House Call

Pittsburgh's loss is West Virginia's gain.

Former No. 1 Pirate prospect J.R. House officially enrolled at West Virginia University on Monday, signaling the start of a four-month melee for WVU's quarterback job.

The football-crazed state is abuzz about this mix of talent, injuries and potential – and what a once-promising state native under center could do for a program that hasn't started one since 1996.

House, 25, will compete with sophomores Dwayne Thompson and Adam Bednarik and redshirt freshman Pat White, a former LA Angels baseball draftee.

"I'm just really excited to get there and am really looking forward to meeting everybody," said House, who will be in Morgantown full-time by May 9.

He won't officially become a Mountaineer until Aug. 5, the day players report for fall camp. But his enrollment clears the way for him to begin voluntary workouts May 23, the first day of WVU's summer school.

House, who does not yet have a playbook, will major in business and take english and psychology the first summer semester, May 23-June 30. He also plans to enroll for the school's second summer session as well as the fall.

He spent Monday in Morgantown, having his right (throwing) shoulder examined by WVU trainer John Spiker. House is slowly recovering from February rotator cuff surgery.

"We're excited about J.R. joining our Mountaineer family," WVU coach Rich Rodriguez said. "He has a lot of rehab to do to get his shoulder ready for August, but he is a great addition to our program."

House is arguably West Virginia's finest prep player ever. He threw for a then-national high school career record 14,457 yards at Nitro High from 1995-98.

The 1996 and ‘98 state player of the year also set a national single-game mark with 10 passing touchdowns in a 69-52 win over Morgantown in the 1998 Class AAA (big school) state championship. House went south every winter to play baseball for Seabreeze High in Ormond Beach, Fla., and considered West Virginia for football after his senior season.

Some close to the WVU program argue House used the Mountaineers as a baseball bargaining chip. Pittsburgh picked House in the fifth round in 1999, and the two-sport star chose baseball. House's sporadic style teased the Pirates ever since. A catcher once considered on the fast track to replace the departed Jason Kendall, House twice coaxed Baseball America top Pittsburgh prospect honors. Four injuries in as many seasons and Pittsburgh's minor league backlog of backstops cinched his unconditional March 8 release following season-ending right rotator cuff surgery.

In 2002, he had surgeries to repair an abdominal muscle pull and hernia. At the end of that season, he underwent reconstructive surgery on his right elbow and didn't play again until August 2003.

"I'm only eight weeks out from surgery now," said House, who can barely lift his arm over his head. "I had just shut it down, so I have to be really careful. I've been working a lot of my lower body, and running. But the throwing depends a lot upon my rehab. The last thing I want to do it push it."

House had just 10 career major league at-bats in six professional seasons, partially because of coming back from surgery too soon. He said, however, that his arm and shoulder would hurt throwing a baseball, but was never tired or sore playing football.

Now, with his baseball career seemingly finished, House is turning toward WVU to rejuvenate his career.

The biggest questions are House's six-year football layoff and the 6-0, 210-pounder's ability to be force-fed WVU's no-huddle system over summer.

"What I ran in high school is real similar to what West Virginia is running now," House said, "so I don't think that will be a problem. But I'm not sure what will happen."

House thrived in his pass-happy prep offense, setting state records for total offense (609 yards), completions (43), and passing yards (594) in one game.

House's contract with the Pirates requires them to pay for his college education. He can lift all summer and practice though fall camp before WVU must decide whether to use a scholarship on him.

The Mountaineers would not have to pay for House, but, according to NCAA regulations, must count him against the 85-scholarship limit if he is on the roster on Aug. 22, the start of school. The rule is in place to keep outside sources (read: boosters) not related to players from skirting scholarship limits by paying for educations.

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