As a veteran of the college football coaching ranks for more than 30 years, West Virginia's Steve Dunlap has pretty much seen it all when it comes to fall camp. He's coached everything from walk-ons to All-Americans to walk-ons who became All-Americans and everything in between.
So, if you pass Dunlap in Morgantown on Monday morning and don't see him doing backflips or handing out high-fives over what he's learned about his safeties during the first two days of fall camp, then please pardon the man. It's just that at this point in camp, there really isn't anything for him to be excited about quite yet.
"We haven't hit anyone yet," Dunlap said on Sunday. "The bottom line is that we have to tackle people. If they all were playing flag football, they would all be All-American by now. Time will tell. It's a day by day process, and they will get better every day. We will make the starting decisions game week."
"I never wanted to leave in the first place," he said. "Always remember that."
Being shown the door by one of his former players at the conclusion of the 2000 season was something that surely could not have settled well with a man who had given his life to Mountaineer football as a player and coach while also giving Mountaineer fans the treat of watching some of the best defensive units in school history.
However that, as they say, is the business which college football has become over the years. And rather than griping about it in the media at the time, Dunlap simply moved on to his next stop – Syracuse, as it turned out – and continued to push the right defensive buttons at one of his alma mater's oldest rivals.
He also found success at North Carolina State and Marshall before eagerly answering the call to come home from new head coach Bill Stewart last January.
Now, he's back in blue and gold – the only colors in which he truly belongs – and back on the familiar playing surface at Mountaineer Field. His driver's license, home address and paychecks all include the two words which may mean more to him than any other in the English language: West Virginia.
"This is home," he said with a grin which stretched from Morgantown to his Hurricane roots.
When it's time to go to work, however, Dunlap checks the sentimentality at the door. His safeties currently include just two players who have played extensively (Quinton Andrews and Boogie Allen), a quarterback-turned-wideout-turned defender for the first time in his collegiate career (Nate Sowers) and a handful of promising youngsters who are as talented as they are wet behind the ears (Sidney Glover, Derek Knight, Robert Sands and Eain Smith among them).
At some point between now and the season opener against Villanova on August 30, Dunlap must find a combination which gives the Mountaineers their best chance to succeed. Luckily, today is not that day.
"I'm going to take the whole first and second unit and flip them (Monday)," Dunlap said. "The truth of matter is nobody has the starting job yet. I'm not playing games with them or anything, but I want to give everyone an opportunity to see what they can do."
If history serves as any indication, Dunlap will come up with the perfect playmaking concoction for the back line of West Virginia's 3-3-5 attack. Despite the youth throughout West Virginia's defense, don't expect the veteran defensive staff of Dunlap, coordinator Jeff Casteel, defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich and defensive backs coach David Lockwood to be anything but prepared by that August 30 kickoff.