Learning Curve

West Virginia has morphed from a lost team to a self-made club in five seasons, and much of that has to do with experience.

Where once players were forced to look to coaches for all the answers to everything, now the three- and four-year veterans can instruct the younger players.

"They don't have to go to the coaches for everything," senior bandit Mike Lorello said. "In the first few years the coaches had to answer everything. Now maybe we can answer the basic questions, or how to do something."

That both lessens the coaching burden and builds bonds among units and individual players. And because coaches cannot go on the field, it's imperative that veteran players be able to properly line up teammates and provide clear instruction between, and sometimes during, plays.

It's especially useful in the defensive side, when offenses try to run the no-huddle and players must read and react, versus running a preset play. The secondary is especially spread out, forcing senior free safety Jahmile Addae -- one of the most knowledgeable defenders and the quarterback of the defense -- to communicate over long distances. Any familiarity he builds with backfield mates can translate to better on-field play.

"Our most vocal leader is Jahmile Addae," senior nose tackle Ernest Hunter said. "He is vocal but he backs it up. He has the right to be vocal because he makes plays and does what he has to on the field. And he makes others -- and our whole team -- better when he is out there."

It does not just extend to on-field play, however. The Mountaineers, a tighter unit than last season according to head coach Rich Rodriguez, have also assisted each other more than in Rodriguez's first three years.

"We as players now have a bit of wisdom," Hunter said. "Without overstepping our bounds as players, we can help others now, too, to try and provide guidance in a more friendly way. Younger players can't always relate to a coach, but they can to a fellow player. It settles them and lets them know from a guy with experience and where we are coming from."

It also adds to chemistry, one of the most important yet unknown aspects of any team.

"Now it's more as one," Addae said. "There is no one guy looking to make the play, or that we are looking to for leadership. We are a well-rounded team. You definitely don't want to lose the guys we have lost, but at the same time I think well-rounded teams have been successful in the past, and that's where we are."

And if West Virginia can again prove that a whole is better than the sum, as it did in 1993 compared to ‘92, Mountaineer football will again embody the determination and style fans adore.

"We have a lot to prove and we want to get out there and do some good things," Hunter said. "I think we are underrated. We will take it and run with it. It's fuel, it's motivation. We feel it. We feel that we have some great talent. We feel that we have players. We can utilize it. We just need someone to utilize it with."

That comes in 10 days, in one of the most important WVU openers in years. In Rich Rodriguez' first year at West Virginia, his team faced a similar challenge - a road conference opener that set the tone for the season. That 2001 game at Boston College started off well, but ended in a demoralizing defeat that sent the Mountaineers tumbling to a 3-8 record. While no such mark is anticipated for 2005, there's no doubt that the first game could certainly be a strong indicator of the level of success this year's squad enjoys.

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