Last year's 4-8 season, coming on the heels of an uncaring performance in the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl, left a a cloud over West Virginia's football program. Ever since the curtain rang down on the ugly showing in Yankee Stadium that capped a 7-6 season two years ago, Mountaineer coaches and players have been working to clear the skies. Team leaders such as Kyle Rose and Wes Tonkery have been at the forefront of that effort.
The latter, a West Virginia native, fits the mold of the strong, silent Mountaineer. He leads as much by example as by lecture, but has made sure that the 7-6 and 4-8 records weren't going to be repeated.
"Last season left a bad taste in your mouth, and we didn't want to go through that again," he said after WVU's second day of practice in Memphis. "We put in a lot of hard work in the off season to prepare ourselves for this season."
While Tonkery has been steady in his effort, he admits that the trials of the last two years had an effect on the way he views the game.
"It did change me," he observed. "You have to be thankful for your opportunities. Last year we sat out and watched everyone else play in bowl games. That didn't sit well with us."
While Tonkery and his veteran teammates are making sure that effort remains strong, the coaching staff has emphasized a regular game week approach, albeit with a bit more rest built in for starters. Tonkery also thinks that the proper mix of football and fun will make for a well-prepared team.
"We're approaching it like it's a regular game week back in Morgantown. We are still preparing the same way," he explained. "I think for the most part we done a good job of [separating the bowl activities]. When it's football time we've kept the focus on that. We're practicing in a different place and at different times of the day, but we are still doing the same things we always do."
While sameness and continuity have been twin pillars of preparation, Tonkery does acknowledge one difference in this contest in the form of former Mountaineer assistant Jake Spavital. the Texas A&M offensive coordinator observed that he knows most of the players on the West Virginia defense, and the logical next step, although one Spavital did not make, was that he knows their weaknesses and how to attack them. Tonkery allows that such a situation is a bit odd, but that in the end the game comes down to play on the field.
"It's different, knowing a coach on the opposite team who has seen you in practice," the three-year letterman said. "But at the end of the day, it shouldn't matter once the game starts. That's what everyone else's mind set is too."
In his final game, the West Virginia native would love to get a win, but offers up a thought that most true competitors share.
"I just want to give 100%. and when the game is over, win or lose, have no regrets."