Finding His Element

Imagine this: You're a kid growing up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, just a few blocks from the Steelers training camp site and a few miles from the University of Pittsburgh. You love football, and you're a pretty solid high school defensive end, but you're only 5'11" 230 pounds. Most college coaches don't even know who you are, much less can they pronounce your name.

You go to a small college in Maryland, but the whole time you're there, you know you belong someplace else, someplace bigger. So you transfer to a Big East school, and make your first career start in the biggest game of the year for that school that you grew up loving.

Meet Justin Dziak. Go ahead and try to sound it out, but it's pronounced "Zee-ock." Justin Dziak fits the description above, and the sophomore fullback is just getting started as a Mountaineer.

"Playing at West Virginia was always a dream of mine since I was a little kid. I grew up watching the games," said Dziak of his childhood dream.

How does a kid from Latrobe end up loving the Mountaineers?

"My dad went to Alderson-Broddaus, actually both my mom and my dad did. My dad went to all the games (at WVU) from Alderson-Broddaus," explains the wide eyed sophomore.

"When I was born, he started taking me to all the games since I was a little kid. I guess it just sort of rubbed off on me, because I've always wanted to play here."

Being that close to the Panthers, one would think he would have at least some sort of allegiance to Walt Harris's program.

"I hate Pitt! I hate Pitt! I've always hated Pitt," says Dziak. He noted that while in high school, he would wear a beat up old WVU sweatshirt to school everyday and keep it in his locker to show off his Mountaineer pride.

As noted above, Dziak played defensive end at Latrobe High. In a summer all-star game after his senior year, he tried something a little different.

"I played fullback one time, in an all-star game. It was a North-South all-star game and the coach put me at fullback just to see how I'd do, and I did really well. I actually got a few looks after that game at fullback, so I knew I could play fullback. I was too short to play the defensive end at a division one school and so I decided to try the fullback thing and it worked out pretty well," said Justin of his new found position love.

The Mountaineers have a history of successful fullbacks. Jim Braxton played here, before he went on to lead block for the Juice in Buffalo. More recently, Wes Ours was a short yardage specialist, as well as a pass catching dynamo out of the backfield for Don Nehlen in his final season. And who can forget Mo Fofana, himself a transfer from a smaller school (Waynesburg), who by the time his career in Morgantown was finished had dished out more pancakes than your local IHOP.

"I've watched a lot of his film," says Dziak of Fofana. "He was really good, and I can learn a lot of things from him. He was bigger than me, he's a lot heavier than me. Every time he was in there, you know he was pancaking somebody."

While Dziak still has a long way to go before he's a complete fullback, he's constantly trying to learn more and more about his new position. It doesn't hurt that he lives in Latrobe, home of "Camp Cowher."

"I like going down there and watching the fullbacks just to learn a little bit. It's different now. If I watch a game on TV, I watch what the fullback's doing, how he's reading the play and all that. Other people just sit back and watch the game, I'm watching my position to try and learn. Any opportunity I get I like to go and watch some of the pros and how they do things."

His hard work hasn't gone unnoticed. Dziak was the first fullback on the field for Saturday's big win over Maryland, and the more he learns, the more he'll get to play.

"I surprised myself as in getting the start on Saturday. I thought I would be the backup pretty much all year, and I probably still am. I didn't expect it, but it was awesome," said Dziak of playing against the Terps.

Switching from playing at Frostburg to playing for one of the nation's most potent rushing attacks certainly has to be a change of pace, particularly for someone who hasn't played on offense a whole lot.

"It is a little more difficult. The most difficult thing was probably the speed of the game, really. It's a lot quicker. I adjusted real quick. It's a lot of fun. I've always wanted to play here, so I was willing to make the sacrifices," says Dziak of making the switch.

His hard work hasn't gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.

"Dziak came to us during the open tryouts. He's got good feet. He's a starter on some plays, knows how to fit up (block) on linebackers," said Rich Rodriguez of his young fullback.

"He was a little nervous when we told him he was going to be the first fullback in the game, but now that that's past him, I think he'll play well."

It's always nice to see a lifelong Mountaineer fan get the chance to achieve his ultimate dream of suiting up in the Blue and Gold. With two more years of eligibility, and nowhere to go but up, Justin Dziak's dream is just beginning.

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