Battling For Position

The running back position has long been one of West Virginia's strong points., and with newcomers such as Shawne Alston, Tavon Austin, and Daquan Hargrett, the competition for roster positioning will be fierce.

However, in the excitement surrounding newcomers and the expected brilliance of Noel Devine, there is another player fighting to make his mark and secure a spot in the backfield rotation.

Sophomore Mark Rodgers is hoping to secure his spot behind starter Noel Devine following a freshman campaign in which he gained 80 yards on 15 carries for a solid 5.3 average per tote.

"The competition level is good," said Rodgers. "We are all competing for positions. Everybody just has to stay on top of their game to keep their spot. I'm working pretty hard. You have to fight everyone off of you. You just have to know your position and what you have to do."

Although Rodgers was second on the depth chart in the spring, he realizes that the position is still wide open and is working hard to secure his spot. Austin, who is being worked in at the slot position, could slide to the backfield once he gets comfortable in the system, and veteran Jock Sanders also lines up in the backfield on occasion. Those moves could combine to mean fewer carries out of the tailback slot overall, and once Devine gets his chances, there might not be a great number of carries left for the #2 guy. Rodgers sees all of that as a spur to continue to improve.

"[The competition] makes me want to push myself more," said Rodgers. "When I feel like I'm slacking I pick myself back up. I want to set an example too and let [the freshmen] know that Coach Beatty is going to let the best players play and he's not going to just give [the second spot] to me."

Rodgers worked in the off season to become a better football player both physically and mentally. After seeing time in all thirteen games last season, Rodgers knows what to expect as the season progresses, and is more comfortable with what he will have to do when called upon.

"I'm more in shape [this year]," said Rodgers. "Mentally, I know the plays a lot better. As soon as they call it, I know what to do. I can get there faster instead of guessing where I have to go. I can react way faster. I feel like more of a complete player just from knowing my assignments"

Rodgers has enjoyed working with running back coach Chris Beatty during his time at WVU and respects his coaching style.

"One thing, he won't yell at you," said Rodgers. "Coach Beatty won't yell at you. He will just let you know that you messed up and he expects you to fix it right then and there. He likes to be detailed which is good. Details matter."

There is a comfort brought on by being so deep with talent at the running back, and Rodgers knows that if something were to happen to himself or Devine that the position would not suffer.

"We have a lot of speed," admitted Rodgers. "The coaches knew what they were recruiting. We are all little guys at running back, but we have speed. [The freshmen] are catching onto the playbook way faster than I did. They are working hard too."

As for Rodgers' personal goals going into his second season at WVU, they're pretty simple.

"I want to get in the end zone," Rodgers said with a smile. "I have to get in the end zone this year. That's my goal."

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