Youthful Guidance

When offensive lineman Ryan Stanchek inked with West Virginia, he had little idea he'd be playing as a freshman. A defection here, an injury there and much improvement all-around, and the guard is now an advice-giving vet on a line which is searching for two tackles going into fall camp.

The Cincinnati native moved into West Virginia's starting lineup after four games last season, recording nine knockdowns against Virginia Tech. He had another nine knockdowns and a pass reception against Louisville and was the offensive champion against Pitt, which helped him earn first-team all-freshman honors from the Sporting News. That honor came after WVU's coaches named him the Danny Van Etten Award winner as the scout team player of the year for the Mountaineers in 2004.

Now, Stanchek trails just seniors Dan Mozes and Jeremy Sheffey in experience, and will try to guide Damien Crissey and Jake Figner, among others, through their first fall drills while competing for starting jobs. His influence should be a major positive, because, like Stanchek, one never knows when circumstances might arise when players depart or are lowered to the second-team.

"I think Crissey can really have a good year," Stanchek said. "He has looked really good during the spring. He is fast, he can run well. He has been excellent on the field and in the weight room. I am not worried about tackle at all. Those guys can play right now."

Crissey, a 6-4, 280-pound transfer from Division II Edinboro, is actually the fastest Mountaineer lineman. He was, coincidentally, the scout team champion for Stanchek's first career start, against the Hokies. The Manns Choice, Pa. native saw West Virginia play on national television while at Edinboro and noted that its offensive lineman were built like him. After sending Rick Trickett a tape, the offensive line/assistant head coach and head coach Rich Rodriguez agreed to allow Crissey to walk on.

"He has earned his start from there," Mozes said. "He has the best wheels; he smokes it for a lineman. He's impressive."

Figner is a tackle of similar style. While not as fast in the 40 as Crissey, the line on the sophomore is that he gets to the second level (linebackers) as fast as any WVU trench player. His athletic ability and quickness are major assets, but he lacks the strength of former tackle Garin Justice, who is now working with the linemen as a graduate assistant.

"It's hard work trying to break into the lineup," Stanchek said. "They are both trying to step up, and we will need guys to do so. But I definitely understand how hard it is to try to earn a position and have that pressure on you everyday at practice and lifting. You are always trying to impress and catch the a coach's eye."

John Bradshaw is also vying for the backup spot at guard. He is slated behind Sheffey, at right guard, as of now, with Jon Walko (6-6, 275 lbs., Fr.) the reserve at the tackle slot. Bradshaw's main problem might be that he does not stand out at any position, but is versatile enough to slide out easily from guard. At 6-6, however, the 295-pounder is slightly tall for a guard, and makes it harder for quarterback Patrick White to see over him downfield -- though there are many college guards as tall. He has said he is working on his technical play, and trying to avoid the being the player who makes the mistake alongside the vets.

West Virginia, still very thin along the entire line, is especially so at tackle, and could use another player to emerge at the spot. A candidate mentioned by those close to the program is current tight end Selvish Capers, who has the body and talent to contribute immediately. He did not play last season, but has excellent body control and hands and, at 6-5 and 280 pounds, would not have to redistribute or add much weight to settle into the role.

"I have heard those same rumors and thoughts expressed," Stanchek said of the word that Capers has NFL-type talent at tackle. "He looks like he has the body and ability to play there. Maybe he'll move, I don't know. He looks kind of like a tackle."

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