Silent Weapon

What's the hardest part about being a WVU tight end? Probably not what you think it is, according to the starter at that position.

Let's face it, very few people play tight end for the glamour of the position. You're viewed as being too big/slow to play receiver, but not quite big enough to play offensive line. At West Virginia, you might catch two or three balls a year. It's a thankless job, lining up on every play as what some would call a glorified offensive tackle. Still, junior Mike Villagrana loves his position and everything that comes with it. Well, almost everything.

"Probably everybody coming up to me and saying ‘how do you feel about the tight ends not really being involved in the offense?" Villagrana responded when asked what the hardest part of playing tight end in Morgantown was. "I feel like I'm a big part of the offense, you know? I'm happy enough. If they throw me the ball I'm going to catch it and hopefully make the most of it."

He certainly did that with the lone catch of his career, a one yard touchdown grab from Pat White in last season's loss to Virginia Tech. According to the Boardman, Oh. native, that catch was just one of many standout moments from his 2005 season.

"I had a pancake that day against Darryl Tapp, and that was really exciting," he said of his block on the former Tech star. "So was pancaking (former Louisville all-American defensive end Elvis Dumervil.)"

When Villagrana and his Mountaineer teammates take the field on Saturday in the season opener against Marshall, it's unlikely that the Herd gameplan will be geared towards stopping him. In fact, with playmakers such as quarterback Pat White, running backs Owen Schmitt and Steve Slaton, and underrated wideout Brandon Myles, Villagrana may not be seen as a threat at all to the Thundering Herd. It's moments like that when he could be the most dangerous.

"All of the teams will have a scouting report on us and they'll be keying on those guys. When that happens, and I can slip under the radar, maybe I end up with another touchdown like I did against Virginia Tech. I don't have a problem with that," he said with a grin.

If you're reading this and thinking that there's no way Villagrana will ever be a part of the gameplan, think again. Rich Rodriguez has shown in his first five years as head coach that he'll get the tight end involved from time to time. Sure, the tight ends at West Virginia aren't used as consistently in the passing game as they are at maybe Miami or Notre Dame, but they're still there. And when the time comes for them to make a catch, they usually do.

All that matters to Villagrana though is the bottom line.

"I'm happy just as long as we win. If I catch a ball, that's great, but if I don't and we still win, I'm just as happy."

You couldn't ask for a better setting than Saturday's game. Sold-out stadium, lots of energy in the stands, and two schools ushering in what should become an emotional, in-state rivalry doing battle on the field. The downside of games like this is that there is often too much emotion, particularly early in the contest. That can lead to extracurricular activity after the play, and in the pile. There could also be a lot of talking going on down on the field, particularly in the trenches. Villagrana believes that channeling that energy will be a key to West Virginia's success.

"We just have to play our style of football and not worry about what they're saying," he says. "We're not like that. We're just going to go out there as an offense and play hard. No matter what they do we're just going to play"

Mike's gameplan is simple: do his job, play the game, and don't get caught up in the talking. Of course if he finds himself wide open and the ball coming his way, he'd like to believe he'll do that part of his job too.

"When I do get the opportunity to catch some passes I want to make sure I catch them, not drop them," he says.

If that's the case, the Mountaineer offense will be even more versatile. And for the visitors from Huntington, that has to be frightening thought.

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