Mortty Ivy strolled into the interview room at the Puskar Center on Monday evening with a noticeable bounce in his step, even more so than usual for the jovial senior linebacker. The reason for Ivy's added enthusiasm? Two words: Pitt week.
Perhaps no other player on West Virginia's roster has a greater appreciation for the Backyard Brawl than Ivy. Growing up just minutes from downtown Pittsburgh in Monroeville, Pa., the former Gateway Gator always kept an eye on the annual tilt between Pitt and WVU. For the past few years, he's been right in the middle of it. The close proximity he's had to the rivalry admittedly hypes him up a little bit more as the 101st edition of the Backyard Brawl
"It is my last one," he said with a shake of his head. "I'm excited, you know? I'm at home, and I've got a lot of family at home. It's going to be a great game for me playing against a lot of players who I played against in high school who go (to Pitt). It's going to be a great experience."
Hopefully, at least for Ivy's sake, his final appearance in the Brawl will end on a more positive note than last year's game, when Pitt entered Milan Puskar Stadium as a 28-point underdog only to leave with a 13-9 win, dousing West Virginia's hopes for a BCS title game appearance in the process.
While he's certainly endured his fair share of trash talk from the locals during his limited time back home in the year since that upset, Ivy has done his best to tune it out.
"They try to (talk trash), but I don't really worry about last year anymore," he said. "It's 2008. We're both in the Big East contending for this game. I don't worry about last year because its last year and it's in the past. Now, we just have to worry about what we're going to do on Friday."
If Ivy is his normal productive self, West Virginia should be in good shape. The senior, now playing at Sam (strong side) linebacker after spending last season at Will (weak side), leads the Mountaineers with 72 total tackles through the first 10 games of 2008. His three interceptions are also a team best. As his WVU career winds down, Ivy would like nothing more than to add a third win in four tries against his hometown Panthers.
First, however, he's got to find a way to accommodate all of the various ticket requests he has from friends and family wanting to watch his final Backyard Brawl in person.
"I'm still trying to get some tickets," Ivy said. "It's mainly relatives because it's Thanksgiving and everybody is coming in to be together as a family. Since we're playing the day after, they can see me too. I'm going to be up there and hopefully give them a good show, and then spend a day with my family that I don't get to see much anyways."
On a Mountaineer team which relies heavily on younger players on both sides of the ball, Ivy is an elder statesman who has been through the battles and Brawls of years past. That experience and his hometown link to the game team up to give Ivy the aforementioned added exuberance as Friday's game nears.
And no matter where his teammates are from, he hopes that his apparent enthusiasm for this particular game will help send a message that Pitt week in Morgantown is just a little bit different from every other week of preparation.
"It's not so much of a difference from a guy who's from Florida as long as he understands what this game is about," explained No. 44. "The thing for me is that I'm from there, I'm from the area. I know a lot of things that have happened in this series. It's about the same, but I've got a little bit more of an edge just because I'm from there.
In preparation for Friday's contest, Heinz Field has been given a fresh layer of sod in the wake of the heavy toll inflicted on the surface during this past weekend's WPIAL Championships. No matter what surface, stadium or city is hosting the Backyard Brawl, Ivy vows that his team will be prepared.
"It doesn't matter what they put down because (Pitt) has to play on it just like we do," he said. "That's what they like, that's what they play on. We've just got to go up there and go play. It doesn't matter what we play on, we just want to play.
"Let's get everybody in a parking lot and play. They would have to play on it to, so let's play."
Ivy is certainly ready to. Just look at the bounce in his step.