Cram Session

If there's a bigger challenge facing any collegiate coach in the country than the one confronting new West Virginia men's soccer mentor Marlon LeBlanc, we'd certainly like to know what it is. West Virginia's newest coach will have to compress months of work into just a few short days.

"I have about eight months of work to do in two weeks," laughed LeBlanc, who is taking over a program rocked by the firing of previous coach Mike Seabolt. "I'm leaning a lot on [assistant coach] Bryan Green. He has done a great job of keeping organized. I think the transition will go well. The first days will be an evaluation process for me. I have to figure out what the strengths and weaknesses of the team are. I'll keep leaning heavily on Bryan, and although I know there will be some bumps in the road, I think we will be fine."

LeBlanc will begin that evaluation process by watching several game tapes of last year's squad.

"Brian has already pulled about six games from last year for me to watch," he said. "I asked him to select some tough wins and tough losses, and any game that he thought would be a good showing of the players. I want to see them and how they performed when they were on that knife's edge of winning and losing. I'll be looking at how they play as a team, and at their strengths as a group."

One of LeBlanc's first tasks will be to meld WVU's team into his preferred style of play. On one side of the ball, at least, the pieces seem to fit his methods.

"From what I have been told and seen, West Virginia is a defensive oriented team," he said. "I need to evaluate that myself. One thing at Penn State, we didn't concede goals. I want that to be a backbone of the program here as well. But at the same time, I want to play attacking soccer. I want to score goals and play an exciting brand of soccer. We will let players use their individual talents to create scoring opportunities. And while we always want to be solid defensively, we will take chances on purpose."

LeBlanc has met with some of his players, but as of Wednesday evening had yet to meet with the team as a whole.

"They were eating when I got here, and I didn't want to interrupt that," he joked. "That might not be a good way to start out. I did get to meet with about eight or nine of the players during the interview process, and that went really well. I am must now getting ready to meet them and get to know them."

LeBlanc does have some familiarity with at least a handful of his current Mountaineers.

I coached Mike Anoia as an under-12 player, so I know him pretty well. A couple of the others have been to Penn State's soccer camp, where I coached.

LeBlanc, who was an assistant for the Nittany Lions from 2001-05, also has a taste of game action as a head coach. Strangely enough, it came against West Virginia.

"We played West Virginia a couple of years ago, in the spring, and I was the coach for that game because our head coach was out of the country. I don't remember what the final score was – I think we tied."

With that slim head coaching experience the only item on his resume, LeBlanc could be forgiven if he viewed his new job, which he takes under trying circumstances, with a bit of trepidation. However, that's not the case for the East Windsor, N.J. native, who speaks confidently of WVU's prospects.

"I don't think I'm ahead of schedule at all," the confident LeBlanc said of his path to the top spot at WVU. "I consider myself to be a good coach, and I know I am prepared for this. Regardless of whether WVU is a soccer power yet or not, it is a great place to get the program going. I think there are great things ahead for us here."

Of course, LeBlanc also has to deal with the current issues surrounding the soccer team. Seabolt, who was fired by West Virginia over an alleged recruiting irregularity, is suing the school to get his job back, which could create an atmosphere of uncertainty and tension in the program, especially among the players on the team. In some ways, it's analogous to the situation faced by John Beilein when he took over the troubled men's basketball program four years ago.

Like Beilein, LeBlanc isn't worrying about the problems that the team faced in the past – especially with so much work to do between now and the start of the season, which kicks off on Aug. 25 against Fairfield.

"When I took the job, I took the job. I told the people at WVU I didn't care about what happened in the past. I intend to focus on the future," LeBlanc said decisively. "The players have told me they are ready to move on. They have had it with the distractions.

"I want to play soccer, and put a team on the field. The [other situation] is out of my control. WVU is behind me. They have talked to me about it, and feel they have made the necessary steps with the NCAA and that nothing else will come of it. I trust in the people I am working for."

LeBlanc's determination will certainly be required over the next few weeks, as he crams days into hours while he prepares for the upcoming season. He jokes that he'll probably get "about one hour of sleep per night" while attending to all the tasks in front of him, but in reality, that's probably not far from the truth. For the next couple of months, at least, he'll likely be the busiest man on campus.

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