In a wildly successful season, it can be very difficult to pick the best, or most outstanding, or most valuable players of the year. The very definitions of those terms usually start up instant debate, and when it comes time to actually pick players to fit those descriptions, the going can get very hairy indeed. However, we'd never let such trifiling matters stop us, so here are our picks for the BlueGoldNews.com players of the year.
First, a couple of notes. Each staff member of the Blue & Gold News voted for an offensive, defensive, and special teams player of the year. After reviewing the voting, I realized that I should have had a fourth category – lineman of the year – to properly recognize the guys in the trenches that don't get the recognition they deserve. So, I added that category to the voting.
Second, there were some close battles for the spots, so we'll also talk about those that made a splash in our polls. Fortunately, we didn't have any ties at the top of any of the categories (we frown on split awards). And in case you were wondering, all of the guys I voted for did not win, so I didn't exercise any editorial judgments. On with the show!
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR – PAT WHITE
In a hotly contested race, White edged out Steve Slaton in the voting. While Slaton piled up more yards, White was viewed, by the majority of the voters, as the key to unleashing WVU's attack. Without White, the reasoning went, Slaton might not have been so good, Hopefully, WVU finds will never have to find out if that is true or not.
Either way, both are deserving, and if we weren't adamant about having one winner we could have easily split the vote. But rules are rules, and White wins out. He accounted for a combined 1,780 yards and 15 touchdowns, and more importantly, suffered just five interceptions. Some of the comments from the voters for White were as follows:
Steve Slaton scored one TD with Adam Bednarik at QB vs. Louisville, but five with White.
I expected White to be starting by mid-season, but not as the reincarnation of, dare I whisper the name, Major Harris.
Of course, it's not as if Slaton had a bad year either. His rookie performance, accomplished mostly in eight games, ranks among the best in WVU history. He rushed for 1128 yards and 17 scores, and added another 95 yards and two scores via pass receptions. He made defenders miss, and ran with toughness when they didn't. Among his supporters:
Who expected that Steve Slaton would run ahead of, in no particular
order, JA-son GWALT-ney (clap clap clap-clap-clap), Jason Colson,
Pernell Williams, and the entire historic backfield of the Dallas Cowboys? Eat your heart out, Ralph Friedgen (oh, wait, you already did).
Would this team have been in the Sugar Bowl without the
outstanding play of Steve Slaton? The view from here is that they would
not. Slaton only got a handful of plays combined in the season's first
four contests, yet still finished with over 1,000 rushing yards.
In the end, the difficulties of playing quarterback, especially in the Rich Rodriguez system, may have swayed a couple of votes White's way. Not that adjusting to the college running game is easy, but quarterback is clearly the most difficult position on the field. White grew into the position quickly, and made WVU's running game a two-headed monster that ran roughshod over most foes.
LINEMAN OF THE YEAR – DAN MOZES
As a staunch proponent of more publicity for the big mashers, I almost missed the boat by failing to include this category. A couple of not-so-gentle reminders from the staff, however, made it easy for me to fix this error.
In the most decisive voting of the entire poll, center Dan Mozes swept up this award. In fact, he even got a couple of votes for offensive player of the year – a point of view that carries a great deal of weight. Without Big Dan's move to center, WVU might well have had a couple more losses this season.
Fortunately, fixing my error allows us to give Mozes the recognition he deserves:
No player is more key to WVU's scheme. Without Mozes, who proved he could play two, and probably all three, line slots, the Mountainers would actually have missed Jeremy Hines. He blows up other defenders. He was one snap away from being pulled. Now he's all-Big East and All-Amrican. He mauls Panthers, Cardinals and, yes, Bulldogs. Slaton without Mozes? That's Lucy without Desi and Abbot minus Costello. Who's first? Mozes. He parted the red sea in the Sugar and paved the road for Slaton's MVP. It's time to give the big uglies some niceties.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR – MIKE LORELLO
Simply put, WVU's defensive demon is a football player. Much like former linebacker Grant Wiley, Lorello might not possess all the "measurables" of all-star players, but he was certainly that for the Mountaineers. He led the team in tackles (82), pass breakups (7) and forced fumbles (5) and was second in tackles for loss with seven, all despite being "too small" to play against the run.
Among the comments for those voting for the Ohio native:
He led the team in tackles, tackles for loss, pass breakups and forced fumbles. He was also tied for second on the team in sacks (three) and interceptions (three). Statistically, and as a leader, Lorello was this year's most important player.
Versatility. Speed. Intelligence. No player has fit in better with Rodriguez's still-emerging odd stack than Mike Lorello. He can blitz. He can play zone. He mirrors Gregor Samsa with his metamorphic play. He attacks the game with Stalin-like tenacity. With respect to Kevin Pittsnogle, football foes got Lorelloed.
Also receiving support was linebacker Kevin McLee, who provided the linebacking corps with much needed speed and aggressive play. McLee was second on the team in tackles (78) and tied with Lorello with seven stops behind the line. His much improved play this year has a huge effect on the Mountaineer defense. Boo's supporters had this to say:
The Uniontown, Pa. native led the team in tackles and really came
into his own in his second full year as a starter. When the defense
needed a play, he made it. What was the biggest defensive question mark
at the season's beginning turned into a strength because of McLee's
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR – GEORGE SHEHL
In something of an upset, steady performer and fan favorite Shehl edged out Phil Brady and Thandi Smith for special teams honors.
Those that look at Shehl's performance and dismiss it as a thing of ease don't take into account the difficulty of this seemingly simple task. Summoned to take over for A. J. Nastasi after the latter suffered an injury before the Cincinnati game of Shehl's freshman year, the Clarksburg native responded with a magnificent four-year run that was near picture perfect. Although he never achieved his other goal of getting on the field as a defensive back during a regular season game (he did make an appearance in spring games), our Tommy Nickolich Award Winner did himself proud with his performance as a holder:
The former walk-on from Clarksburg has "held down" his position since
his redshirt freshman season and was the glue of a special teams unit that was vastly improved from 2004. Working with a new snapper and a new kicker, the senior holder played flawless football from beginning to end of not just the 2005 season, but his
It is a rare feat to handle the ball that many times, for pressure-filled field goals and
routine points after, in sleet and rain and permafrost, in heat and
humidity, with television cameras and grouchy opponents breathing down
your neck and a student section full of beautiful girls holding up
banners that read "Hold ME, George Shehl!", and never, ever, ever make a
mistake. You're one of a kind, George.
Brady, much maligned throughout his career despite laboring through several punt scheme modifications, became a fan darling in the Sugar Bowl win with his ten-yard sprint for a first down off a fake punt. That play, however, was just the icing on the cake of an excellent senior year, in which he mastered the roll punt and kept opposing return men on their heels. Stats.
No returning player had more pressure on him and made a
more dramatic improvement than Brady. To go from being booed in 2004 to having the ball, the game, the Sugar Bowl and a top five ranking in his hands with 1:45 to go in the Georgia Dome speaks volumes for the confidence the coaches had with him, not to mention his ability to produce in the clutch.
Thandi Smith was another great success story who carved a niche for himself on special teams. Starting out from the furthest recesses of the depth chart (can you be an lower than a walkon prop?) Smith worked hard and eventually, through tireless work and performance, forced the coaches to get him on the field. He provided time and third down support as a backup cornerback (mostly in passing situations), but it was his big plays on special teams that defined his career.
Smith had 14 tackles, a forced fumble and a blocked kick which he recovered for a touchdown against Rutgers. That was the third blocked kick of his career.