Holding His Own

He doesn't get a lot of publicity, but for three straight seasons he's been a valuable member of the Mountaineer football team. Now in his senior season, George Shehl is living a dream playing for the Blue and Gold.

The Clarksburg native and Robert C. Byrd alumnus came to WVU in Rich Rodriguez's first season as a walk-on. Originally, he came as a defensive back. During his redshirt freshman season, wide receiver and starting holder A. J. Nastasi was injured, and unable to play against the Cincinnati Bearcats. Enter Shehl, the anonymous redshirt freshman from Clarksburg. He started holding that game, and hasn't looked back.

"I never imagined my college career would end up like this. I figured I'd go try Division I out, and if it didn't work then I'd go play Division II somewhere," said Shehl last week at the Puskar Center. "I got put in a role as the holder, which wasn't what I expected but I've made the best of it. It's been a good career."

The media guide lists him as "the best holder in the Big East, and perhaps all of America." Freshman kicker Pat McAfee has raved about Shehl's abilities. Usually the holder position is default duty for a backup quarterback or a punter, but as Shehl said, he has made the most of it. While it's not an exact science, it isn't something that anybody can just step out on the field and do. Like everything else, it takes plenty of practice.

"You've got to be coordinated. You have to be a perfectionist, wanting to do it perfect every time to help the kicker. Once you get the tools, you go through repetitions and it's just second nature. By repetition, you get a lot better," he said.

Shehl is the latest in a long line of West Virginia natives to take their game to the state's land grant institution as a walk-on. Rodriguez himself carved a similar path during his playing days.

"You think of guys like John Pennington, and Adam King, and Scott Beresford who were given a shot, and got to play for their home state school," he said. "In a program like this, you need to have a lot of homegrown kids. Especially in West Virginia, where there's no professional team, every kid has grown up wanting to play football for this team. They're the big team in West Virginia."

Despite offers to play at smaller schools where he likely would have seen the field as a defensive back, Shehl has enjoyed his time in the Blue and Gold. He also thinks that the trend in walk-ons contributing on the field is one of the best traditions of Mountaineer football.

"I think it says that this is a program where you can make it. I was going to go to Marshall, or Ohio University as a walk-on, but when Coach Rodriguez came in he gave me a shot. He gave a lot of guys a shot," explained Shehl.

The senior believes that fans will see an improved product when the Mountaineer special teams take the field on September 4th in the season opener at Syracuse.

"Everybody's improved on special teams. Phil Brady's gotten a lot better. Scott Fleming was a major part of the special teams, but Tim Lindsey has stepped in and we haven't missed a beat yet," said Shehl. "Pat McAfee has a strong leg. He's got a good mindset, and he's determined to do good. I think we've definitely improved from last year."

One spot that can't be improved is the holder. Shehl has set a high bar for future occupants of the position. While it may seem simple, holding is a job that Shehl takes a lot of pride in, and there's no doubt that he's had a tremendous impact on the program at the state's flagship university.

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