"It was kind of like a season opener for me," said Slavonic, who has worked vigorously to get back into game shape. "Our last game (against East Carolina) I was back, but today I felt like I was really back and really recovered. Last game I dressed and I was O.K., but I didn't get any snaps. This week I felt great, and I was ready to play."
The call to action came much sooner than anticipated. Fellow lineman Keilein Dykes hurt his hand on West Virginia's first defensive series of the game, and the call went out for big #91.
"The first series, Keilen got hurt and I went right in there. I was excited to be playing," he said.
The Mountaineer coaching staff preaches readiness in all phases of the game, and Slavonic proved he has learned that lesson, despite his inactivity over the first third of the regular season. Although he did not dent the stat sheet, he manned his position well, and played a solid game against the Bulldogs, helping hold them to just 56 rushing yards.
The big sophomore, who stands six feet, eight inches and weighs 260 pounds, is still a work in progress. He needs to add a few more pounds in order to better stand up to drive blocking offensive linemen, and he is obviously still learning all the tricks of the trade. For now, he is using technique to battle stronger and larger foes, and is doing a good job with that approach. With added weight and strength however, the sophomore will likely improve even more, and fulfill many of the high expectations held for him by the coaching staff in general and defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich in particular.
While Slavonic continues to work on that aspect of the game, there's no doubt that his overall conditioning is good. No matter how much a player prepares, participating in a game is different that practice, and being in "game condition" is a different matter than simply achieving good physical shape. Slavonic, however, didn't have that problem in WVU's win over the Bulldogs.
"Surprisingly, I was really comfortable in there," he said of his first action of the season. "I don't know what it was. I came in, and I was excited, but I was able to control it. It wasn't an issue for me."
Part of the reason for that came from Kirelawich's rotation of the players along his defensive front. The Mountaineers shuttled players in and out with regularity, ensuring that the warm temperatures didn't wear anyone down. (The day turned out quite pleasant, with a kickoff temp of 74 degrees and low humidity, but the sunny skies and constant action can wear down even the hardiest of defenders in the trenches.)
"I think we rotated fairly well. I didn't get tired out there," Slavonic said. "Maybe I was expecting to get tired a little bit, but I didn't. I was fine."
Slavonic's return gives West Virginia another cog to employ up front, which should help bolster the defense for the tougher tests to come. With Dykes, Pat Liebig, Craig Wilson, James Ingram, and Johnny Dingle also available for deployment along the defensive line, the hope is to continue to wear down opposing offensive fronts with wave after wave of fresh players. WVU must be able to shut down the run in order to win, and Kirelawich's troops are the key element in that plan. Slavonic, who has drawn praise for his potential throughout his Mountaineer career, has taken his first steps toward helping make that plan a reality.