bill Stewart. "That's a tough situation for Eric and for the LeGrand family, the Rutgers family and just college football in general.

"It's a sad occasion when we see injuries. We're hoping and praying. The guys, we talked about that Sunday. I received a call Saturday night and my heart's been thinking about him ever since."

Talk of LeGrand's situation led to some philosophical questions to Stewart about the nature of the game of football and how it has evolved since the Mountaineer head man's days as a player in the early 1970s.

He conceded that significant injuries seem to be on the rise as players continue to become bigger, stronger and faster, but seemed to suggest there was no easy answer to what has become a disturbingly common problem.

"It's become a game that's sometimes maybe a little too physical," Stewart said.

"Football is a great, great game. And it's, in my opinion, America's game ... it's a game of people, bodies moving and masses hitting. That's the problem: these young people are getting so large, so strong, so physical, and the key word here is ‘explosive.'"

The third-year West Virginia head coach said he had not seen the hit that paralyzed LeGrand "because I don't want to watch Eric's play." But he predicted further scrutiny caused by incidents like LeGrand's may ultimately lead to safety improvements in the game.

"It's just tough," Stewart said. "But the head in the game is a very specific point people are looking at, like our Dr. Julian Bailes [of the Brain Injury Research Institute] here, the noted neurologist. It will continue to get studied because of situations like what happened here."


While the hyperbole has come to at least a temporary halt for Syracuse after it was on the wrong end of a 45-14 beating at home against Pitt on Saturday, Stewart stuck to his guns when saying the SU program is on its way back to respectability.

Of course, the facts bear him out. After winning just 10 games in the last four seasons of Greg Robinson's tenure as head coach, the Orange program has tallied eight victories in the first year and a half of the Doug Marrone era.

Syracuse sits at 4-2 overall and 1-1 in Big East Conference play after that aforementioned loss to the Panthers at the Carrier Dome this past weekend. That snapped a three-game winning streak for Marrone and company, which included a 13-9 win in their Big East opener against South Florida.

But it's not just the improvement in terms of wins and losses that has Stewart impressed.

"Doug has done a great job, and his staff has done a great job," said the West Virginia head coach. "But most importantly, the Syracuse football players have done a great job, because they responded, and they took the challenge. They're physical and they play hard."

That includes memories of last year's meeting between the two teams at the Carrier Dome. Even though WVU walked away with a 34-13 win, Stewart came away impressed with the progress of Marrone's squad.

"After the game, I immediately went to Coach Marrone and I said, ‘Doug, you're on the right track. Don't change a thing, whatever you're doing,'" Stewart recalled. "I said, ‘I'm happy for you, and I hate it for us. Whatever you're doing, don't change it.' They didn't back up an inch. They took the fight to us."

With a stingy defense that ranks in the top 20 nationally in total defense (No. 18, surrendering 302.0 yards per game) and an offense that has made some strides behind quarterback Ryan Nassib, running back Delone Carter and wide receiver Van Chew, the Orange may just make their first bowl game since 2004, the last year of former coach Paul Pasqualoni's tenure in upstate New York.

"They gashed Washington," Stewart said. "They gashed Pitt some. And they gashed South Florida. I devoured those three games, and I'm telling you, they've got a great attack."

"I like what these guys do, because they are buying into the plan. They don't have a lot of heroes. They don't have a lot of individuals. They've got a team."


As part of his opening statement at his Tuesday afternoon press conference, Stewart announced the WVU football staff had awarded fifth-year senior punter Gregg Pugnetti a scholarship.

"That's a pretty good lick for ol' Gregg," Stewart said. "He's stayed with the program and we got that done. He's deserving."

Much in the same way other former walk-ons have been honored once they moved to the scholarship ranks, Stewart and his staff gave Pugnetti a football signed by the entire Mountaineer coaching staff, the team's specialists and this year's senior class to honor the occasion.

"I thought that was pretty nice," Stewart said. "That's something worth doing."

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