Just Rewards

While WVU's backup fullback had the chance to go to several smaller schools on a football scholarship, his choice to walk-on at a high-major BCS program was recently vindicated by a coaching staff that valued his work ethic.

The admiration that head coach Bill Stewart has for Ricky Kovatch and the other three former walk-ons awarded scholarships last weekend was clear when he spoke about them at his weekly press conference.

"Those guys have done everything this program has asked," Stewart said. "Those four young men, I'm so excited about them because of the type of youngsters they are. They've been here. They come in for 6 a.m. workouts. They do what they're supposed to do."

"They've given every ounce of sweat they can give for the Old Gold and Blue. So if they're good in the classroom, good out here in the community and they're good teammates, we as a staff felt it was the right thing to do."

But Kovatch, who spent the summer working in construction in addition to his football-related duties in strength and conditioning, said that moving from walk-on status to being on scholarship means means little on the gridiron.

"I'm just trying to keep focused on the game," he said. "We've still got to play on Saturday. On the field, (the scholarship) hasn't changed anything. It's still the same situation. But it has changed my financial position."

Indeed, things may be a bit different for Kovatch next summer, as instead of ferrying gravel around in a wheelbarrow, picking up trash and doing "all the stuff (the other construction workers) didn't want to do," he will likely attend classes in the summer, using the stipend scholarship players receive to do so.

That can help lighten the workload in the fall for football players, who get some of their academic work out of the way in the summer and can thus avoid having to take as many courses during the season.

Beyond that, Kovatch's parents, who were helping pay his tuition before, were pleased to have one less financial burden to worry about.

"They were really excited when I called and told them, I think like any parents would be," the fullback said. "It's a load off of them."

The honor for the Dublin, Ohio native and his teammates also was reason for much excitement from Stewart, the West Virginia coaching staff and the rest of the players.

"Every seat in (the team meeting room) was filled and it was a thunderous ovation when I flipped those guys footballs signed by the coaching staff and the seniors and I shook their hands," Stewart said. "It was awesome. It was a great day to be a Mountaineer, Sunday's meeting."

The signed footballs were a token to remember the day, which the head coach felt was a momentous occasion for Kovatch and the other three players being honored (Scott Loving, Mike Poitier and Josh Taylor).

"At the end (of the meeting), he called up me and the three other guys," Kovatch said. He said, ‘Today, these four guys' lives change forever. They're now on scholarship.'

"Coach Stew said it himself when we were up there -- ‘This is for the four years or however many you had to pay to go here. You're saving a lot of money.' It's a big thing."

That "big thing" also serves as justification for the decision Kovatch made to come to West Virginia instead of going to one of the smaller schools that offered him a scholarship and a better chance at playing time.

"I came on a visit here, and when I got here I loved the feel and the atmosphere and everything about it," he said. "I thought it would be a good fit for me, so I decided to come here."

"I loved my decision to come here from the second I made it. I thought it was good, and I've backed it up since."

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