Work To Do

It's pretty easy to discern the mindset of Jake Figner when he talks about his chances to earn playing time at tackle on West Virginia's football team in 2006.

"I still have a lot of work to do."

That's the statement that Figner punctuates almost every answer with when discussing his efforts to step into one of the two vacant tackle spots on West Virginia's offensive line. While he certainly made good progress during WVU's spring session, he first and foremost wants to make sure everyone knows he's not complacent.

Of course, such an attitude would quickly earn the wrath, if not the derision, of offensive line coach Rick Trickett, who is trying to build another excellent unit around the interior core of Ryan Stanchek, Jeremy Sheffey and Dan Mozes, who figure to be the starters inside. That's not the only reason Figner works hard every day and takes nothing for granted, however. That mindset and work ethic is evident in his class work as well. The Fogelsville, Penn. native earned a spot on the National Honor Society in high school, and has also been a fixture on the Athletic Director's Academic Honor Roll at WVU while majoring in biochemistry. The discipline and dedication required to achieve those awards in such a demanding major also come into play on the field, where Figner views every repetition as a chance to improve.

Just as he does in the classroom, Figner also listens closely to teachers on the field.

"I think I have gotten more comfortable, especially getting to play next to Jeremy Sheffey every day," Figner says. "He and Dan Mozes and those guys helped me out a lot [during the spring]. I just came to work every day."

Just showing up isn't the recipe for success, however. In the daily grind of snap after snap and lift after lift, those that put out great effort will improve more quickly than those that don't. That's Figner's mantra, and one that he dedicates himself to both on and off the field.

The redshirt sophomore had another benefit during the spring – the presence of a graduated teammate with some valuable advice to impart.

"Garin Justice helped me and Damien Crissey and John Bradshaw a lot," Figner relates. "Whoever was in there at tackle, he worked with. He was a good player, but he's a really good teacher too. It was just like an extension of the season. He's helped me out, watched me take reps, and told me what I did right. He really helped to improve me."

It's no surprise that Figner would be able to identify and assimilate advice from a good teacher, given his academic achievements. He's also following in the footsteps of both Justice and Travis Garrett, both of who were members of the Honor Roll at WVU themselves.

"I have some really big shoes to fill with Garin," Figner admitted. He has such good technique – that's one of the things that made him so good. He taught me a lot playing as a second string tackle behind him. I don't have the size or strength right now that he did, but I think I can make up for that with speed and good technique."

Figner certainly isn't small at 6-5 and 285 pounds, but that is a bit short of the 300+ pounds Justice and Garrett carried last year. It might not sound like much, but giving up 15 or 20 pounds on the front lines can make a difference in one-on-one battles up front. However, given Figner's good footwork and smarts, he figures to be able to cover any "deficiencies" in size.

"It's a big challenge, because playing next to Sheffey and Mozes and Stanchek, who played a lot last season, they set a really high standard for me to live up to," Figner said. "I feel like I have to give my all every day just to keep up. I know I have a lot of work still to do.

"I don't even think of tackle being an open position. Coach Trickett is going to make you earn it every day no matter what. It's not so much me looking to move into an open spot as it is just trying to prove to the coaches that I can handle it the job. Even though there's no returning starter, you still have to earn it. I have a lot of work to do just to try to fill that position."

When pressed, Figner will, grudgingly admit to some of the improvements he saw this spring. It was a critical period in the big lineman's development, who missed a good chunk of spring practice a year ago with a case of mononucleosis.

"I feel like my pass sets have gotten a lot better. I'm able to sit back and feel more comfortable," he led off. "My feet have gotten better – once again, I feel like I have a lot of work to do, but I do think I've gotten better at that. Overall, my technique is better everywhere."

Figner closed the recitation, of course, with a familiar refrain.

"I still," he summed up, "have a lot of work to do."

The summer lifting and workout sessions, which begin on May 21, will also be a crucial time for Figner as he works to improve his strength and stamina for the long season ahead. There's no doubt, however, that he'll approach those draining sessions with the same attitude as he does on the field or in the classroom. For Figner, there's always more work to be done.


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