With a handful of new coaches, a few of them with ties to WVU and the state of West Virginia prior to joining the staff, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen wanted to make sure his players understood what they meant to the state and the fans who watch them play each week.
It’s nothing new, really.
There have been numerous times when West Virginia coaches have talked about how the state has no professional sports teams and how much people look forward to seeing the Old Gold and Blue succeed. But this staff has tried to educate the team on the history of the program and of the state.
Many of those stories show tales about hard work, determination and perseverance. It’s about not giving up when things aren’t going your way.
These are lessons, coming off a 4-8 season, this West Virginia team has learned to take to heart, and is guiding them into the 2014 season with a sense of confidence and a belief things will improve.
“When you can take pride in the fact that you’re here and you genuinely like being part of what we’re building here, that’s when you know you have something good,” said running backs coach JaJuan Seider. “As coaches, this is what you want. This is what you get paid for. We want to develop guys and go out there when everything is against you and nobody believes in you.
“The only people who have to believe are the ones who are lining up and are in those meeting rooms every day. We’re in this together.”
It’s different than it was a year ago. The Mountaineers were replacing a lot of talent from a group of established leaders on both sides of the ball. They couldn’t develop that same leadership, players started looking out for themselves and themselves only, and the team suffered because of it.
“The kids see it. They have to live it every day too,” said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “We’ve had a lot of kids in here the last two years and they haven’t gotten the chance to experience much success. You can tell it’s got them a little pissed off.”
As the season draws closer and West Virginia embarks on what is going to be one of the most important seasons it has had in quite some time, the odds are stacked against the Mountaineers. They’re facing one of the toughest schedules in the country and not many people expect a lot from them.
That’s kind of the way they like it.
“More than anything, the important thing right now is that we’ve got everyone all in for this program,” Gibson said. “It doesn’t matter who it is, if they aren’t totally in with what we’re doing, they aren’t going to play and get the privilege of running out on this field with their teammates.”
But they understand that things don’t turn around overnight. The transition to making that jump to getting to a point where they can compete for conference titles is a process, and they need to be patient.
It starts with building the type of camaraderie the coaching staff has seen from the players up to this point. Players hang out with each other off the field, whether it’s watching film or relaxing at the Milan Puskar Center or spending time together away from the football building. It’s becoming more of a brotherhood, which is encouraging for the staff to get to see after it not being that way a year ago.
“Last year it was like, ‘I’m JaJuan from Miami. This is Ron Crook from Ohio,’ when it should have been, ‘We’re JaJuan and Ron Crook from West Virginia.’ We are West Virginia now, it doesn’t matter where we came from before,” Seider said. “This logo should mean something because we bleed for West Virginia. When you think West Virginia, you think of this team.”
There’s not an exact science to rebuilding and getting back to where WVU wants to be. But the key is to keep those same values this team has learned from the lessons they have picked up about the state of West Virginia over these last couple of years.
It’s about sticking together, continuing to push forward – even if things don’t look to be going your way – and having faith that things will pay off in the end, if you work hard enough at it.
“You just have to believe in the process and the kids have embraced it,” said cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell. “You have to be selfless, put your ego and individual goals aside and concentrate on what’s going to make this team better.
“We’re closer than just about any team I’ve been around. You just have to stick together and continue to grow and believe the results will follow – and they will follow.”