Once More, With Feeling

Noel Devine and Jock Sanders will suit up in WVU gold and blue for the last time in Morgantown on Saturday afternoon, playing for no worse than a share of the Big East Conference championship against Rutgers. It will be a bittersweet moment for their position coach.

For the final three of their four seasons of athletic eligibility, both Devine and Sanders have been tutored by Chris Beatty. The Mountaineers' running backs and slot receivers coach has watched as the Florida natives have grown, both on the field and off it.

And make no mistake -- the two seniors have definitely evolved as people in their time at West Virginia.

"They've grown a bunch," Beatty opined. "They've become more responsible off the field, all the little things that they do. Attention to detail has grown a bunch. Those guys, you've kind of seen them mature from young men to adults. I'm real proud of them. I think they've come a long way on the field and off the field."

In terms of their development on the football field, Beatty can take at least some of the credit.

Though Devine has not had the senior year he hoped for (due largely to two injuries -- a bruised bone in his toe suffered in an early-season loss at LSU and an ankle issue that occurred in a win at Louisville two weeks ago), he has shown more patience in recent seasons.

Once a running back that would try too hard to turn every carry into a touchdown (often cutting back and reversing field to his own detriment), Devine is now a patient runner who is more apt to make one cut and move upfield.

As for Sanders, the slot receiver has developed from one who looked like a converted running back (which he was) in his earliest days at that position to the school's all-time leading receiver in terms of total number of catches.

But neither Devine nor Sanders were vocal leaders earlier in their career. As both decided to return to Morgantown for their final seasons of eligibility, they took on that added responsibility as well. They have helped reinforce Beatty's lessons to the younger players at both positions.

"I think they've helped, because they sit back and try to do things the right way," Beatty said. "And they've gotten better at doing things the right way. When you ... have had the career those guys have had, people are going to follow you, [listen to] what you say when you say things.

"You look at them and they've got like 8,000 yards of combined total yardage [7,367 to be exact]. You don't have too many duos that have that in their career. The [other] guys, they follow them. They follow their lead. And they've done a good job of growing into that role as being a leader."

Relegated to a limited role in his final season as a Mountaineer due to injuries, Devine has had to become a de facto coach of sorts, trying to find a way to make a positive impact on his West Virginia team, even if he can't do that as well as he might like on the field.

"I think Friday was a great example," Beatty said of last week's 35-10 victory over Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl. "[Devine] was rooting for [fellow running back] Shawne [Alston] harder than anybody, rooting for everybody who was getting the ball. He didn't complain. And he knows he's not where he wants to be, but he wants to help at the same time and do what he's supposed to do in whatever role he can do it in."

While things haven't been what Devine may have hoped for when he opted to come back for his senior season, WVU's prime objective is still within reach.

A victory over Rutgers at Milan Puskar Stadium on senior day Saturday would secure no worse than a share of the Big East championship for the Mountaineers. Combine that win with a Connecticut loss at South Florida, and the seniors would earn the chance to go out in style at a BCS bowl game.

It would be a rousing ending to the careers of two of the more dynamic offensive talents in West Virginia football history. And much as Devine and Sanders know their college careers are coming to an end, Beatty knows his chance to mentor those players is also nearing its conclusion.

"I'm going to miss those guys," he said. "It's like anything else -- when you see them mature onto another situation, that's one of the things about coaching, you hate to see guys leave that you get feel real close to. Those guys, obviously I'm real close to them. It will be great, because they're moving on to the next chapter. But at the same time, you'll miss them, and it's a little bit of a bad day and a good day, all in one."

BRIEFLY:

While the majority of his chat with the media was focused on Devine and Sanders, Beatty, who also serves as WVU's recruiting coordinator, was asked whether the addition of TCU to the Big East Conference would mean the Mountaineers may become more aggressive in pursuing talent from the Lone Star State.

"I don't know if there's too many rosters you look at in the country in Division I-A that don't have a Texas or a Florida player on it," he said. "There's just so many players and the states are so big, there's so much of a talent pool at those two places, that you have to go recruit them. It's one of those things where the Big Ten is going down there. We need to start going down there a little bit more. There's just a lot of talent, and you've got to try to go mine some for yourself."

"It can't hurt," Beatty added. "I think the more teams you have from that area, the easier it is to go in there and draw from those areas. The thing about Texas and Florida and places like that is those kids will travel. So when you have a team out there, it just makes it easier from them, because they know, ‘Hey, once every other year, I've got a chance to come back and play a team in my home state.' So it's definitely exciting for the conference and it opens up a new door for us recruiting-wise as well."


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