Final Fling

News of coaching changes for the West Virginia football team will now dominate bowl season, but for 19 senior members of the squad, the importance of the Champs Sports Bowl will overshadow the talk of coaching replacements and forced retirements.

"We have a lot of stuff on the line," said senior linebacker J.T. Thomas, one of the group closing out stellar careers for the Mountaineers. "We want to be a ten-win team. We want to go out and have a good outing against N.C. State. It will be in Florida which is close to home for me. It's sort of like a homecoming."

Although Thomas and his teammates would have preferred to be playing further south and a few days later in the Orange Bowl, they seem determined to make the most of the consolation prize, and taking advantage of all that Orlando has to offer.

"I was a little upset because we put so much work into the season," Thomas admitted. "But if we don't go to the Orange Bowl, so what? At least we're in a nice bowl and we can go down and enjoy all that comes with being in Orlando like Walt Disney World and Universal Studio and have a little fun."

Fellow senior defensive lineman Scooter Berry admits that there was some disappointment to shake following the bowl announcements.

"Obviously, everybody wants to play in a BCS game," said Berry. "We had the opportunity to play in a BCS game but unfortunately it didn't work out the way that we wanted it to. I have no complaints. There are a lot of teams that aren't even playing in a bowl game this year."

The Florida bowl will work as a bit of a homecoming for many of West Virginia's players who are natives to the Sunshine State. In addition to Thomas, receiver Jock Sanders and running back Noel Devine will be playing their final games inside their home borders.

"To have the support from home is getting me excited, getting me thrilled," said Devine. "I hope that I can just come out with a bang and throw a party. A coming out party, the last one for WVU."

WVU will try to spice up the bowl proceedings by again wearing their coal-themed Pro Combat uniforms. Those will certainly bring good memories, as they made their debut in West Virginia's 35-10 thrashing of Pitt in the 2010 Backyard Brawl.

"We're wearing the combats," said Berry. "It's no secret. I hope it's no secret since I just told you all. I went to the cleaners and I saw the combat jerseys and they were putting the Champs Sports patches on them. Those combat jerseys definitely heightened everybody's swagger."

Using every bit of motivation they can, the seniors are trying to bring all of the excitement they can muster to the final collegiate game of their careers. Even though talk of the impending coaching changes will dominate the conversation at every media opportunity, they will try to keep their attention focused on the game itself. Thomas, for one, admits that fact has started to hit him, but is playing a bit of self-denial.

"I don't like to say that much," said Thomas of his final game as a Mountaineer. "It sounds so weird, eerie. This will definitely be my last game as a Mountaineer. It will definitely be a good game by us. I've been at nine wins for the past three years and we definitely want to try and get to that ten-win mark."

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West Virginia will have a shorter-than-normal practice stretch at the bowl site. The Mountaineers will have practices on Dec 25 and 26 and an expected walk-through on the 27th before facing N.C. State on the 28th.

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