Young Veteran

Some players' careers in a Mountaineer uniform seem to go by in the blink of an eye. Others, however, seem to have been around forever. It's all a matter of perception, of course, but fortunately for WVU and its fans, most of those who seem like they have been at West Virginia for a long while are usually very productive players.

One West Virginia footballer who seems to have been around for a while, but is, in fact, just getting started on his career, is offensive lineman Ryan Stanchek. The Cincinnati, Oh. native began his Mountaineer career like most others, with a redshirt season, but even on the scout team managed to make his name known. The aggressive guard began turning heads almost immediately with his play, and ended up the season by winning the Danny Van Etten Award as scout team offensive player of the year. That served to at least make him a name to watch in the future, but his achievements in his first year on the team were only an appetizer for things to come.

Following a defection and some injuries along the offensive line, Stanchek began playing in the Maryland game, and took over a starting guard spot against East Carolina. And unlike many rookies thrust into their first roles ahead of schedule, the rugged graduate of LaSalle High School never looked back. Although he admittedly didn't play perfectly, he did a solid job next to Dan Mozes at center, whose spot he took as WVU shuffled its players up front. And no one, of course, can argue with the results he helped produce on the Mountaineer offense, which rolled up points and yards aplenty on its way to an 11-1 season and a Sugar Bowl championship.

So, although he only has a handful of games as a starter under his belt, it already seems as if Stanchek is a wizened veteran. His name has been "out there" among Mountaineer fans ever since his commitment to the WVU program as one of the hidden gems of his class, and combined with the notoriety he earned on the scout team and as a fast rising member of the varsity, it's still difficult to think of him as just a rising sophomore, with three more years of eligibility to go.

That perception of Stanchek as a long-term member of the line with little left to learn is certainly not shared by the man himself. While he admits to being in the groove a bit more this spring, he is the first to acknowledge that he still has a long way to go.

"I am a little more comfortable this spring, but it always helps to have Dan [Mozes] next to me," said Stanchek, who is every quick to give praise and credit to those around him. We're still learning new things every day. I still have a little bit of confusion every once in a while, but getting the work every day, I feel a lot more comfortable than I did last year. But it's still a learning experience every day."

Stanchek's confidence level is obviously higher than it was last fall when he made his first start, but perhaps not as much as it might appear at first glance. While not given to any sort of bragging, Stanchek always believed he had the ability to play early and contribute at West Virginia, so when the time came for him to start, it didn't rattle him.

"I was ready to go [last year], and I think Coach Trickett thought so too," Stanchek said of his feelings about becoming a member of the starting lineup. "It's sort of like game experience with him in practice every day – it's just a matter of going out and doing it."

One of Trickett's mantras is the importance of understanding the entire scheme of the offensive line. With that understanding comes the ability to make split-second decisions more readily, which then results in a smooth-functioning unit. That's a message that the young Ohio lineman learned early on.

"If you understand what everyone else is doing, it makes your job a lot easier. When we zone block as a group, everyone is going at the same time, you have to know what everyone is doing. It's different learning what the tackle does than what the guard does, but once you do, you can grasp things better. I think we started to get it down here at the end of spring. We are starting to get comfortable with each other, and I think we are going to be fine."

While Stanchek credits the help of Mozes and fellow guard Jeremy Sheffey, he's also beginning to slide into the mentor role as well.

"Damien Crissey, who's outside me (at tackle), has been here for a while, so he understands what's going on. That helps me a lot, too. And I'm trying to help Greg Isdaner out as much as I can too. He's in the position I was in last spring, trying to learn everything he can, and I think he's doing a great job. He plays hard every day."

While some depth chart positions are certainly open going into the fall, there are several spots that are likely graven in stone. The inside of the line, with Sheffey, Mozes and Stanchek, certainly seems to be one of those. Those three names are somewhat melded together in the mind – a trio of tough, rugged blockers who seem to have manned spots up front for a long time. For Sheffey and Mozes, that's true, but for Stanchek, it only seems that way. At this time last year, he was still something of an unknown to WVU fans – mentioned as one of a group of players with potential, but also as ones that hadn't done anything on the field yet. Now, just one year later, his name seems a natural fit with the seniors beside which he toils.

Of course, Stanchek himself would never admit to feeling safe in his position as a starter. Not only would that raise the ire of Trickett, but it's also simply not the way the ultra-polite and responsible lineman is built. While reciting the oft-heard coaching phrases about "no one's job being set", he adds what must be music to the ears of his hard-driving coach.

"You just have to prove yourself every day."

As he has been doing just that since Day One in a Mountaineer uniform, that's probably why it seems like he's been here longer than most.

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